What happened to the promised bus lanes?

It has now been nearly 6 months since Auckland Transport opened their first bus lane. This was one Fanshawe Street, and followed a suggestion from this blog back in February. We were very impressed with Auckland Transport’s initiative in moving quickly on this, and it took less than 4 months from blog to bus lane. No doubt this was due to board chair Lester Levy following things up.

When the Fanshawe bus lane was announced Lester Levy promised that this was the sign of a new way of doing things.

Dr Levy says increasingly Auckland Transport needs to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place while working towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is a good example of this type of approach.

Fanshawe Day1

Fanshawe Street bus lane on day 1 of operation, April 28

However since April it seems to be business as usual for Auckland Transport with no progress being made on any new bus lanes, and nothing even seeming to have made it to consultation phase. A few months ago there were some promising lines in the AT Board reports. This from July:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being developed.

This similar statement was in the August 26 and October 2 meetings:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being finalised.

However in the October 28 report nothing was mentioned at all.

This is somewhat worrying. The period around Christmas and January seems like a good time to get any work done due to low traffic volumes. It would be great to have any new bus lanes in place for the annual March madness when tertiary institutions start their semesters. Therefore any consultation would need to get done quickly.

There is no shortage of obvious candidates for bus lanes on busy routes around the city, so here are a few to get AT started:

Onewa Road Transit Lane:

First there is the Onewa Road westbound Transit Lane. This project was even consulted earlier this year (following a failed consultation several years prior). The design is done, and this even has a full project page on the Auckland Transport website. However there are no hints of any progress.

onewa_road_new_500x699

Auckland Transport plan for Onewa Road Transit Lanes

The blog has also already outlined in detail a few priority streets in previous posts.

Upper Symonds Street:

I described the desperate need for improvements on Upper Symonds St in March. There is no city-bound bus lane between Mt Eden and Karangahape Roads despite there being 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one every 40 seconds. This leads to severe delays, on a bad day I hear it is quicker to walk 40 minutes from Mt Eden to the University rather than catch the bus, largely caused by congestion of buses around Upper Symonds.

Mt Eden Road:

I described the need for a bus lane along Mt Eden Road in detail in May. Despite perceptions, Mt Eden Road only has bus lanes along 30% of the total 10km (5km each way) route length from Mount Albert Road to Upper Symonds Street. In peak hours there is a bus at least every 3 minutes along this section, and the lack of bus lanes cause severe delays. Another simple issue is that parts of the bus lane only operate from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. This means that if you catch the very busy 5.05pm from Britomart, the bus lanes won’t be operating when you get to Mt Eden village!

There are plenty more obvious areas, however here are a few quick ones I know from around the city.

Park Road and Khyber Pass Road:

The Central Connector was the flagship project for bus transport in Auckland City in the mid 2000’s, and was supposed to provide a very high quality public transport link from Britomart to Newmarket via the University and Hospital. The Symonds Street section is generally good, however as soon as you get across Grafton Brdige is is back to usual with a few stop start lanes, especially heading towards Newmarket. On Park Road by the Domain, 15 carparks are seen to be much more important than thousands of bus passengers. The same issue is seen on Khyber Pass, where the buslanes only go part way along, and then parking is seen as more important for the last 300 metres towards Newmarket.

Park Road buslanes

5pm bus jam outside the hospital. Congestion caused by a handful of carparks immediately south of here.

New North Road:

The bus lanes along New North Road do no begin until west of the Dominion Road flyover, before this is just a peak time clearway. Then they only run for 500 metres until just before the Sandringham Road intersection before they become a clearway again. Very simple to change these clearways to give consistent bus lanes from Newton to Morningside.

Sandringham Road:

Similar issues as to Mt Eden Road. Listed as having bus lanes, however there are still plenty of gaps which cause significant bus congestion.

Constellation Drive interchange:

While Northern Express buses can fly up to from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes, it can take almost as much time to travel the last 5 kilometres to Albany station. This is largely caused by the need to exit the station, travel along Constellation Drive, under the motorway and enter the northbound on-ramp. While the obvious solution is extending the busway to Albany, in the short term things could be improved with a combination of bus lanes and smart traffic signaling helping the buses get through.

Constellation Drive buslanes

Constellation Drive. 2 buses can be seen stuck in traffic, having just left Constellation Station bound for Albany.

I would also be keen to hear a few more readers suggestions about places where buses get severely congested at peak times, and bus lanes could be built to help sort the issues quickly and easily.

Bus lanes are the best value investments that Auckland Transport can make that help people get around our city. Sorting out these 7 heavily used bus corridors would help tens of thousands of commuters each day. Not only would this reduce journey times, but also improve service reliability and reduce costs for bus operators and Auckland Transport.

So why not get on to it Auckland Transport, would be great to see progress over summer, and we look forward to congratulating you on more implementation of bus lanes.

 

The Great Auckland Transit Revival: Theory and Practice

Einstein

2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.

The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.

Here’s the uptake overview:

Comparator cities

So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.

So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?

It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.

And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:

Fares and ticketting Benchmark Study

The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].

Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:

Service qual. Benchmark Study

Oh dear.

Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:

Rapid Transit benchmark study

Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.

In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.

Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:

CFN 2015

Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?

Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:

August 2014 Ridership

SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.

So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.

And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.

But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.

Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.

Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?

Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

 

 

Should Vector be able to use Bus Lanes

Vector have thrown up an interesting question by suggesting that their repair crews should be able to use bus lanes to get around the city.

Network lines company Vector wants its faults crews’ vehicles to be able to use Auckland’s bus lanes and T2 lanes in order to get quickly to the scene of storm damage, building fires, or motor accidents instead of having to wait in traffic jams like other motorists.

The company’s group manager network operations Les Parker said the time in getting the power back on, or making lines safe like during Auckland’s four major storms this year could be reduced by up to 20 per cent where traffic congestion was occurring.

However, though the company looked after lethal high and low voltage lines running down roads and streets, did not fit the legal classification of a “first responder” in the emergency sense, like police, fire and ambulance.

Accordingly, they were not allowed to use bus lane.

“Our crew have to obey the traffic laws and they have to wait in queues like everybody else,” said Mr Parker.

Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie said the company had asked the Ministry of Transport whether it could use bus lanes and T2 corridor lanes.

“It would be just for emergency events when there is storm or when a car hits a pole, to give our crews the ability to have flashing lights and get through the traffic quicker.

“This has not found any traction.

“But for us to be able move around the city quicker is really beneficial.

bus-lane

I can definitely see their logic and have some sympathy for what they’re saying however at the same time I’m concerned about whether it opens up the floodgates to others suggesting they should be able to use the lanes too. There are likely many individuals, organisations or businesses that would benefit from being able to benefit bus lanes. For example what about a cabinet minister trying to get between meetings or Auckland Transport shuttles, how about taxi drivers or couriers. In effect the biggest risk is the death by a thousand cuts type scenario where we keep creating exceptions and letting more and more people use them.

It’s also worth considering how many bus lanes would actually benefit vectors crews. As they say themselves faults could occur anywhere in Auckland but our bus lane network is extremely limited and is primarily in central Auckland with some on the North Shore although of course I think Auckland Transport should be growing the number and quality of them substantially to support the new bus network being implemented.

As an aside it would be great if AT could make a map showing all current bus and transit lanes across the city. These maps from AT only show transit lanes, one for the region (but excluding the North Shore) and one for the North Shore.

AMETI Busway gets design funding

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that $21 million had been approved, $11 million of which from the NZTA, to design the first stage in the AMETI busway which will run between Panmure and Pakuranga. A later stage will run from Pakuranga to Botany.

Funding has been approved to further develop plans for the South Eastern Busway from Panmure Station to Pakuranga.

The NZ Transport Agency has approved design funding of $20.9m, with it subsidising $11m, for the Panmure to Pakuranga section of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

It will be the next stage after the current work in Panmure, which comprised the new Panmure Station and a new link road between Mt Wellington Highway and Morrin Rd.

Proposed Panmure to Pakuranga projects also include the Reeves Rd flyover in Pakuranga, replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights, a second Panmure Bridge for the busway and a shared cycle/foot path.

Auckland Transport aims to begin construction in 2017, subject to approval of construction funding and consents.

Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy says the popular Panmure Station and a new road, due to open soon, are just the start of major transport improvements for the area. “With the first stage in Panmure almost complete and delivering benefits already, we’re looking forward to the next stage. This funding will allow us to further develop the design of the busway and other major transport projects.

“Public transport is currently a poor option because buses get caught in the same congestion as cars, resulting in long travel times. Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable buses on lanes separate to traffic.

“Buses will run every 5-10 minutes most of the day and travel times will be reliable. It will take about 27 minutes to get between Pakuranga and Britomart by bus and train, about 8 minutes quicker than currently. There will be bigger time savings when the busway is extended to Botany in the future. Together, the AMETI projects are aimed at improving people’s transport choices and better connecting the south eastern suburbs to each other and the rest of Auckland.”

The Transport Agency’s Regional Manager of Planning and Investment, Peter Casey, says support for Auckland projects like AMETI are a high priority for the Transport Agency. “AMETI ticks a lot of boxes for us in a very busy area of Auckland where there’s strong economic and population growth. Supporting Auckland Transport’s upgrades of a whole range of transport choices will improve safety, and make the time it takes to travel between destinations a lot more reliable for people.”

Mr Casey says the Transport Agency will contribute just over a 50% share of the total cost of AMETI – funding that comes from revenue gathered by the agency from the excise duty on fuel, road user charges and vehicle registration fees and is then reinvested in transport projects.

Auckland Transport will continue to consult with residents, businesses and the community in the project area before applying for a land designation in the second quarter of 2015. This would be followed by a publicly notified hearing.

So as a summary the design covers

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic
  • Direct connection from Pakuranga Rd to Pakuranga Highway via Reeves Rd
  • Pakuranga bus station
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path

Phase 2 map

Here’s an earlier image of how Lagoon Dr will look once completed.

Lagoon Dr

It will be fantastic once  this has been completed as the South East is so woefully under served by public transport and is the most car dependant area in all of Auckland as a result. The other thing is even with the services that exist we’re already hearing stories of huge numbers of people transferring of buses and on to trains. This trend will continue to grow with the new network and once the busway is built will be happening in huge numbers.

The Wellesley St Busway

One of the most exciting projects in the City East West Transport Study (CEWT) is the addition of a busway through the central section of Wellesley St – which is defined as between Kitchener St and Albert St.

The central section of Wellesley Street near the Queen Street core contains a number of key cultural facilities including the Civic and St James Theatres, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Central City Library and also intersects with the Elliot Street shared space and connections through to Aotea Square. The importance of providing a quality environment for pedestrians and place making within the area cannot be overstated.

While the study has confirmed that the linear park project is best located on Victoria Street and there is a need for a bus corridor along Wellesley Street, there remain considerable opportunities to also obtain the desired improvements to pedestrian and amenity provisions within Wellesley Street central.

In particular, there may be an opportunity to close the central section of Wellesley Street (between Kitchener and Albert Streets) to general traffic, which would be rerouted for example around Mayoral Drive. This would enable the carriageway width to be reduced and reallocated to the pedestrian realm and also reduce the feeling of vehicle dominance within this area. This traffic closure would have additional benefits in allowing greater signal optimisation for buses and pedestrians at the Wellesley Street / Queen Street intersection, and may also unlock opportunities for improvements on adjacent blocks of Queen Street through reduced traffic and the reduction of bus stops.

For that central section the busway would be a full four lanes wide, two lanes for movement and two lanes for buses stopping. When you include the bus stops, parking and loading zones the carriageway is actually about six lanes wide so this proposal actually represents it being narrowed down.  That in turn allows for the footpaths to be extended which is something likely to be needed considering the number of people that will be moving through the area thanks to the people fountains the buses will be.

CEWT Wellesley St Busway

The image below highlights the benefits to pedestrians showing that they go from having 30% of the space in the corridor now to 48% with a bus only road in place.

CEWT Wellesley St Central

And here’s the proposed layout vs what we have now. While the diagrams are just listed as indicative, I suspect that in reality the vehicle lanes would be closer to the northern side which would allow much more space on the south which gets more sun and out the front of the Civic Theatre.

Wellesley St Layout

In addition to the extra space on Wellesley St, the changes to the bus routes and the inability of cars to turn off Queen St would mean the carriageway on that wide section of Queen St could also be narrowed. In effect it could leave us with quite a large footpath build out of the Civic corner.

But why is a busway even needed?

Currently around 24,000 people enter the CBD by bus during the morning peak however by 2041 it’s expected that number could be up to 45,000 people while vehicle volumes are at best flat. Like we’ve seen over the last decade, all the transport growth that will occur in the CBD will happen through public transport or active modes. Even with higher capacity buses it still means we’ll need a lot more of them on the roads delivering people to and through the city centre. It’s this reason that the City Centre Future Access Study determined that a mix of both the City Rail Link and improvements to surface buses would be the best solution.

Currently buses to the CBD use a wide variety of routes with the main corridors being Fanshawe St, Albert St and Symonds St. There are a number of buses that also terminate or travel through the Civic area.

CBD Bus Routes Current

 

The New Bus Network is seeing routes overhauled and while we won’t see the official plans for the City Centre till the central are consultation (which is expected next year), one of the features of the network is that routes will be concentrated on to a few key routes. The current proposal below sees two North-South routes (Albert St and Symonds St) and two East-West routes (Fanshawe/Customs and Wellesley St. The Wellesley St corridor is home to a number of all-day frequent routes including but not limited to buses from:

  • Dominion Rd
  • Sandringham Rd
  • New North Rd
  • Remuera Rd
  • Manukau Rd
  • Pt Chev via Westmere and Herne Bay
  • Grey Lynn and Ponsonby

A quick calculation suggests that could represent over 100 buses an hour before taking into account the non frequent routes and the peak only routes that would also pass through the corridor. That would likely to be too much for single bus lanes to handle without getting horribly clogged up with a wall of buses.

CBD Bus Routes Future

So why not use either Victoria St or Mayoral Dr for the buses

As many people will know and as the first map shows, buses currently use both Wellesley and Victoria St for East-West movements and some may ask why we shouldn’t just keep doing that. There are a number of reasons but a couple of key ones are that it enables customers to transfer much easier between services but it also enable other city centre improvements to happen. In particular the plan is to have a linear park on Victoria St connecting Albert Park with Victoria Park.

Victoria St Linear Park

As the report notes a number of people have questioned whether the Linear park should be on Wellesley instead (with presumably buses on Victoria St). The report (page 234) highlights the results of some of the significant analysis that is said to have gone in to confirming that Victoria St is the best location. The other east-west street in the middle of the CBD is Mayoral Dr. Again it would require bus routes to be longer and therefore higher operational costs but it would also move the buses (which will be moving many more people to the city than cars will) further away from the centre of town where the majority of people will be living or working. The table below shows the expected CBD population and employment densities in 2041 showing the concentration north of Wellesley St.

2041 Forecast CBD population and employment density

In my view the Wellesley St busway would be a welcome addition to the city centre and along with the other improvements to the area represent a huge step forward for the CBD.

We can (and must) afford both CRL & new network infrastructure

Former ARC Councillor Joel Cayford has recently criticised the City Rail Link as being unaffordable in the near future – largely it seems because of the need to invest in a number of pieces of bus infrastructure to support the new PT network that’s being rolled out over the next few years. Here’s his key point:

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland’s transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.

So it needs to be right. It is more important that it’s planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.

newnetwork

This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black) NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it’s a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to “start CRL in 2016″ (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be “world class”, but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.

We know from page 96-99 of Regional Public Transport Plan that various pieces of infrastructure are required in the near future to ensure that the new network can launch successfully in 2016. Items identified as essential include:

  • Integrated ticketing (completed)
  • Electric trains rollout (already funded)
  • Integrated fares (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • City Rail Link (for the 2022 networks rather than the 2016)
  • Bus stop and shelter programme ($30m programme completed by 2015/16)
  • Otahuhu interchange (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • Te Atatu bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Westgate bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Wynyard bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2015/16 year)
  • Other city centre bus infrastructure (funded over three years up to 2016/17 year)

There are others but either they’re desirable rather than essential or they’re fairly small. Joel says all up this comes to about $200 million and that might be roughly in the ballpark from what’s in the RPTP. We really do need to do these projects – and a bunch of bus lanes – to make sure the new PT network is implemented in a successful fashion. Its connected design relies upon good quality interchanges and a much larger bus lane network to ensure services run quickly and reliably. So I am in full agreement with Joel that we can’t let funding CRL (or AMETI, East-West Link, Penlink, Mill Road or any of the other big projects sitting in Auckland Transport’s future work programme) get in the way of funding these other projects.

But where I disagree with Joel is the extent to which the “new network infrastructure” outlined above really conflicts with funding CRL. Timing-wise, it seems that most of what’s listed above will be completed by 2016 or 2017. Almost by definition the projects have to be done by then in order to roll out the network successfully. No Otahuhu interchange means no new southern network, no Te Atatu bus interchange means no Western network rollout. These projects are top of the current priority list – with many funded in the 2014/15 Annual Plan (see page 198 of this document). Further there has been mention of the need for this investment in the draft Government Policy Statement.

GPS 2015 (draft) will enable:

  • completion of improvements to metro-rail services, integrated ticketing and public transport network changes intended to increase patronage, including transfer and interchange facilities
  • provision for targeted infrastructure improvements that improve transfer facilities across the network and address emerging bus capacity constraints in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

In contrast, we know that even if construction of the City Rail Link begins in 2016, the serious investment in its construction will be after 2017 once the main tunnelling and construction of the three new stations gets underway in earnest. Early construction – particularly for the section under Britomart and the Downtown Shopping Centre, is around $250m, leaving plenty of available funding for the new network infrastructure, given that Auckland Transport plan to spend $825 million on transport projects in the 2014/15 year by way of example.

Therefore it seems that there’s little conflict between successfully implementing the new bus network and building the CRL. Put simply, they’re two different things happening in different timeframes – bus stuff in the next 2-3 years and then CRL’s serious investment after that. I wish Joel would spent more of his time criticising the bigger risks for improving public transport in Auckland – like the limited PT funding available in the Government Policy Statement, the refusal by treasury to fund the Northern Busway extension to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor package, NZTA’s willful disregard of the need for a Northwest Busway, government blowing billions on unneeded state highways, the potentially over-sized East West Link project, the expensive and unnecessary Penlink project and many more.

More bus lanes required – Mt Eden Road

Mount Eden Road is one of our premier isthmus bus corridors, now having a very high frequency. Between 7am and 9am 36 buses depart Three Kings, or nearly one every 3 minutes. Half of all Airbuses also use this corridor giving an extra 3 per hour each way. During the busiest hour there are 22 buses along the corridor, while latest traffic count figures (2006) show there were 1600 cars. With about 50 seats a bus, that means buses carry at least 1100 people, so buses are carrying about 40% of the people in the northern part of Mt Eden Road. Generally in the peak hour these buses are packed with standees, so buses maybe well be carrying half the people in the corridor. Then north of Esplanade Road, Dominion Road buses (except expresses) join Mt Eden Road too, giving an extra 23 buses between 7am and 9am. This suggests the corridor should have full bus lanes the whole way from Three Kings into town. I have already covered the big issues with bus congestion at Newton in a previous post, so I will now focus on the corridor between Mount Albert Road and Newton.

Below is a map of the current bus lanes (green lines), and as you can see they are very erratic (zoom in on the map to see more detail).


View Mt Eden Bus Lanes in a larger map

While the corridor is 5km long, the sections going northbound only have bus lanes for 2km, while southbound there is only 1km of bus lanes. Therefore only 30% of the corridor has bus lanes, which is hopeless considering the frequency of buses along the corridor. Heading southbound there are none south of Balmoral Road, while northbound none south of Duke Street.

Work to move the corridor towards full bus lanes can be separated into quick wins, short term fixes and medium term fixes as in some areas capital works are required.

There are 2 obvious quick wins.

Mt Eden useless bus lane

Common sight around 6pm. Bus lane finished well before rush hour does.


The first quick win is the ridiculously short timing of the southbound buslane leading to Mt Eden shops. This a roughly 200m section starting at Batgar Road, and finishing where the shops start. It is only a buslane from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, then reverts to parking! This means that a bus leaving Britomart at one of the busiest times of 5.10pm would struggle to make it to Mt Eden before the bus lanes finishes! This should immediately be standardised to the usual time of 4pm to 6pm. However for bus lanes in general I would rather see at least 3.30pm to 6.30pm for evening lanes but that’s another discussion. The short operating hours result in crazy situations like this one taken around 6pm, with one car parked the brief bus-lane.

The second quick-win is regarding the clearways that exist through Mt Eden village (black lines in the map below). There is no reason why these should not be buslanes. The southbound clearway also has silly short hours of operation (4.30pm to 5.30pm again) so this should be extended as well. The northbound clearway is the standard 7am to 9am which is fine for the shorter morning peak. This change would help buses get through Mt Eden faster, and in and out of bus stops much easier.

Mt Eden clearways

The short term fixes (3 months to 1 year) are simple extensions of green paint along existing traffic and parking lanes.

Some of the issues encountered with current lengths of bus lanes were highlighted by commentator Steve N in my general bus lane post from February.

 “Mount Eden Road/Three Kings route: install inbound bus lane from Three Kings Terminus to Duke Street, to meet existing bus lane. After 0720ish, traffic backs up past Duke Street, including buses – completely negating 5 min frequency.”

So this suggests a northbound bus lane would really aide reliability and speed of the services the whole way north to the city. There is enough width within the kerbs for bus lanes to be added on both sides of the road from Mt Eden village to Three Kings. This bus lane would be very easy to install, as could be done with morning and afternoon parking restrictions and a coat of paint. In some areas the median may need to be narrowed or removed to fit bus lanes on both sides of the road. The only complication is the zebra crossing near Duke Street which may need to be removed. Zebra crossings are not seen to be safe roads with 2 lanes of traffic in one direction. So the only cost would be signalization of these pedestrian crossing, which AT have indicated costs around $100,000. 

Mt Eden bus congestion2

Common sight in the morning. Buses stuck in traffic as no bus lanes.

North of Mt Eden village things are a little trickier as the road is more windy and there are more intersections and pedestrian crossings to deal with. This means lanes need to be wider to accommodate vehicles. Northbound bus lanes can be easily added at least as far as Percy St (where southbound bus lanes start), just by narrowing the median. This looks to be the same for the section between Normamby Road and Mt Eden station. However some areas will require more complex works over the medium term.

The Normanby Road intersection is likely to require the biggest work. There are various islands and turning bays that narrow the road width here, so some capital works are inevitable. I suggest this intersection is in need of major upgrades for pedestrians too. Depsite this being opposite a playground (top right) and the northern entrance to Mt Eden, there are no pedestrian crossings at all. Coupled with the turning lanes, wide curving road and high speeds, this is a very dangerous spot for people crossing the road. I can see it being very difficult for cars to turn in and out Normanby Road at peak times too. Fixing the safety issues is likely to require signalization to add a safe pedestrian crossing point, so signalizing the whole intersection in conjunction with other work and kerbs and islands is likely to be the solution. Careful phasing to give limited priority to Normanby Road will ensure this intersection does not congest Mt Eden Road.

Normanby Road intersection

Intersection of Mt Eden Road with Normanby Road and Puka St

On closer inspection some other areas will also require capital works, such as kerb realignment, especially at intersections such as Boston Road and Esplanade Road. When capital works are done this is a great time to add cycling infrastructure to the corridor as well. Unfortunately like Dominion Road it appears to be difficult to fit quality separated lanes in the corridor as well as bus lanes without major rebuilding works.

So to sum up the volume of buses on Mt Eden Road means it is in need of full length bus priority. Some of the improvements can be done very quickly, however others will need varying levels of capital works. Either way improvements on this corridor can be done for a fraction of the $66 million being spent on the parallel Dominion Road corridor. Auckland Transport needs to come up with a staged implementation plan, showing how Mt Eden Road can move from 30% bus lanes to full length bus lanes over the next 5 years. I would suggest we could could see a big improvement in under a year, and more expensive parts programmed in after that.

JSK in AKL

Last night we hosted Janette Sadik-Khan, the woman who transformed New York City’s notoriously contested streets as Mayor Bloomberg’s Transportation Commissioner 2007-13. We are extremely grateful that she found  time on her four day visit to Auckland to share her wisdom and experience with us advocates.

JSK_1044

Despite arriving at 5am that morning JSK and her team gave us all a great deal of attention and engagement [colleague Seth Solomonow said of the flight: "why'd y'all have to be so far away?"]. JSK still works with Michael Bloomberg at his new not-for-profit post-Mayoral agency Bloomberg Associates. Here is the opening line their mission statement:

Bloomberg Associates, an international consulting service founded by Michael R. Bloomberg as a philanthropic venture, helps city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens.

So the first recommendation from JSK last night is that Mayor Brown contact ex-Mayor Bloomberg to see how Auckland get to see a whole lot more of JSK and here team to help improve our city in more detail.

Other soundbites from the night include:

  • Changing the Streetscape and adding to the movement options can hugely improve the economic vitality of the whole city as well as individual areas.
  • You have to try out radical changes to the streetscape cheaply, quickly, and temporarily.
  • Don’t just do part of what’s needed; be bold keep it cheap and temporary so whole areas can be done together.
  • Be prepared change it, or even change it back to how it was, if it isn’t working.
  • If half the city doesn’t hate what you’re doing you probably aren’t doing anything.

She also said the reason she made it a priority to meet with us was that groups like ours in NY had been hugely influential in enabling change. Particularly streetsblog, a clear role model for transportblog.

Also it was just a great night down at Imperial Lane:

JSK_1041

We are now looking forward to her presentation at Auckland Conversations on Monday. And thanks to the Auckland Conversations team for hosting her visit, and in particular lending her to us for the evening.

Photo of the day: Bad Bus Lane

Bus lanes are generally fantastic in that they can allow buses carrying large numbers of people to move along a road without getting caught in congestion. The bus lanes added to Fanshawe St are a great example moving over 70% of all people on that road regardless of only accounting for 1/3 or less of the road space. I’m pretty supportive of bus lanes and want to see a lot more but this one surely has to be the stupidest in the city due to it being not wide enough for a car let alone a bus to use. As a result buses end up using the general traffic lane.

Mini Bus Lane

Submit on the K Road and Newton Area Plans today

As we mentioned last week, the Karangahape Road Area Plan is open for submissions, which close Wednesday 5pm. Generation Zero have been running a campaign to call for separated cycle lanes on Karangahape Road. The 8 Key reasons for this were included on the original post here.  So far the campaign has been very successful, gaining over 2200 signatures on a petition, and most importantly signing up 100 businesses in support of the cycle lanes. Showing business support is really important, as in some other corridors some vocal businesses have opposed cycling plans.

As usual the official Auckland Council form is a little overcomplicated, and it requires people to have a good understanding of the plan beforehand. So therefore to make things easier Generation Zero have come up with a handy quick submit form for people to have a say on the key points of the plan.

We just ask that people get them in by 10pm so we have time to forward them to the council by the due time.

Note the Newton Plan is also out for submissions too, which also close tonight. The plan highlights some exciting projects such as the potential for the removal of the awful Dominion Road flyover, and making Ian McKinnon Drive more like a street and less like an urban motorway. So this certainly deserves some support.

BnRGUQ-CMAA7N6S.jpg-large

Evening walk from Newton to Kingsland

However it is weaker on the future form of Upper Symonds Street, which really is in need of a rebuild in the medium term to benefit pedestrians, cyclists and public transport by removing excess traffic lanes. North of Khyber Pass Road the corridor is an astonishing 35 metres wide, thanks to some unncessary 1990’s road widening. However this now gives a large amount of space for reprioritisation that could create a proper urban street.

This plan is also a great opportunity to call for urgent northbound bus lanes along Symonds St through Newton, which we covered on the blog in MarchJust to recap there are 180 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, and this area is a major source of congestion. For example it is not uncommon for buses to take 30 minutes to get from Mt Eden to the University, with most of that stuck in congestion around this area. Buses are also carrying at least 2/3 of the people along this corridor in the morning. With the success of the Fanshawe bus lanes, this is the next obvious place from Auckland Transport to get a quick win that will help thousands of commuters each morning. So therefore would be great to send a message to the council and Auckland Transport that this corridor is ideal for another quick win. 

If you want to submit on the Newton Area plan, the plan and the official council submission form can both be found here.