Slip Lanes be gone

The council is hailing the fact that just over one quarter of the slip lanes in the city centre have been removed over the last few years. This is excellent news for pedestrians as it will make many intersections much safer.

Pedestrian safety and access in the city centre has taken another step forward with the removal of three ‘free left turns’ at intersections as part of the upgrade of Beach Road.

More than a quarter of the turns (11 out of 40) have now been removed from the city centre since 2012, when the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) advocated their removal. A free left turn is one where traffic is regulated by lights when going straight or turning right, but vehicles can turn left without a signal.

Local Board chair Shale Chambers says: “These turns can make crossing a road unsafe and unpleasant for people on foot, especially for younger or vulnerable pedestrians, so it’s great to see this progress in such a short space of time.

“The city centre is rapidly becoming a much more pleasant place to walk, with these improvements adding to the creation of a laneway circuit. This helps the centre buzz, which in turn attracts people and – crucially – business investment. “

The completion of stage 2 of the Beach Road project removed the free left turns at the intersections with Britomart Place and Tangihua Street. The first stage of the Beach Road upgrade removed two others, while more have been removed along Mayoral Drive and at the bottom of Albert Street.

Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid says “Free left turns tend to create over-sized intersections that encourage vehicles to travel too fast, compromising pedestrian safety. Instead, the focus needs to be on creating a vibrant and pleasant walking, shopping or browsing environment, where people can walk with confidence.

“Rather than being anti-car, removing these slip lanes can be a win for everyone. If people can cross more quickly, this can also reduce waiting times for cars.”

The remaining 29 include four along Symonds Street, eight along the Grafton Gully and five surrounding Victoria Park.

Here’s a map of the status of all slip lanes in Auckland. It’s worth noting that this only includes ones where there is a free left turn, so situations like the intersection on Nelson St and Fanshawe St where the slip lanes are signalised are not counted.

City Centre Free Left Turns 2015

Here’s one example of slip lanes that have been removed. This is the intersection of Beach Rd and Tangihua St, and with the slip lanes traffic would travel at speed through the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes

And now that the Beach Rd project has removed the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes gone

One of the reasons slip lanes are so dangerous is that they can shift drivers’ focus away from what’s in front of them, and instead they focus on what traffic may be coming from the right to see if they can get through the lane without stopping. Depending on the situation, that could result in them speeding up to get ahead of approaching traffic or braking sharply to avoid a crash, but almost always the last thing on their mind will be the person on the left who may be trying to cross the road. This isn’t surprising, as if you’re in a metal box you’re much more at risk from other metal boxes than you are from squishy humans.

There are a few questions from this, including how long until we can get the rest of the slip lanes removed, why aren’t we removing them from suburbs all across Auckland, and why are we still letting engineers design them into projects?