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.

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  1. Are there “solutions” to congestion? Even Paris has congestion (world’s best public transport?) and Los Angeles (world’s best motorway systems) and both cities still congest.

    Maybe there are no fixes to congestion.
    With public transport you can offer more people a space on a bus or a train to bypass it.

  2. “The Thinking behind the Lake Road transit lane seems to be that motorists should be forced on to public transport at all costs, and that if the transit lane results in increased travel time for motorists, they only have themselves to blame”

    This harsh statement in particular stands out to me as complete nonsense…not only because there is no public transport, but also because it couldnt come close to standing up anyway. Here is an almost identical argument with a few alterations for if the lanes were removed, just to highlight its lunacy:

    “The Thinking behind the removing the Lake Road transit lane seems to be that bus users should be forced to drive at all costs, and that if the removal of the transit lane results in increased travel time for bus users, they only have themselves to blame”

    It looks to melike he believes that ‘normal people’ only catch the bus because they are forced to- this is rubbish… there is no forcing and it is often a more comfortable form of urban transport which is faster than driving could ever be when done properly, such as on Onewa road. We cant lose sight of the fact that the problem is caused by the minority who choses to take up more of the road than can be fairly split among its users, and the problem only affects that same minority. To MOST of its peak time users, Onewa Road works very efficiently, and gets them to their destinations as fast as they can hope for…one of the easiest roads to get through in Aucklands rush hour.

    It is important that people have the freedom to be able to get somewhere quickly- not to be forced to crawl no matter what they do. this includes emergency vehicles of course.

    The Alternative is to make EVERYONE suffer worse than anyone is suffering from congestion at the moment. Most un-prioritised bus routes in Auckland carry far less than 54% of a roads users, and not that many car pool when it offers no travel time advantage. Not to mention the flow on effect to the congested harbour bridge, and the congested CBD roads.

    1. “It is important that people have the freedom to be able to get somewhere quickly- not to be forced to crawl no matter what they do. this includes emergency vehicles of course.”

      That’s my biggest gripe with routes that have no priority for buses, basically I have no choice as to whether I drive and get stuck in traffic or whether I take the bus and get there on time i.e. have some travel time reliability – rather I sit in traffic in a bus or in a car and often this means I just don’t bother with the trip all together. This is one of PT’s major advantages when done right.

  3. The ridiculous thing is the lake rd transit lane doesn’t affect congestion at all. There is only one general traffic lane on Onewa rd so traffic would have to merge before the intersection anyway.

    This debate has been running in the north shore times letters page for the last few weeks. It has been quite heartening to see a number of letters defending the transit lanes, but also infuriating to see the denialist arguments pit forward by the opponents. Several letters have simply refused to believe that the majority of people use the transit lane with one woman quoting a figure that it couldn’t be more than 15 perecent in the transit lane. The opponents (including Coleman) are advocating for economic destruction of the whole area. Birkenhead is becoming quite a vibrant town centre and has the potential to house a lot more people once the zoning is sorted out. But without the transit lane no development will be possible. And with politicians calling for it’s destruction, developers will surely be put off. A lane back up to Birkenhead needs to be put in as soon as possible to create a permanent high quality transit corridor.

  4. He starts by complaining about the ferry frequency but concludes the the course of action is to remove/adjust the transit lanes on Onewa and Lake Rd, how about calling on AT to get the ferry frequencies increased. I suspect he never intended to catch the ferry but has just used that as a convenient excuse.

    1. How about he champions the habour bridge walk/cycleway? The seafood festival would then be within walking distance for him and he wouldn’t need to ferry or drive and could still work to his own timetable.

  5. This guy’s an old fashoined road fancier. He’s just put the party line in there about investing in “all modes of transport” and there being no “silver bullet” (which basically code which means they think putting large sums of money into PT is a waste) because that’s the offical National Party stance, he’s also put a bit in there about the ferry so he can appear that he’s open minded about PT, Matt I agree it’s likely he never had any intention of catching the ferry. It’s the same sort of meaningless drivel you hear from Joyce all the time.

    Reading this it appears that it’s not the people who put the T3 lanes in who are “ideological”

  6. As Jarburry suggested, AT’s PR department should simply forward him and the newpapers the already completed study on T2 and T3 lanes and write a piece for the paper discrediting everything he says – that was he can be shown to be the uninformed (perhaps he is informed but doesn’t care much like Joyce) MP to the general public. Perhaps he’d be interested to see that ha;f the people travelling on the road are actually bus users and therefore getting rid of them actually affects most of his constituents.

  7. the ridiculous thing is that Onewa Road is one of the best Public Transport corridors in the region.
    So his whole point about the ferry is just completely ridiculous. He is trying to suggest that public transport in the corridor is much worse than it actually is. It is excellent for CBD bound traffic, however it is true that it is hopeless for anyone working on the shore, but these people won’t be affected by the transit lanes anyway.
    The only way to shift more people on this corridor is by PT. Anyone know if their is capacity on the existing services, or is this another corridor where services have not increased to match demand?

  8. “[Congestion is] an issue that has been around forever but it now seems to be getting worse”

    This is a Joyce like comment. He doesn’t explicitly lie, but he is letting people infer that the latest PT improvements on Onewa/Lake Rd are making congestion worse. He knows this is nonsense – the bottleneck is at the bottom of Onewa Rd which has been improved by the recent works by taking sorthbound traffic and buses out of the southbound traffic lane.

    He admits this is nonsense by suggesting his solution of appropriating the bus-only onramp that has just been built (and was never ‘taken’ from cars). So he really wants to take new-build PT infrastructure and hand it over to cars. Next he will be advocating for paving over of the railway tracks and turning britomart into a carpark.

  9. In the UK, Private Eye used to run a column called “Colemanballs” referring to the numerous stuff-ups of sports commentator David Coleman – it may be worth resurrecting it. Colman appears to be a complete disaster in everything he touches – remember the Mount Albert by-election? Unfortunately Key appears to have a weakness for people who make the right ideological noises but have very little competence.

  10. Er, if the ferry wasn’t very frequent on a Saturday then why not catch a bus? Oh wait, that would have been quick and easy and destroyed his ideological stance that there shouldn’t be bus priority on Onewa Rd.

  11. So after saying “there weren’t enough ferries”, he says “lets have more roads” instead of “lets have more ferries”!

    Major disconnect much?

    1. Pretty sure Onewa road wouldn’t have been congested for anyone on a Saturday afternoon, even with only one lane for single occupant drivers.

  12. Hi all.

    I’m on the Kaipatiki Local Board and I have a Notice of Motion on the agenda for our meeting next Wednesday regarding this issue. My hope is that we can gather together all of the relevant information and solve the issue (or perception) of traffic congestion on Onewa Road. Hopefully the Traffic CCO won’t take too long getting the inforamtion back to us. The NOM reads:

    a) That the Notice of Motion be received.
    b) That the Kaipatiki Local Board requests an urgent report from the relevant officers of the Auckland Council and Transport CCO on the Onewa Road and Lake Road (Northcote) T3 transit lanes, detailing (i) their effect on traffic since their introduction; (ii) the number of fines given for incorrect use of the transit lanes since their introduction and the number of fines subsequently revoked; (iii) the revenue collected from transit lane fines since their introduction; (iv) the estimated impact on traffic if the T3 lanes were changed to T2 lanes.
    c) That the Kaipatiki Local Board requests a report from the relevant officers of the Auckland Council and Transport CCO on the feasibility and safety implications of (i) removing car parks from Onewa Road that cause traffic blockages, and (ii) double-laning both sides of Onewa Road, in order to improve traffic flow.
    d) That the Kaipatiki Local Board requests a report from the relevant officers of the Auckland Council and Transport CCO on the current status of proposed transit lanes in the Kaipatiki Board area, including the proposed Birkenhead Ave transit lane.

    • The transit lanes in Onewa Road and Lake Road have been the subject of much debate by residents of the Kaipatiki Local Board area and the local media.
    • The Onewa Road and Lake Road transit lanes are the only ones on the North Shore which are T3. Other transit lanes on the North Shore are T2.
    • There is an impression that T3 transit lanes are much more difficult to enforce than T2 lanes as it can be difficult for passengers in the back seat to be seen by traffic enforcers. I was contacted by one resident who was incorrectly fined when they had two adults in the front seats and a baby in the back seat.
    • There is an impression that Onewa Road drivers are being used as “cash cows”. We need to know how many fines are given, and how much revenue is collected from people incorrectly using the transit lanes on Onewa Road and Lake Road.
    • Last year the Glenfield Community Board and Birkenhead-Northcote Community Boards were shown a proposal for transit lanes on Birkenhead Avenue.

    John Gillon
    Kaipatiki Local Board

    1. As Nick has said, the data is all there – no point wasting money collecting it twice.

      The only thing that would dramatically reduce congestion on Onewa Road would be to realign the intersections of Queen & Lake Road with Onewa to form a normal four-way intersection. That sounds expensive as anything to me!

      Good that local board members are reading this blog though. Please stick around John.

  13. John, I think all you need to know is the conclusions of the report cited above: that a change to T2 would cease to give any priority in the lane over the general lane next to it and overall traffic volumes would increase as bus passengers who lost their time advantage switched back to cars.

    I.e. changing to a T2 lane would result in more road congestion, slower trip times overall and less people moved at the same time.

    The point about Onewa Rd being the only T3 lane on the shore is irrelevant if it results in less congestion and faster trips. Perhaps this indicates that the other Shore lanes should be made T3!

  14. I’m a car user, and by the time I hit Lake Road, I’m down to 1 passenger (me, the driver).
    I drop my daughter at Willow Park (and 2 days a week I have my neice & nephew as well) I then drop my son at Northcote and head to Lake Road to drive into the city.
    I try to time this so I hit Lake at about 9.00 when the T3 restriction ends. This used to give me a clear run, now however, traffic is backed up to the roundabout and back to the Northcote Shops, ditto for Raleigh Road which is often back up the hill to Ocean View.
    So I sit in the traffic and most days there are no cars that use the T3 lane, apart from the odd Birkenhead bus which has to cut down the inside of the line of traffic (in no marked lane) cutting back in when it hits a parked car, when it finally makes the T3 lane it drives to the top of Lake Road and then has to cut right across to the right turning lane to go back up Onewa Road. This bus has about as many passengers as I do when I leave home. The only reason this T3 lane exists, is because of the extending of the Onewa Road T3 to the on ramp.
    Do you have any figures for traffic travelling after 9.00am?
    Last week I tried dropping the kids off at school and then I drove back home to Birkenhead Ave and waited until 9.00am. I then drove down Onewa Road to Cook Street in the city in 10 minutes.
    So I’d like to see numbers for cars travelling at this time, and cars with 1 or 2 people using the T3 lane.
    I have no problem with public transport. What I find about it here in NZ, is that it’s not cheap and it’s not handy.
    I would also like to know if there has ever been a study into extending Exmouth Rd into a Bus Only motor way on-ramp.

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