The Dominion Road corridor is probably the most well-served bus corridor in Auckland (except for ones like Great South Road where you have a tonne of disparate routes converging) with over 30 buses along that route reaching the CBD between 8am and 9am during the week. That’s over a bus every 2 minutes, which means that at peak times the existing bus lanes are getting pretty close to capacity. Auckland City Council have plans to widen Dominion Road so that improved bus lanes can be constructed, but not until 2016. The project generally involves the following aspects:

Widening parts of Dominion Road

Sections of Dominion Road, between View Road and Lowery Avenue, will be widened by around one to two metres. This will accommodate four metre wide bus lanes, and more and better bus stopping facilities. The width of the new lanes is sufficient to allow cyclists to share the lane with buses.

Bus route deviations at Valley Road and Balmoral shops

Two features of the original Dominion Road passenger transport improvements were the proposed route deviations off Dominion Road near the Valley Road and Balmoral Road intersections and shopping centres. These were developed to avoid demolishing character buildings in the two shopping centres, and will each offer improved bus trip times and reliability if they are introduced.

Since the original scheme was developed 2003-2004 the need for better urban design features around the shopping centres and along the length of Dominion Road has been recognised. Consultation undertaken in 2005 also revealed that many people were also keen to see an improvement in the design of the paving, planting and seating facilities for example. To incorporate many of these urban design features, the original scheme for the deviations behind the shopping centres is currently under review. The review will enable Council to consider other ways of using the space behind the shopping areas and take international best practice into account while still delivering a sound solution for improving passenger transport along Dominion Road.

The table below shows the timing of the various parts of this project: While this is certainly a good project, it does make me wonder whether simply widening the bus lanes and threading them behind the shops at Valley Road and Balmoral Road is going to achieve what we need out of this corridor – and in particular whether it will interact with the land-use plans for the Dominion Road corridor and provide for the significantly higher capacity that is likely to be needed in the future.

The diagram to the left shows the Dominion Road corridor, broadly outlined. Dominion Road does stretch further south than this, all the way to Hillsborough Road actually, but I think the main focus is on the area north of Mt Albert Road, as that’s where the current squeeze on the road is most acutely felt.

The three red crosses indicate that three shopping centres along Dominion Road – Valley Road shops, Balmoral shops and Mt Roskill shops (heading north to south). Although there are these three distinct centres, I tend to think of the Dominion Road corridor as quite a continuous stretch of fairly intensive development. In particular, north of Balmoral Road there are shops which line Dominion Road for most of the distance from there to its northern end. This is no surprise as development stretched out along this route when it was a tram route.

There are three options I suppose when it comes to improving public transport along this route – the improved bus lanes as proposed, a light-rail/tram line and a (underground) heavy rail route. These options are detailed below:

1) The current bus-based proposal, as shown above, includes wider bus lanes and dedicated bus lanes behind the two shopping centres. Its cost is about $50-60 million I think. The wider bus lanes and especially the bypassed shopping centres would offer some improvements in capacity of the road, but I suspect that if we had significant intensification along this route we might eventually see it becoming fairly overcrowded. An advantage of a “bus based” system is that the buses can run with varying ‘stopping patterns’, some being express services, some only stopping in a couple of locations and others starting their run fairly close to the city but stopping everywhere.

2) A tram route would possibly run along the same route as the bus lanes, or alternatively down the middle of the road. I know that internationally there is a preference to run trams down the centre of roads, and perhaps that might be prefered. I would suspect that this option would be much more expensive – perhaps twice the price for infrastructure works as well as a decent amount of money to purchase trams/light-rail vehicles. In terms of capacity though, generally light-rail can carry around double the number of people per hour as a bus based system – as modern trams are often triple-articulated making each vehicle able to carry a couple of hundred people at capacity. I suspect that constructing a tram line along this route would also stimulate quite a lot of intensive redevelopment – which once again is something that Council’s plans seem to want.

3) The third option is a fully underground railway line, probably with stations at Valley Road, Balmoral Road and Mt Roskill, before linking up with a future Avondale-Southdown railway line next to the Mt Roskill Motorway. This line would obviously be incredibly expensive – perhaps in the region of a few billion dollars – but would offer a massive capacity increase compared to both bus-based and light-rail systems. One problem with it though is that having only three stations means that there would be a lot of people living between stations who wouldn’t be particularly close to the line – and we would probably have to provide a bus service along the route still – potentially not the most efficient outcome. If this option was ever chosen I imagine that massive intensification around the three stations would be needed to provide the number of required people within walking distance of the stations .

I probably lean towards option 2 as my preferred choice. The linear type of development that exists along Dominion Road makes on-street light-rail more suitable than heavy rail in my opinion. In terms of comparing a tram and bus-based system, I do think that a tram line is more likely to encourage intensification along the corridor than simply improving the current bus lanes. The additional capacity offered by light-rail also suggests that this might be a smarter option in the long term.

I’m keen to hear what others think though. This project is likely to be one of the next major public transport projects in Auckland (excluding rail improvements), so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. The changes in local government arrangements in Auckland will make it possible to readdress whether the current option is the best one.

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  1. One rather odd thing stands out to me: the decision to have cyclists sharing lanes with buses. Cyclists really shouldn’t be sharing lanes with anything even approximating rapid transit; having them share bus lanes is akin to having cyclists sharing railroad tracks. It’s common to have cyclists using bus lanes around Auckland, but it really doesn’t work very well; stand outside the hospital and watch the buses try to safely pass cyclists on the ‘central connector’ some time to see what I mean.

    Along these major road corridors I really think that cyclists should have their own lanes, which are somehow separated from both road and footpath (with bollards or something). A ‘shared space’-type concept might be better for side-streets and suburban roads, but when you want buses to be able to move quickly cyclists are going to either hold the buses up, or be put in danger by unsafe passing on the part of the bus drivers.

  2. That’s a good point actually. I would like to see wider footpaths and then have half the footpath dedicated to cyclists, perhaps with something other than a white line indicating where pedestrians go and where cyclists go. In Paris this is done quite well.

  3. I would like to think the bus improvements will be done in a way that we won’t have to start again when we go for light rail along this corridor. Light rail works much better from an urban design and pedestrian friendly perspective.
    Lots of diesel buses running along a street never makes for a nice environment. Light rail also has a higher effective capacity because people are much more willing to stand. This is because the ride on modern trams is amazingly smooth.
    I’ve seen overseas that people often choose to stand when there are seats available. You would never see that on a bus.

  4. I think light rail is quite obvious (but I would) we should think about when we should start putting pressure on for such an outcome IMHO…

  5. I would probably also go with option 2 as long as it was designed right with the ability to run the trams with a tight headways so we can cope with future growth. As for stations I think if you were also to build one at around Landscape Rd it would mean that all stations are about 1km apart so anyone living along the corridor would only have about a 500m walk to a station. Link these into some decent frequency cross town services and it could work really well. I also assume that after Valley Rd the line would follow Ian McKinnon Dr, Upper Queen St and then Queen St down to Britomart with a couple of stops along the way at K Rd, and around Aotea Square.

    I would also be tempted to separate the tracks from the road traffic in between the stations with curbing for safety so the trams don’t have to worry about cars trying to cross the tracks and block them, this means that they can travel the their maximum speed between stations. Planting along the curbing would also make the corridor more attractive for locals. Around the stations allowance could be made for cars to cross the tracks which would also be needed for any people who need to use the side roads blocked off by the tracks.

    Of course well known friend and supporter of public transport Mr S Joyce will be quick to point out that the benefits and costs need to be carefully weighed up so lets have a look at them.

    First I would think that there are at least around 5000 trips a day along the corridor. If we were to get just a 2% growth in the number trips each year then in 25 years we will have over 8000 trips a day which is a similar to the entire western line today. Then if we were to charge an average of just $3 a trip (in today’s currency) then over that 25 year period we would have collected about $180 mil which should easily cover the construction costs and a good chunk of the operating costs. In reality I think we could expect to see a larger growth especially in the first 5 years after construction as many people would find a modern light rail system far more attractive than buses.

    There are a couple of issues with this plan however.
    1. The trams can’t be used until the entire corridor has been completed which would take a number of years with a lot of disruption. This could mitigated by having the completed parts used as a busway until the entire thing is completed.
    2. I suspect that with Dom rd being a commercially viable route it is probably being used to subsidise other less viable routes. This could mean we end up paying more in subsidies for those routes.
    3. My idea of separating the tracks from between the stations would cause a lot of disruption for residents and would likely go ahead. Luckily it is something that could be done at a later date once people get used to the system being in place.

  6. I think if light-rail is going to be worth it then council needs to encourage some serious intensification around it. If the land was rezoned to a higher density then some of the capital gain should go to pay for the line.

  7. I would go with option 2 and second the stupid idea that prevails in Auckland that cyclists and buses should share lanes – I found riding in buslanes along great North Rd to be far from pleasent. Having trams running along here would actually lead to the possibility that this street would remain somewhat of a pleasent environment, with diesel buses you can forget it. Wasn’t the original plan that this would be a tram line and that was later shelved? Certainly, I feel if this is to be built it should be built with light rail in mind. Light rail will also have the advantage that the PT corridor can be narrower as trams don’t have to worry about banging into the oncoming tram and road space saved could be given over to wider footpaths with cycle paths. I read an article that discussed how buses on LA’s BRT system travel a lot slower when approaching an oncoming bus in the opposite direction due to both drivers slowing to avoid hitting. If the system was set up with centre running, and built for buses, the next stage could be for light rail to be installed – although ultimately light rail from the start is the best and probably the only way for it to happen. I read another study in Canada and the US, I think, which said that 90% of projects that left allowance for rail in the future e.g. Auckland’s SH20 never went on to have that built, it was merely to help the roading project appear more balanced.

    1. I’d be quite interested to know more about that study re: “future proofed” projects rtc. It would definitely confirm my suspicions that “future proofed for light rail” is a fairly meaningless term.

  8. I think I saw some Auckalnd City council minutes that said they wanted this project designed to take light rail in the future. As you say RTC this likely wouldn’t happen so needs to happen from the begining.

  9. Also at K rd I would probably put the track and station underground as the hill rises quite steeply here, this would make it easier for the tram and therefore faster, it wouldn’t have to be very deep. After K rd it would travel on the surface again down Queen St. An underground station could also be linked by a concourse to the CBD rail tunnel station under the intersection with Pitt St for transfers. If made wide enough it would also provide more retail space in the area.

  10. I’ll have to see if I can find that study again, it was probably a couple of years ago that I read it but everytime I read about a motorway in Auckland it springs to mind because Transit and the govt. always go on about how it’s been future proofed for rail – which according to the North American experience is meaningless.

    1. I suppose it’s better than not bothering to future-proof at all…. but yeah, generally it seems meaningless. From what I’ve heard the future-proofing of the Northern Busway for light-rail is completely rubbish and it would have to be heavily regraded for any type of rail above a 50kph tram.

  11. Would need to encourage higher densities before you consider expensive transport projects. Given the demographics of this area that may be politically tricky but definitely desirable for the future given future oil prices.

    A safe cycleway would be the most cost effective way of getting people adults/students/tourists about this part of Auckland.

  12. Re: the cycling part, I’d probably recommend making it appear as part of the road, but seperate it from motorised traffic by curbing or something as the biggest problem with on path cycle infrastructure is that it quickly gets taken over by pedestrians regardless of what the signage says.

    Also, yeah, I’d vote for light rail too. Perhaps one solid line leading from Dominion Rd to Queen St and Britomart and then out along Quay St and Tamaki Dr with fairly high frequencies.

  13. I’d go with option 2, however believe construction disruption can be reduced by letting buses use the route until the whole system is finished. The tram/busway should definately run down the middle of the road, and havbe priority measures at lights, because it is a high density corridor, providing regular services is critical to getting people out of the car. They count how many trams pass them a peak time, then try it out for themselves.

    If it is going to be future proffed, it must be done in a way to reduce major modification, the tram/busway must be installed with tracks so the road doesn’t have to be ripped up again. Installing electical wires etc could be optional, but the foundations should also be installed so all that needs to be done is wack in a few screws and put a pole up.

  14. I aggree that cycle lanes and footpaths shouldn’t be combined, it’s very dangerous and really slows down cyclists making it impractical to commute by cycle anything but short distances.

    cars and bikes don’t mix well but bikes and pedestrians mix even worse.

    And the problem with dedicated cycles lanes is they are generally too small to overtake and pedestrians still wander into them.

    I haven’t cycled with buses in auckland, but in london the city is plastered in bus lanes and these are used by cyclists and taxis too and it makes getting around very pleasant. Having considerate bus drivers helps, i’m sure they must get special training as i’ve only once been overtaking inconsiderately by a bus driver one in 7 years.

  15. A tram route that was coupled with a high-density zoning for housing and retail/commercial development would make a lot of sense. I wonder if the new council will be able to think that strategically?

  16. Auckland City Council certainly have plans to focus on intensifying the Dominion Rd corridor. Whether that is carried forward by the Super City remains to be seen. I think that a tram line might be necessary to ‘make it happen’ though, as a lot of areas supposedly identified for intensification have progressed very little at all.

  17. “… would have to be heavily regraded for any type of rail above a 50kph tram.”

    Uhm, that would be fine for most situations, wouldn’t it? Okay, I guess the problem with the Busway is that the distances between stations are longer, so more than 50kph would be good. As for Dominion Road (with stations much closer together, and thus, travel speeds being lower anywway), it shouldn’t be too hard to future-proof. Just make sure any curves and gradients aren’t too bad.

    DC, the solution may be intermediate cycle lanes – i.e. cycle lanes physically separated from the road with a mini kerb (2-3cm or so high) and then separated from the footpath again by another small kerb. Apparently it improves separation and user consistency quite a lot.

    As for the Paris solution – yes, many cycle lanes (AND bus lanes) are separated physically, because Parisians do NOT obey parking rules (and the Police do NOT enforce them in many areas of town – personal experience from friends and family members who live there) so real high kerbs etc… are used. Sadly, you still get people parking directly at the entrances or exits of these separated lanes, so it is a bit of a mixed blessing. Works better, as always, if enforcement keeps people in line.

  18. I am guessing that Dominion Rd already has the density for a tramway to be highly sucessful and with one would become even more so. As it is, people are probably not especially desperate to move to a congested street with a diesel bus running past every 2 minutes. I honestly think trams would be highly sucessful all over Auckland, we really just need to get one in place e.g. like Dominion Rd to prove its worth. Most people in Auckland seem to think trams are what are running at MOTAT and ChCh, quaint rattly and definitely something that should be resigned to the past. However, with a bit of expsoure to a modern system….well it’ll happen one of these days.

  19. Dominion road would be a brilliant place to start with a light rail system, it would provide quick and easy access to the city for the many students who live in the area, and would prove it’s worth time and time again come saturday night when the rugby’s on at eden park.

    Another option for a test subject light rail corridor would be britomart > St Helliers via Tamaki Drive, however it’d probably be used less as a commuting form of transport and more of a tourism one being that most people that live out that way are inseparable from their cars and the beaches out there are the easiest (but quite far from the nicest) to get to in a short amount of time from the city)

    As a balmoral shops dominion road cyclist commuter (what a mouthfull) I find the bus lanes to be ok along this route, however I only recently bought my bike and havn’t had the pleasure of riding into uni every day (get to experience that in march yay). But I’m sure there could be a better way to go about it.

    On the topic of “Future Proofing” highways with the possibility of rail, the upgrade to SH20 Manakau Crossing will be something to watch. I grew up in Mangere Bridge (the southern end of the crossing) and getting into the city is a nightmare at best, in peak hours it would take me a good 75 minutes to get into the city (30 max in a car). It would be interesting to see how long it takes to realise they made a mistake not chucking a rail crossing in (there’s already a line to the wharf) and continuing down to the airport

    Anyway, bit of a ramble comment I apologise, #2 sounds good, #3 would be good for “future proofing”, #1 would put us in the same position a few years down the track

  20. I know they are reviewing the idea of putting the bus lanes behind the shops at Balmoral and Valley Rd but thinking more about it I think they should put them in but instead use as a shared space for pedestrians and cars like what is planned for Fort St. As part of this all parking could be removed from this part of the road to leave it free for trams/buses and the road lanes while still providing a small amount of parking for the local shops.

  21. In the balmoral shops there’s more than enough parking on the side streets, especially on Wiremu St and Rocklands Ave to not have roadside parking. It would help with congestion quite a bit (I know there are no parking times during peakhour, but it gets dicey all the time.

    Wiremu St is on the left, Rocklands Ave on the right (The main road through the middle is Dominion and the intersection just out of view Balmoral, obviously). As you can see both have 45 degree parking which provides ample space, there’s also quite a bit of parking to the right behind The Warehouse

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