The Northern Busway has been a big success since it opened in February last year. Even though the busway has now been fully open for 18 months, its patronage is still increasing quite significantly year on year – with June 2009 patronage more than 20% above June 2008 patronage. So it’s got me thinking – is there anywhere else that we could build a busway in Auckland?
A few possible options show up in ARTA plans, including as an option for providing a “rapid transit network” for the part of Auckland east of the Tamaki River. Personally, I think that would be a mistake and any provision out there has to be rail. That is because even if we built a high quality busway between Manukau City and Panmure via Flat Bush, Botany and Pakuranga there would be the huge problem of “what to do with all those buses once we get to Panmure?” The passengers couldn’t just hop onto the train system, as it’s already pretty full between Panmure and the city, while building a busway between Panmure and the city would be nigh on impossible. That’s why I think the solution has to be rail. Another possible busway that has been mentioned is an extension of the Northern Busway to Albany, and eventually to Orewa. The extension to Albany makes a lot of sense – but to Orewa seems crazy. I think NZTA have only really suggested the link through to Orewa because it’s the only public transport project they’re able to get involved in – and they’re quite proud of what they achieved with the Northern Busway.
However, one location where I think a busway would be appropriate, and very useful, would be along the Northwestern Motorway – state highway 16. While we do have the Western Line railway serving much of west Auckland, its catchment is quite separate to that of the northwest motorway. The northwest motorway is one of Auckland’s most congested, with very uneven flows (all into the city in the morning and out of the city in the evening) which I think would make it quite well suited to a busway. The route would follow the route outlined below: which effectively is simply the route of state highway 16. Possible busway stations would align pretty close with current motorway interchanges. More on the stations soon, but here’s the route: Quite a lot of the route would probably be easier to construct than the Northern Busway was – with the corridor along which SH16 runs being pretty wide in general. The motorway between Pt Chevalier and Te Atatu is going to be widened to 8 lanes in the near future anyway – so the busway could be either built at the same time as that or (shock horror) instead of the motorway widening. Between Westgate and Te Atatu the motorway is proposed to be widened to 6 lanes, so once again the busway could either be built at the same time, or instead of the widening. So no real problems there in terms of feasibility.
On the city side of Pt Chevalier, things might be a bit trickier. There is room along most of the distance between Pt Chevalier and Western Springs, while the motorway between the city and Western Springs has been widened recently, so potentially the busway would need to acquire lanes from the motorway (which could be quite justifiable). In terms of getting from SH16 to Britomart, my prefered route would probably be that outlined below:
From the end of SH16 the busway would continue down the right-hand lane of Nelson Street (which would become a bus lane), before turning right at the Cook Street intersection. It would then continue along the left-hand lane of Cook Street (which would also become a bus lane) before turning left into Mayoral Drive, which quickly becomes Albert Street. There could be a stop outside the back of Aotea Centre, providing a good “midtown stop”, before continuing down the bus lanes of Albert Street to terminate at Britomart.
For buses leaving Britomart, effectively the route would be the same up Albert Street, before turning right into Cook Street then left into Hobson Street. I would probably make the right hand lane of this part of Hobson Street into a bus lane, so that buses could bypass queuing traffic at the Pitt Street/Union Street intersection. The busway would probably have to share with general motorway traffic through the central motorway junction until around the Newton Road bridge, where perhaps one lane of the motorway (right hand lane perhaps?) could rise up, cross over the citybound side of the motorway and then continue down the busway proper – which would be located on the northern side of SH16. I think two stops in the CBD would suffice – hopefully we could even have some sort of system available where people could prepay for their rides within a busway station, so that when the bus came along they could simply pile onto the bus through both the front and back doors – improving loading times as nobody would need to directly pay the driver or even swipe their cards before getting on the bus.
In terms of station locations, pretty much all the stations I showed in the first image could be constructed fairly easily – at least easier than it was to build the Northern Busway stations. Let’s start with Western Springs, which would be a fairly small station on the site of what’s currently a petrol station and a carpark – so pretty easy putting it there. The interchange ramps would need to be reorganised so they go under or over the busway, but once again that’s pretty manageable:
The next station is at Pt Chevalier, and would basically convert a current carpark into a busway station. Once again the station would be relatively small – probably similar in size to either the Smales Farm or Sunnynook stations on the Northern Busway. It’s shown below: The Pt Chevalier station is very well located right in the heart of Pt Chev shops. Some of the area highlighted as “station” would be needed for the station itself, some allowing local buses to zip in and zip out of the area to transfer passengers to the busway, and some room for people to drop off passengers. I don’t think there’s be much space for park and ride, which is OK for a station this close to the city.
Although my map above shows a Rosebank station, further analysis shows that might be quite hard to provide and probably not really worth it – due to there only really being industry in that area and also the ecological sensitivity of Pollen Island. So we move on to Te Atatu – where there’s a huge space available for an extensive busway station and associated park and ride area: I imagine the Te Atatu station as being possibly the busiest on the whole busway – with many local buses linking in to the station while at the same time the available space means that quite a lot of park and ride could be provided too.
The next station is near the Lincoln Road interchange, and would be smaller than Te Atatu, but still probably have a decent amount of room available for park and ride: I know there’s currently an old ship located on the Lincoln station site, but I’m sure that could be shifted somewhere else (I hope so anyway). I think that the station would mostly be useful for park and ride, although some bus services that run along Lincoln Road could also use the station to either join the busway or to drop passengers off – who would go on to catch an equivalent of the Northern Express route that operates on the northern busway.
The next station at Massey would be smaller, and not include any park and ride spaces due to space constraints. I’m not sure whether there would even be room for local bus transfers, or whether it would just be for walk-up passengers like is the case for Sunnynook station on the northern busway: The final station would be located at Westgate. I haven’t put together a map of it – as the area is due to change very significantly in the future due to motorway works associated with the Hobsonville Deviation – and also due to major changes to the shopping area that I think Waitakere City are looking to progress. In any case, it would probably be quite a large Park and Ride station – similar to that of Albany on the North Shore (although hopefully not in the middle of nowhere).
In terms of services, I think something quite similar to what runs on the Northern Busway would work well. A “Western Express” service could operate the core spine along the busway – running at 10 minute frequencies throughout the day. This could be supplemented by local feeder buses linking to various station, and also some typical services that could shift onto the busway to speed them up. I know that a lot of current West Auckland buses use the northwest motorway for some of their route, so things could work well.
Anyway, overall I think this is a good idea. NZTA could fund it as well, out of their state highway budget – so the funding could be made available more easily than would be the case for other public transport projects. Thoughts?