A key public transport project that sat just outside the construction timeline phase for my “Transport in the next five years” plan, was about Dominion Road – and how we go about actually implementing a high-quality QTN (quality transport network) along that road. Dominion Road is an unusually good bus route in Auckland, because of its straightness, because of the level of development along it, and because of how extensive its bus lanes are.

Buses now run along Dominion Road at 5 minute intervals, even during inter-peak times on weekdays. Higher frequencies (around 40 buses per hour) travel along it during peak times. Anecdotally (fellow blogger Jeremy is a daily bus user along that route) I have heard that even though we have a huge number of buses servicing this route, at busy times they are still often running close to capacity. Because of this approaching capacity issue, and because there are some pretty tricky bottlenecks along the Dominion Road bus route, over the past few years Auckland City Council has been developing a plan to provide a better quality public transport route – something that can truly meet the standards of a Quality Transport Network.

A number of years ago the plan was for light-rail, although in more recent times the plans have switched back to generally being what could be called “enhanced bus lanes”. At a couple of particular pinch-points (the Valley Road and Balmoral shops), the buses (or trams, theoretically) divert behind the shopping centres so that wholesale demolition of the historic fabric of those town centres could be avoided.

I had thought that the whole project was essentially delayed until around 2016, because of Auckland City Council budget cuts, but a most recent paper in the Council’s transport committee agenda reveals that things are actually chugging along fairly quickly. The paper also offers a few handy maps and drawings to show us what we might expect from the project.Now that looks pretty similar to what we have now, but apparently it isn’t. As well as slightly widened bus lanes, it seems that we will now get the bus lanes somehow physically separated off from the adjacent cycle lane.

I have no problem with the removal of on-street parking along this route (although it’s fairly inevitable that will be controversial), and I suppose if this enables both a cycle lane to be put in, plus the bus lanes to potentially operate at all times, then this will be a significant gain. It does make me wonder what the original design actually achieved compared to what we already have (peak hour bus lanes, parking in those lanes at other times). The other big change proposed in this latest paper is for the lanes around the back of Balmoral and Valley Road shops to not actually be used, and to keep the buses on Dominion Road – hopefully in a dedicated lane I might add! I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, although (as I will explain shortly) I’m always loathe to give up a designation when you might need it in the future.

While I like the change that removes parking, and potentially the idea to keep the public transport on Dominion Road could have its merits (dipping around the back of shops never really leads to nice environments for those catching public transport – just look at the Onehunga bus ‘interchange’) I still have this fundamental question about whether “enhanced bus lanes” is really going to be sufficient for Dominion Road’s future level of demand, and whether in fact it is the best option – or whether we need to look at light-rail. From past posts I hope people have realised that I am not “anti-bus”, or indeed “anti” or “pro” any particular technology. In my opinion, different corridors have different needs, and on some corridors buses and bus lanes will be most appropriate, on others we will need heavy rail, and on others again we probably need something that sits in between – like a light-rail line (and by light-rail I mean modern trams/streetcars).

In my opinion the situations where we might choose light-rail are fairly limited, because a lot can be achieved through high-quality bus lanes, at a fraction of the capital cost (although operating costs are likely to be higher for buses). Light-rail is unlikely to be faster than a bus – as the speed will usually depend upon the level of priority given, boarding times, spacing between stops and so forth – which can equally apply for both light-rail and buses. However, there are some advantages that light-rail has which only apply to it. They are:

  1. Higher capacity. Along a route like Dominion Road it’s unlikely that the bus lanes will easily cope with more than 60 buses per hour, or around a bus a minute – this is not because of a lack of capacity on the road itself, but rather problems that will arise around stops, because they are ‘online’, and also because of problems arising from the non grade-separated nature of the road. With 60 people per bus, that’s around 3600 people shifted per hour. In contrast, as far as I know modern articulated trams can hold up to 200 passengers each, meaning that running one of those every two minutes could shift up to 6000 people per hour along the corridor in each direction.
  2. Smoother ride. The very nature of how trams drive is smoother than a bus, and internationally that seems to show a greater ‘capture’ of potential passengers compared to what you see on a bus route. It’s hard to calculate the extent of this though.
  3. Effects on land-use patterns. The existence of light-rail wires and tracks provides legibility about where the route goes, and shows a significant capital investment in that particular route. It means that services are likely to be provided at fairly high frequencies, and that where the route goes is fairly obvious. Internationally, this has tended to stimulate intensification around new light-rail lines more than would have happened for simple bus lanes. Portland is the classic example of this, and actually measures the success of its light-rail projects on the level of intensification stimulated – rather than by any particularly transport focused outcomes.

For largely points 1 and 3 above, I think Dominion Road is unusually suitable for a light-rail line, and if we don’t go down that path, we may very well regret in the future if the bus lanes become overwhelmed. This is what the council paper says about the bus lanes/light-rail discussion:

I have some really serious issues with this paragraph above. The first is that improving public transport is not about making a choice between heavy rail and light rail. They both serve very different purposes, particularly if we’re talking about the kind of “on street, modern trams” type of light-rail I’m proposing should be investigated for Dominion Road. It seems as though Auckland City Council (or perhaps ARTA, if this is actually what they said) has fallen into the “technology trap” of thinking that if you choose light-rail you can’t do heavy rail, or the vice-versa. Different corridors, different technologies.

The other seriously scary thing about the above paragraph is that Dominion Road’s bus lanes are even being vaguely considered for ‘opening up’ to T2 transit lanes, which would allow cars with two or more passengers to use them, as well as buses. This is the most stupid idea I think I have ever come across. Dominion Road will, if we go with the bus lane concept, be pushing the capacity of a bus lane – let alone if we allow a whole pile of cars to also use the lane! T2 lanes are marginally acceptable along routes where the number of buses is fairly low, such as Tamaki Drive where I think there are only 8 buses per hour in the peak direction at peak times. Making Dominion Road a T2 lane would be completely, incredibly, utterly and irresponsibly stupid (I think I might have got across how strongly I feel about that issue).

I must say, that while I have railed against the creation of the Auckland Transport CCO, and I still have some serious misgivings about it, some of the transport decisions being made at the moment by current councils, such as this project and AMETI, are incredibly ad hoc and short-sighted. Hopefully the new transport agency will at the very least be able to kill off some of the stupid decisions being made at the moment, view these projects in a more region-wide and long-term manner, and then go about implementing a coherent transport plan for Auckland. Let’s just hope the current councils can’t do too much damage in the meanwhile.

Share this


  1. The thing with the Copenhagen model of cycleways is that in Copenhagen they don’t have driveways every ten metres or so. The whole concept doesn’t really work if you’re cycle lane is riddled with driveway ramps and there are drivers sitting stopped across the cycleway waiting to pull into traffic, or for that matter pulling out of traffic and across the cycleway.


  2. I’m just waiting for the shit-storm to erupt when people realise that the council is proposing to remove all on-street parking from Dominion Road.

  3. Some of that parking can be replaced by diagonal parking on the side streets. Big picture of course is having many more people walking who make better customers for local merchants.

    p.s. I hate that homeowners, dairy owners, etc think they own the public right-of-way (for the purpose of parking cars.) Its embarrassing how the bus and bike lanes disappear for one or two car spaces.

  4. Street parking will still exist in the three shopping centres with the bus diversions, and I wonder if they are planning on having 24/7 bus lanes or just peak ones.

  5. I love the concept of separated cycle lanes. The sad thing is that, like on Lake Road, it makes the cyclists the “lightning rod” for the scheme opponents. WE will cop most of the grief. I remain unconvinced that they (being Council, and Auckland Transport) will actually fight for that component.

    As for the light rail comment – Jarbury, I see the “invest in heavy rail” comment in a slightly more philosophical way. Implementing light rail along Dom Road would basically mean jump-starting a tram system in Auckland, and spending oodles in start-up costs. For that route to work, trams would have to go all the way down to Britomart on Queen Street – it’s not just Dom Road (can’t let them disembark on Ian McKinnon, at the edge of the CBD!)

    So basically, we are looking at an initial investment of 500-1,000 million. I pulled that number our of my right ear, but it sounds reasonable to me when you think of all the costs from new trams to reconstructing the road and adding tram tracks from the south end of Dom Road to Britomart. Then you need stabling, new organisation structures and all that stuff.

    In short, lots of money. Auckland barely scraped together the funding to upgrade its heavy rail system, and FINALLY got it over the hurdle. I can’t fail them for, in 2004, deciding that light rail on Dom Road was a step too far.

  6. Is having a cycle lane between the footpath and the bus lane practical? Passengers will try and embark or disembark right across the cycle lane without looking for bicycles. That is if you can actually get them to not queue on the cycle lane.

  7. Obi, pedestrians and cyclists mix better than buses and cyclists in my opinion – so there needs to be a separation.

    Fair points max, I just hope someone’s doing the maths on this one. I don’t think it would be anywhere near as expensive as you say. Maybe $100-200 million at the most. You don’t need much earthworks for trams.

  8. Good post thanks. Any mention of losing parking tends to get people irrationally hot under the collar so it’s pretty much guaranteed that the ‘shit-storm’ is brewing. Council has done a poor job in the past of explaining, that where land use zoning requires off street parking to be provided (and for much of Dominion Rd this is the case), then land owners do not have exclusive rights to on-street parking; parking is a privilege not a right.

    Admin you said “Making Dominion Road a T2 lane would be completely, incredibly, utterly and irresponsibly stupid”. That describes the CitRat’s in general. This provision is only in the report for their benefit.

    1. And true to their form, CitRats voted to allow cars to use the bus lane. Yep, cars carrying one or more people will be able to use the bus lane. Surefire way to sink the whole project…

        1. Good heaven’s no. I should correct myself; it’ll be a T2 lane as well. It won’t sink the project but will crimp it severely. Which isn’t ‘sinking’ per se, merely denting it.

  9. Admin… At the best of times, pedestrians seem to wander across cycle lanes randomly and I think most cyclists are alert to avoid them. But in this situation you’ll potentially have people stepping off buses directly on to the lane without checking for passing bicycles. That is a recipe for a highish speed collision. This isn’t anything that good design can’t fix. The Dutch would do it properly, for instance. Just that NZ has a record of constructing cheap dodgy cycle lanes.

  10. Hello Admin

    My suggestion to further discussion is to see some overseas examples that are applicable to what could be achieved with Dominion Road

    I would like to see some diagrammatic street-maps of how they separate the various categories of traffic in Melbourne, Portland, Vancouver, specifically Netherlands, other European cities.
    I want to see real life examples on how tram tracks are separated from other traffic including cycle lanes, street car-parking, bus/tram stops.
    I also want to see examples of nice street ambience within this type of environment, houses above the street, cafes and retail businesses at street level, etc.

    Seeing and discussing some overseas examples would be very timely. If you can convey a visual picture of where Dominion Road should go, then you have something that is very sellable.

    A clear alternative to a scheme that as it currently stands does not communicate a “big picture” end-goal that is easily understood by the communities affected. Because there is no vision being articulated, the scheme runs the risk of being hi-jacked by the inevitable petty self interest groups! If done incorrectly, widening Dominion Road runs the risk of creating a Te Irirangi drive – hardly a model of intimate European style my street-is-my-home and playground style living.

  11. I agree with obi,the configuration pictured above is not desirable for cyclists. The grade separation from the road will give pedestrians the mindset that it is OK to treat like a footpath. This will lead to cyclists deciding that the vehicle lanes are safer, What would the con’s of placing the cycle lane between the bus lane and normal traffic lane? I think 1.8m is plenty wide enough to have traffic passing on both sides and feel this configuration would place cyclists at reduced risk from both left turning vehicles and pedestrians. Could median bus lanes be an option here? What is better for trams? median or cerbside?

  12. Good points tuktuk, it would be a very good idea to visually convey the kind of outcome that I am suggesting would be most appropriate for Dominion Rd. One place that we could model it on is in Portland. Latitude 45 31’15.02 N. Longitude 122 41’26.85 W. Worth checking out on streetview.

  13. Median is better for trams (and buses for that mattter). Well actually it is better for the other road users as centre lanes only block right hand turns, while side lanes also block left hand turns (both block cross traffic).

    There is no reason the bus lanes couldn’t be in the centre, that would actually save some width as they could function as the flush median to separate regular traffic. Most new Melbourne tram ‘superstops’ are in the middle of the street with side platforms and light controlled pedestrain crossings, such that they are more like little train stations. This means that people exit to the left anyway, just like one does on a bus.
    Hmmm, interesting idea, build basically the tramway but run it with buses. Leave out the rails and power cables until demand is so high that the buses can’t handle the jandal anymore.

    …however, side buses might provide a better buffer for cyclists, as the buses wouldn’t be turning off the main street much. Therefore drivers would have to check for busesbefore turning off the main road, rather than just turning without looking. I.e. the risk of being smashed by a bus would make drivers look at what is coming (and hopefully see cyclists too).

  14. Hmm, been having a look around for examples of centre bus lanes, and I think it might actually be a winner. It shouldn’t be any more expensive to do the centre lanes rather than the outer ones, having them in the middle means less conflicting movements with general traffic, plus having them at the centre means no need for the 1.6m flush median indicated above, so other parts of the roadway can be made wider.

    As the three main ‘town centre’ stops are off-line there are no problems with stops there, while midblock it just means a light controlled crossing is required to access a pair of low platforms in the centre. The platforms can simply take up the width that the busbays would have needed anyway.
    Various examples here:

  15. Yes, centre bus lines would be much easier to convert to light rail later. And they work perfectly well, even though the bus stops need extra attention, and possibly a bit of extra width. Sadly, for some reason they have not been considered here? May have to ask the engineer at some stage as to why.

    As for cyclists in the currently shown layout – of course you would have to treat bus stops differently than the standard layout.

  16. Central bus lanes do seem like a much better option, its a shame the planners here haven’t had the foresight to try and implement it.

  17. Nick, the thing is that those town centre stops are no longer “off-line”. The council paper was about shifting away from that option and towards just keeping the buses on Dominion Road. Mainly because it seems council was worried about the Balmoral “The Warehouse” making them pay a crap load of money for relocation costs.

    I quite like the idea of buses in the middle of the road though, as long as it can be done safely.

  18. You could keep the median and simply pull the buses in a little closer where there are stops and have the bus stops on islands between the lanes. The other thing you could do is have buses that have doors on both sides and have a central island for bus stops. This would provide you with more room on each island, however you would have to cross two lanes of traffic to get to the street.

    1. Adopt Melbourne’s bylaw. Cars and cyclists have to stop behind a tram to allow passengers to cross to the footpath.

  19. On one of the links Nick provided the buses travel on the opposite side to the flow. This appears to be for centre platforms but also to stop any cars from attempting to use the lane.

  20. Matt, that idea seems to me to potentially be more trouble that it’s worth. I think having the bus lanes as T2/T3 lanes off-peak could actually be a good idea. Although definitely NOT at peak time!

  21. Hi Admin
    Thankyou for the info on Portland , and also some of the other links – Nick.
    I also had a quick look at Melbourne – personally been to Sydney but never Melbourne.

    I think case made, the bus-lanes need to go in the middle of Dominion road with fewer but better bus stops.
    Make the bus stops sheltered and well lit – actually arguably safer in terms of perceived personal security
    Make the buses with doors in both sides as per several overseas cities
    With that in place we will have headed a long way toward RT (if not all the way)
    The one remaining task at that stage will be to make it quiet and electric………

    I can see some challenges in implementing this on Auckland roads in general. The space requirements are tough. The thing that got me about Portland was its overall spaciousness.
    Part of the solution will be in well thought out urban design with individualised solutions. There was careful integration of the street-based tram systems in both Melbourne and Portland. Sometimes the cars bypassed the main street, and sometimes it was the tram that went round the back of the main street.

    On cycling – its going to be best to be adjacent to the footpath. Make the cycle lane slightly raised and even fence off from the road for portions of the journey. Perhaps also use a different textured/coloured surface. Cyclists will of course still be watching out for people backing out of driveways.

    In terms of general advocacy, future arterial roads within the greater Auckland region really really should be planned around street widths more equivalent to Portland, and with cycle lanes, future RT corridors locked into planning requirements.

  22. Many of Auckland’s arterial roads once did have trams running down the middle of them, so one would imagine are wide enough for that to happen again in the future! In some areas, such as Mt Albert shops, you can see how the roads (in this case New North Road, on the rail station side) have been significantly narrowed because they didn’t have to be wider after the trams got ripped out, and instead offer a little service lane for extra street parking. I’m sure there are other example of this too.

    I feel much more comfortable about cyclists and pedestrians sharing space than I do about cyclists and cars/buses sharing space.

  23. Is there any point to T2/T3 lanes off-peak? If it is busy enough to need T3 lanes off peak it is busy enough to need bus lanes off peak!

  24. Have they ever considered the impact on business by removing the on-street parking?

    Unless people in Auckland are really willing to take bus (this requires a fundamental change to the travel culture of Aucklanders which will not be changed overnight or just because of the provision of a bus lane) which needs to be really convenient FOR THE WHOLE DAY (not just during the peak hours) and works well even after hours (considering there are many restaurants there with operating hours mainly at night), a 24 hour bus lane may not achieve what it aims to achieve but could just kill the town centre. It is not realistic to expect the patrons to dine there by taking PT at 7pm at night. Even one wants, it may not be possible. (for example, for those living in North Shore).

    Dominion Road is a distinct town centre that serves more than just its surrounding area so the planners should see things in a wider context.

    A light rail may better achieve this purpo but as the author suggested, it does not appear that those officers who in charge of the Auckland Regional Transport are knowledgable enough to even distinguish the difference between heavy rail and light rail…

  25. “a 24 hour bus lane may not achieve what it aims to achieve but could just kill the town centre.”

    You are aware that direct, outside-of-a-shop parking turnover usually isn’t that high at all compared to shopping turnover? Also, with a dedicated busway with effective 5-min or less frequencies, getting off the bus, doing your shopping and then continuing on home is a perfectly viable strategy. Finally, the town centres serve surrounding areas and will still have parking in the nearby streets. In fact, I expect Council will bend over backwards (or be bent over backwards) to provide extra parking nearby when it displaces Dominion Road parking.

    Finally, what is the alternative? Should we let local concerns block all our projects? Even though we know from experience elsewhere that the majority of the concerns are unfounded? I say not.

    1. Has the Council ever surveyed the source of customers/patrons on Dominion Road during the day? Is the current PT service adequate to cover their travel needs? Would this change happen with the new provision of a new bus lane? Where are the buses on Dominion Road currently go (as stated before, if I live in North Shore but want to go to Dominion Road for dinner, it will not be realistic for me to take bus and I could simply drive) and will they change with the new bus lane?

      It appears to me that the proposed bus lane may again, mainly aims to serve the daily commuters between CBD and Dominion Road, but how about a wider area in the Auckland region? How about during nighttimes? Given its uniquness, the catchment of Dominion Road is much more than just CBD/the surrounding area and it is still vibrant at nights.

      Without some real and significant improvements to the PT services, just a bus lane on one road per se will not be able to lure people out of their cars.

  26. Its interesting that the debate about on street parking is usually based around businesses wanting something (for free I might add) even though far more people will be benefited by having buses that are not held up as much at the pinch points.

    ABC – you talk about daily commuters as if they are a small section of the users when there are thousands and thousands who use buses along that route every day. This would easily be more than the number of people visiting those shops.

    As a side not Jarbs I see you got your name and a few of your emails in the paper this morning, pity you couldn’t advertise your blog at the same time.

  27. @ABC I think you are focusing too much on who is not benefitted rather than who is. Whenever you have a project like this there are going to be people who are simply not going to see any benefit from it. As for going from the the North Shore to Dominion Road for dinner, then no, this will not help you one little bit. That is not to say that it is not beneficial it just isn’t beneficial in this particular instance. I will point out that the Northen Busway has very little direct benefit to me yet I still think it was an extremely good use of funds.

    Most retailers seem to want to turn Auckland into American style strip malls with parking right out front (you only have to go to Albany to realise that this a soul destroying form of development).

  28. I do feel ABC’s concerns valid as without a comprehensive network planning and relevant improvements to the PT services, just a bus lane will not make too much difference.

  29. The goal here should be to create a high quality QTN route between the CBD and the southern part of the ithsmus. If you look on the transport strategy Dominion Rd is earmarked as a high quality link that fills in a pretty big gap in the rapid transit network. This route would have direct connections with the western rail line, the Central Connector bus route and just about everything else at Britomart. In the future it would connect to the whole rail network via the CBD tunnel, and at the other end on the Avondale-Onehunga route.

    Improvements on this route will benefit commuters, locals and shoppers alike (most of which will be all three). Certainly far more than those few street parks might. To put this in perspective, consider the parking at the Valley Rd shops. From a quick look on Google maps I count 22 parking bays on the main street, 37 angle parks on a side street and approximately 480 off street parks. So the main street parking is less than 4% of the parking in the town centre. As someone who used to live nearby and drive to these shops, I can say I personally have never parked on Dominion Rd itself. I always used the off street parking or the angle parking nearby, as this was more plentiful and much easier to park in than doing a parallel park on a busy main road.

    As for people coming to dine from the North Shore, why not excactly? This QTN would interface directly with the Busway, if both had reasonably frequencies and hours of operation then it would be very simple to head from the Shore to Dominion Rd for a night out (and a hell of a lot cheaper than taking a taxi). However, we surely must look to the needs of local residents, commuters and the strategic network function before worrying about such tiny niche groups.

  30. @ Nick R Of course critics of this plan would argue that those 4% of parking spaces at Valley Road are essential as they enable people to pop in for short periods of time and are highly visible etc. They would then argue that because of these factors they have far more impact per carpark on business than the off street and angle parking that you describe. Not me of course but it is an attitude that needs to be overcome.

  31. Yeah I’ve heard that argument before (regarding the Queen St upgrade for example), but in this case it is pretty much bullshit. You can’t just pop in to one of those parks at the Valley Rd shops, because they are usually full and hard to get into anyway. One just pops into a side street or the main parking lot instead.

    I guess these same critics are still of the midset that the only people who use public transport are ‘beneficiaries, cripples and drug addicts’ who don’t have jobs and certainly never buy things from shops.

    Any enlightened shop owner would see the value of having a transit stop out the front of their business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *