Onewa Road, on the North Shore, is certainly one of Auckland’s most congested arterials. That’s what happens when your 1950s transport planner decide to filter around a quarter of the North Shore through one arterial route – no matter how hard you try, it’s always going to be a bottleneck.
Notwithstanding that matter, Onewa Road is also a huge success in many ways. Its “T3” transit lane is incredibly popular, carrying close to three quarters of people down Onewa Road during peak time with minimal delay. In this respect Onewa Road operates very efficiently: most of the people going along it at peak times manage to avoid congestion completely – I doubt too many of Auckland’s arterial routes could boast of such an outcome. The table below shows how popular the T3 lane is:
Last year, the T3 lanes along Onewa Road were extended – connecting up a few previous projects and finally providing a continuous T3 lane from near the top of Onewa Road right to the bottom – and then a bus lane onto the Harbour Bridge. Before this, buses would often have to merge back in with general traffic around the corner of Onewa Road and Lake Road – causing delays for them and for the general traffic. In addition, somewhat strangely, a T3 lane was inserted on Lake Road – even though no bus services run along Lake Road before heading to the city (only the Beach Haven to Takapuna services use Lake Road and they turn right at Onewa). So I guess the Lake Road T3 lane is wholly for the benefit of people carpooling.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of more bus lanes and, where appropriate, more T2 or T3 (or T4 for that matter) lanes. Reallocating roadspace to public transport, to give it a speed advantage over driving, is the most cost effective way to improve public transport. It’s quick, it’s cheap and it’s simple. The problem is, it tends to annoy ill-informed politicians. Let’s take Northcote MP Jonathan Colman, for example – who wrote this article in the most recent North Shore local newspaper:
Essentially, after making the normal noises of “I really would take public transport, but it’s just too hard”, Coleman makes two main points:
- That Auckland Transport should get rid of the Lake Road T3 lane because it causes congestion in the normal lane and ‘forces’ people to use public transport.
- That Auckland Transport should change the Onewa Road T3 lane to a T2 lane.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, he’s completely ill-informed on both these matters.
If we look at the Lake Road issue first, the hilarious thing to note is that there are actually no buses which benefit from the T3 lane – it’s completely designed for the benefit of car drivers: clearly those who choose to carpool. Now personally I think it’s pretty silly to put in T3 lanes where you don’t even have a bus service operating, but in my opinion that’s just a reflection that we should have bus that runs from Northcote Town Centre (and probably from various points earlier than that) via Lake Road and then onto Onewa Road before heading into the city. With a T3 lane, this could avoid the horrific congestion problems on Sylvan Ave that completely stuff up the existing Northcote town centre buses. But the main point is that Coleman should really check his facts before mouthing off against public transport when it comes to the Lake Road T3 lanes – there actually aren’t any buses that benefit from this lane.
Secondly, when it comes to the issue of whether Onewa Road should have a T2 or a T3 lane, Coleman should talk to his local politicians – who would have known that North Shore City Council looked at this matter in detail last year. I blogged about this at the time, as NSCC undertook a very detailed study of the effect of turning Onewa Road’s lane into T2 – after all, the council was keen on getting some consistency to its transit lanes. However, Onewa Road was found to have special characteristics – in short, the extreme popularity of the existing T3 lane – that would make T2 utterly stupid: to the extent that more vehicles were predicted to use the T2 lane than the normal lane, thereby resulting in two congested lanes going nowhere instead of one congested lane and one free-flowing one. This is illustrated below:
I can certainly understand the frustration of the locals about how congested Onewa Road is. I used to live in the area, and I still frequently find myself driving down it at peak times after dropping my daughter at school. But, in a somewhat counter-intuitive way, the transit lane reduces the congestion that would occur otherwise. More people are shifted down Onewa Road in its current formation than would ever be possible if it were just a normal road. Sure, some people have jobs located in areas difficult to access by public transport – but chances are they would have known about the transport difficulties of Onewa Road moving to the area. They also have the option of car-pooling with a couple of others and skipping the traffic. Along most arterial routes you don’t have that choice.
I guess the disappointing thing about Jonathan Coleman’s article is how poorly informed he is on these matters. I encourage Auckland Transport to respond to his concerns – in a detailed and well considered way that points out the Lake Road situation and points out the need for Onewa Road to continue to have a T3 lane: for everyone’s benefit.