Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

Stuart’s 100 #18 A Great South Rd?

18: A Great South Road?

Day_18_A_Great_Great_South_Road

What if Great South Road truly was great?

The creation of Great South Road was one of the great formational moves in the early expansion of Auckland. Starting in 1861, some 12,000 soldiers built the highway over 2 years to provide a direct route south out of Auckland to the Waikato hinterland during the New Zealand Wars. It quickly became the primary commercial and community link between areas to the south of the isthmus, providing opportunity for the garrison communities like Otahuhu that had sprung up along its route to become important centres in their own right.

That role has long been surpassed by the Southern Motorway, but the legacy of Great South Road remains. It is a highly important route connecting communities and large employment areas in the south. As a route however, the legibility of where it goes and what it connects to is perhaps not very widely known or understood for Aucklanders who live and work further afield, who will be much more familiar with the motorway.

Much of Great South Road already is great. Places like Otahuhu are vibrant and diverse with a bright future. Otahuhu has significant development potential underpinned by a fantastic legacy of a historic fine grain pattern of streets and subdivision on flat land. It can readily adapt to support further growth that will benefit both the town centre and forthcoming rail-bus interchange.

By contrast, other sections of the route aren’t so great, still feeling like the road is still the main highway out of town.

Wouldn’t it be great if Great South Road – in stark contrast to the southern motorway – could become a celebrated route through the south that relates to the urban fabric and communities of Auckland? A strengthening of the corridor and centres through greater mixed use development,  improvements for walking and cycling and a legible and frequent bus route with rail connections at Manurewa, Manukau, Otahuhu, Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera starts to add up to what sounds like a great urban corridor for this part of Auckland.

Great South Road, and other similar urban corridors, should have stronger alignment of land use and transport planning in the future to work steadily towards becoming positive forces in the city that can help shape and guide how Auckland grows and develops into the future.

 

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

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.

New Network Consultation for the Hibiscus Coast

On Monday Auckland Transport are launching the next consultation for the New Network and this time it’s the turn of Hibiscus Coast. AT say the changes to the network are planned to go in early mid 2015 which could make the area the first to change to the New Network as the South Auckland changes aren’t due till later in 2015. As a reminder about the changes being made with new network watch this video from Auckland Transport

The first and perhaps most significant change to the network is that AT will extend the Northern Express (NEX) to a new busway station. AT have already started on this and built some of the Park n Ride planned however I believe it has been halted due to another challenge to the Environment court by a local land owner. It’s proposing NEX services running at 30 minute frequencies off peak and with 15 minute frequencies during the peak which it is describing as 6am-8am and 4:30pm – 7pm. They say services will be timetabled to ensure reliable connections with local services.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Busway Station

Where the Hibiscus Coast differs from other parts of the region is that there are no all-day frequent services and services that are a minimum of half hourly are made up of a two lower frequency for part of their journey. The full map of proposed services is below (click to enlarge).

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Map Combined

At first glance one area that seems less than ideal is how buses are treated in relation to the Silverdale Town Centre. Going to the busway station some buses enter the town centre before doubling back and then going to the station while other buses skip it inbound and only go through outbound. All of this is because vehicles aren’t allowed to turn right out of Silverdale St or Wainui Rd. AT say that if a proposed new road gets built it will allow them to send all buses though the centre in both directions however as an interim measure perhaps they should just signalise one of the problem intersections and then have all buses run a logical route through it.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Silverdale Town Centre

The consultation will open Monday for a month.

Here’s the press release

More buses more often, new bus routes and extending the Northern Express to Silverdale, these are some of Auckland Transport’s proposals to boost public transport options for the Hibiscus Coast.

Anthony Cross, Public Transport Network Manager says the Hibiscus Coast is getting some notable service improvements. “Extending the Northern Express to Silverdale is huge, outside peak hours that will cut 30 minutes off the journey time to Auckland’s city centre”.

There will also be a new bus service for the growing area at Millwater plus buses every 30 minutes between Orewa, Silverdale and Manly, seven days a week.

More frequent local services, and a number of new or trial bus routes are also some of the benefits residents can look forward to under the New Network.

“We’re also building a new busway station at Silverdale which will become a key interchange for the Coast. We are increasing the Park and Ride car parks too,” says Mr Cross.

“The New Network will change the way people travel – it is a fundamental shift in the principles behind how we plan the public transport network. There will be a few challenging years ahead of us as we consult and implement, but in the long term it will make a very positive difference to Auckland’s public transport system.”

Consultation on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast runs from Monday 14 July to Thursday 14 August.

Following consultation, changes are planned to take effect in early-to-mid 2015. There will be an extensive information campaign ahead of the changes, and the new timetables will be available ahead of time so that passengers can plan their journeys.

In coming weeks, Auckland Transport will have people in local markets, shopping centres, and transport hubs and on the streets on the Hibiscus Coast talking to customers about these changes and getting their views. A series of information events have also been planned.

For more information on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast go to www.AT.govt.nz/newnetwork

The New Network is a region wide public transport network which is proposed to deliver bus services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week on major routes between the hours of 7am to 7pm. Services will connect better with train services for those customers who require connections.

South Auckland was the first region to be consulted on the New Network in 2013.

Bring on the New Network

The new bus network aims to revolutionise the bus network in Auckland turning it from a network that resembles spaghetti thrown on a map to a more legible and customer focused one. It provides a lot more routes that run with decent frequencies all day and is able to do so in a revenue neutral way by stopping stupid stuff like bus routes that duplicate and compete with the rail network and by having a greater use of transfers. Below is a map of the frequent network that will have services at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm 7 days a week. It is supported by a secondary network that provides greater coverage with 30 minute frequencies as well as peak only and other localised services.

newnetwork

To me the full roll out of the new bus network can’t come soon enough and that was highlighted again last night with the problems that occurred on the rail network. A water main burst at Fruitvale Station and apparently undermined the tracks. As a result the network was closed for a large portion of the day including the evening rush hour. There were a number of services cancelled outright and those that did run on the western line terminated at New Lynn with a shuttle bus taking passengers between there and Henderson.

Given how poorly these types of impromptu shuttle services have run in the past I didn’t hold out much hope that they would be any better this time. As such I decided to catch a bus home. The experience highlighted two things

1. AT need to have plans in place to make better use of the bus network when events like yesterday’s happen.

I don’t mind using an alternative service – even if it takes a little longer than the train does – if it means I don’t have to worry about mucking around with an hastily organised shuttle service. However while I’m someone who catches PT frequently I don’t have much idea about which bus alternatives I can catch.  AT could make it easier for people by having some prepared information telling people alternative options. For example some posters they can quickly pull out of a storage room telling people their options without having to wade through little pamphlets.

Fixing their journey planner would also help with this. When I looked on it half the services I could have caught didn’t show. It also might not be practical for a lot of people. Further it’s not just about which services but the myriad of potential bus stop locations around Britomart which makes everything confusing, something that will hopefully be addressed as the new network is rolled out.

2. Get the New Network Rolled out.

After fumbling around I found a service that would at least get me home – the 079 to Sturges Rd. I knew the route would be convoluted but that turns out to be an understatement. The map below shows the route the bus takes to get to Sturges Rd. The red part indicates the part of the route where most of the 20-30 people on the bus hopped off. The handful of people who remained on the bus in the blue part were mostly the rail refugees.

079 Route

By comparison if the new network was in place it would have been super easy to find a different way home. I could have jumped on a frequent bus along SH16 and transferred (at a Lincoln Rd interchange) to a bus down Lincoln Rd and had a short walk to Sturges Rd, an excellent alternative.

So bring on the new network with its more frequent and legible services along with the added resilience it provides.

Note: AT are starting consultation on the Hibiscus Coast services in just over a week and Warkworth services a week after that. They are also expecting to consult on West Auckland later this year.

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.

More City Link buses to Wynyard

Some good news from Auckland Transport who quietly as of yesterday made changes to the city link services. Now all City Link services (the red buses) will now go to Wynyard. In the past only every second bus did so. This should hopefully make the service more useful to people, especially as Wynyard grows.

City Link changes

Now all we need is the upgraded bus lanes on Fanshawe and Customs St to take place so the buses don’t get caught in congestion.

Bus route frustration

Now that I’m working in Takapuna I thought I would try out a few different options for getting to/from work via public transport and will write about some of my experiences over the coming days.

To start with I’m going to talk about the 130 bus which travels between New Lynn and Takapuna via Upper Harbour. I only tried this bus going home due to the timetable not exactly being friendly on the way to work in the morning. 

In theory this service should be ideal as 

  • It provides basically a single seat journey between Takapuna and Henderson (where I live)
  • Constellation Dr to Henderson has long been identified as being on the future Rapid Transit Network

But the reality is a far different story. PT services are always a balancing act between speed and connectivity and the 130 is a services that clearly doesn’t get that balance right.

Leaving the office at 5pm getting to the bus was easy and only a few minutes walk from work with the bus due to leave Takapuna at 5:10 so the timing was perfect. There were approximately a dozen people on the bus from Takapuna. From there it made its way to the Smales Farm busway station which took about 10 minutes with the bus getting caught in traffic along Taharoto Rd as well as picking up another ~6 passengers. The road is so wide that a bus lane should be easy along here however in the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world that it doesn’t exist.

At Smales Farm probably about another 10 people got on the bus before it blasted up the wonderful Northern Busway arriving at Constellation only a few minutes later. At Constellation another 10 or so people got on the bus bringing the total to 35-40 people all up which is a fairly decent load for a bus not going to/from the CBD.

Leaving Constellation the bus encountered what I thought was the first real problem that needed solving. To get to Upper Harbour Hwy the bus has to battle traffic on Constellation Dr trying to get on the motorway and it took almost 10 minutes just getting from the station to past the motorway interchange, a distance of about 500m. I’m interested to know if Northern Express buses to Albany also get caught in this traffic because if so it’s something that AT and the NZTA need to address (and quickly).

130 - Constellation congestion

From Upper Harbour Hwy it diverts to Upper Harbour Dr and then Greenhithe Dr to serve Greenhithe. I can kind of understand the latter diversion but Upper Harbour Dr is odd as it is very lightly populated. As there are some other buses that do run that route (the 956), perhaps it would be better to keep the bus on to the motorway till Greenhithe Dr giving a faster journey will still retaining the connectivity at Greenhithe. The suggested change is shown in red in the image below.

130 - Greenhithe

But for the problems that the service has on the Shore are dwarfed by those at once it crosses the harbour. It starts when the bus comes off the motorway and then off Hobsonville Rd and travels along Wisely Rd. That looks good on a map as it bisects the houses in the area but Wisely Rd has a fatal flaw for buses as it contains speed bumps every 100 or so metres. This makes the bus incredibly slow along the road. It also then takes further detours to try and provide greater coverage which is really the opposite of what a more regional route like this should be doing. In saying this West Harbour and Greenhithe were the locations where the majority of passengers disembarked (perhaps 2/3rds) and for them it’s clearly acting more like a local feeder service. Keeping the buses on Hobsonville Rd would lose some, but not all, connectivity but would greatly speed up this part of the journey.

130 - West Harbour

Perhaps the most mind numbing section was between Westgate and Lincoln Rd. The bus takes one of the most convoluted paths possible though roads barely big enough to fit a bus through undulating terrain. It’s clear that whoever designed this route only thought of trying to get as many houses on the route as possible and never considered actually making the service usable or attractive. This is of course on of the big downsides to a bus network focused on coverage rather than serving the most people. To me the bus should be run down the new Westgate Dr and then down Triangle Rd which like the Hobsonville example, would still provide some local connectivity but would reduce some of the worst parts of the journey.

130 - Massey

All up I get the feeling that the 130 is trying to provide a long distance service but ends up getting bogged down trying to provide local connectivity. For a bit of a comparison it took about 20 minutes to get from Takapuna to Constellation station then another 40 minutes to get to Royal Rd though an area that doesn’t suffer from congestion.

All up from door to door (including a lengthy walk at the end) my trip took over an hour and a half which is probably almost twice as long as it would take to drive at the peak. Suffice to say I won’t be catching that bus again.

To me this is a good example of why we have such a high mode-share for driving. The PT options are simply not realistic except for people who don’t care about how long their trip will take. In many cases around Auckland the new network will help with issues like those described above (although not so much in this specific case). It’s definitely an issue I’ll be raising when consultation on the new network comes up for West Auckland later this year.

More bus lanes required – Newton

A few weeks ago I asked readers where in Auckland was in urgent need of more bus lanes.My first post regarding quick wins on Fanshawe Street has been quite successful so far, with several Councillors asking questions of the Auckland Transport chair. This resulted in Auckland Transport finally acknowledging that they were aiming to build a proper busway along here in the next few years, as well as a promise to see if the quick win idea was feasible.

Another area that came up regularly in the comments section of the first article was the area around Upper Symonds Street and Newton. This is especially topical this week with university starting back this week. I heard from several people that there were big delays here on Monday morning, and total jams here are not uncommon.

This area has very high bus volumes, with several of the highest frequency bus routes in Auckland converging at this spot. Looking up the timetables between 7am and 9am I found the bus volumes were as follows-

BUS ROUTE 2 hour volume
Dominion Road 45
Mount Eden Road 36
New North Road 30
Sandringham Road 40
Manukau Road (joins at Khyber Pass) 23
Gillies Ave (joins at Khyber Pass) 8

This gives a total of 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one about every 40 seconds. The 2013 screenline survey (undertaken last March) showed that buses carried 6734 people into the city along this corridor between 7am and 9am. In comparison the latest vehicle count data for the area (from 2006) only found 984 cars in the busiest morning peak hour. While we can only guess at car occupancy rates (often estimated at 1.5), buses will certainly be carrying at least 2/3 of the people along this corridor. This is a strong case for continuous bus lanes along here.

So here is the map of the current bus lanes in Symonds St from Karangahape Road south to the intersection with Mount Eden and New North Roads.

Newton Existing Bus Lanes

current bus lanes along Upper Symonds Street

Bizzarely there are no northbound buslanes at all, while the southbound lanes stop at Khyber Pass, despite 83% of buses continuing to the New North/Mt Eden intersection.

However there is a very easy fix for most of this corridor. This area is lined with Clearways (seen in dark blue). These are parking during off-peak times, but general traffic lanes from 7am to 9am, and 4pm to 6pm. These could very simply be converted to bus lanes following the same time periods. Considering the statistics above this would result in a better outcome for most users of this corridor. These Clearways also continue down New North Road almost to the Dominion Road flyover so these should become bus lanes too.

Newton Clearways

The only issue comes near Alex Evans Street where the it narrows to 2 lanes, and there is a left turn into Alex Evans. This could either be a joint left turn/bus lane or the left turn into Alex Evans could be removed as there are plenty of other easy routes for left turning traffic.

 Symonds Alex Evans

At the intersection with Karangahape Road, general traffic gets 2 northbound lanes, despite them merging straight away into 1, while buses get a tiny advance stop box, which gets blocked by left turning traffic. So the easy solution is to make one of the straight through lanes into a bus lane, which matches what happens straight after the lights anyway. This can extend back to Alex Evans St, with a gap to let cars cross over into the ridiculously long left turn lane.

Symonds K Road

Again these are just short term fixes. In the longer term a more complicated solution will need to be devised, potentially a centreline busway with full stations. This could fit in with a major regeneration of the area in tandem with the Newton City Rail Link station (located directly opposite where Mt Eden Road ends). However it will be complicated to design an appropriate solution that matches the needs of increasing numbers of buses, much increased volumes of pedestrians and the need for separated cycleways.