By all accounts Auckland’s Northern Busway has been a huge success since it opened in February last year. The graph below shows quite clearly how its patronage has continued to rise in recent months: with March 2009 being up significantly on March 2008 (even though the full busway was open by March 2008).
Keep in mind that these patronage figures are only for the Northern Express route, and that a lot of other routes also use the busway. In fact, I have heard that during the morning peak hour 88 buses heading into the city use the busway – or roughly one every 40 seconds. This still leaves quite a lot of room for growth on the busway though, as up to 240 buses per hour can use the busway quite comfortably, and after that point more can probably be added if some work is done to expand the bus stations themselves.
What is interesting though is actually how poorly located a lot of the bus stations are, or more to the point how the land around many of the stations is so poorly utilised. There are five stations on the busway: Akoranga, Smales Farm, Sunnynook, Constellation Drive and Albany. Albany and Constellation Drive have park n ride carparks, and Albany in particular is located in an area that will grow quite significantly over the next few years. The Constellation station is probably one of the better located, within pretty close walking distance of a large number of commercial premises. Sunnynook is not really that well integrated with the local community, but that community is a fairly well established suburban area so it probably won’t be easy to change that significantly and provide for intensification around the bus station.
This leaves Smales Farm and Akoranga stations, which I think are – at the moment – fairly lost opportunities in terms of the land use patterns that surround them. In the case of Smales Farm half of its “walking catchment” is a high school and not much can be done about that, but the other half is largely a giant under-used carpark. In the picture below I show how that could potentially be transformed into a pretty high density mixed-use centre, bringing a lot of people and businesses within easy walking distance of the busway station.
As you can see, there is huge under-utilisation of the area surrounding the bus station, with only a couple of large buildings being present. In the green “town centre” area I would propose some fairly high rise office buildings, retail and perhaps a park. In the red areas a mixture of office and apartment buildings would be suitable. Potentially a few thousand people could live within an easy 5 minute walk of this station, and a number of jobs could also be located within this area.
If we turn to Akoranga station, the situation is very similar. It’s quite a pity that Akoranga Station is so separated from Takapuna town centre as that would really be a perfect area to centre a busway (of future train) station on. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of potential for further development here. Having a golf driving range as the most significant land-use right next to a busway station seems like a total waste.
As with Smales Farm station, in the immediate vicinity of the station I would have a retail town centre, potentially with some high-rise office buildings. Then outside that in the red areas I would propose lower-rise mixed-use development with offices and apartments. Barrys Point Road is currently a total mess, with a mixture of wholesale and retail outlets. Over time it could definitely redevelop into a fairly high-density development node, with retail on the ground level and either offices or apartments above it. Once again, there is potential for potentially thousands of people to live in very close proximity to this bus station.
I certainly do hope that, over time, these land-use changes are made and a lot more people are brought within easy walking distance of the busway stations. If the Northern Busway is to ever be upgraded into a railway line (which would be ideal) then more people will need to be within walking distance of the railway stations to make it worthwhile. The above pictures show how that could be done.