Auckland Transport has today finally got around to giving us some insight into where things are at on the proposed Dominion Road upgrade. This project has had a pretty long and messy history – coming to a head late last year when the former Auckland City Council wanted to turn the street into a four-lane superhighway when they preferred a T2 lane option over the normal bus lane that staff had suggested.

There’s no doubting that Dominion Road is a “tough nut to crack”. You have a busy road, an extremely popular public transport corridor, a string of businesses continually undermined by planning decisions elsewhere in the city allowing bigger and bigger megamalls and a desire to provide cyclists with better and safer options. All this on a road which has a very constrained width and a complete inability to widen it at various key points.

Here’s what Auckland Transport have said about their preferred way to move forward on improving Dominion Road:

Over the years a number of schemes have been proposed, including 24 hour bus-lanes running to and from the central city (known as a “rapid transit system”). However, following a review by Auckland Transport and consideration of feedback from community consultation, those plans have been scaled back.

Auckland Transport has agreed to extend bus-lanes around the Mt Roskill Village Centre, and Balmoral Village, and in the area Mt Roskill bound through to Valley Rd.

These will operate only at peak times. On-street parking, which was a critical issue for businesses and residents, will be retained, with the bus-lanes utilised for parking off-peak.

Cycleways will be included where room allows. The work will also see significant maintenance of the road surface.

More details will follow as the project design is developed in consultation with business, other stakeholders and the Albert-Eden Local Board.

First things first, one would hope that Auckland Transport might know what ‘rapid transit’ actually is (clue: it’s certainly not what was ever proposed for Dominion Road). But moving on to the substance, it seems that Auckland Transport are definitely shifting towards a “do minimum” approach to upgrading Dominion Road. Aside from the possibility of slightly lengthened operating hours for bus lanes, and hopefully a greater continuity of their operation, it seems that for the most part not much will change except for around the town centres, where an original proposal (which Auckland City Council had moved away from last year) will be revived and the bus lanes ‘taken around the back’ of the village centres.

I have mixed feelings about sending buses behind the shops. At Onehunga the bus station is located behind the main street of shops and it just screams “you are a second rate citizen if you catch the bus, loser!” Very careful design will need to take place to ensure this does not happen at these town centres. I also worry about the detour behind the shops adding delays to bus catchers – effectively delaying them so that cars can travel a bit quicker: not really the message we want to send I wouldn’t think.

As I have explained many times before, ultimately I think modern light-rail is likely to be the solution for Dominion Road: because it can achieve the tricky ‘win-win’ of both providing significant passenger transport capacity while at the same time not destroying the fairly fragile urban fabric of the various town centres along Dominion Road. If we keep that endgame in mind, perhaps not spending a huge amount of money at this stage on a half-ass solution might be a good thing.

However, on the other hand if all the designations are lifted at the completion of what now seems to be a very minor upgrade, perhaps we will have lost our ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to dramatically improve public transport along this corridor. It’s really hard to say at the moment, perhaps some design details will shed light on whether today’s announcement is a step in the right direction or not.

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  1. Why can’t we send general traffic around the back of the shops?

    Another issue: this transport committee report notes that the Symonds Street bus lanes between Karangahape Road and Wellesley Street will reach capacity in 2014. If light rail was implemented for Dominion Road, most likely it would use Ian McKinnon Drive and Queen Street to get to town, taking the pressure off Symonds Street.

  2. Auckland Transport has agreed to extend bus-lanes around the Mt Roskill Village Centre, and Balmoral Village, and in the area Mt Roskill bound through to Valley Rd.

    This doesn’t mean behind the shops, as far as I can tell. There’s literally nowhere to go. Rather, a simple lengthening of peak hour bus-lanes. Hopefully the hours can be widened, especially as owners realise that high frequency bus services increase rather than harm their patronage.

    Perhaps this is why the b-Line has been so neglected? AT trying to sort this out before deciding where to go with it… or maybe not.

    1. I read it the same way as you, the next parts make more sense in that case too:
      “These will operate only at peak times.”

      Putting the buses behind 2 sets of shops and a whole “area” would be very expensive and pretty good way to blow a whole lot of cash. The ‘do minimum’ interpretation makes sense with the new GPS diverting funds to holiday highway and all the other critical motorway projects.

      It isn’t great, but even doing nothing is a lot better than the last council’s plans to take us backwards by encouraging driving on Auckland’s most stretched section of roadway. A few minor tweaks will buy time while plans for light rail to reach from Wynyard Quarter are drawn up.

        1. Let’s hope it was someone trying to write a concise version of in the vicinity of.

          I notice they didn’t mention Valley Road shops either, IIRC the main area they wanted to deviate around. Did they ever want to go around other shops too?

          Anyway, it was really a 1990s plan. Back then the thought of dedicating existing road space to public transport was out of the question. Now that buses have proven their worth — and potential — it would be ludicrous to spend (10s? 100s of?) millions so a few extra cars can use the road at peak times.

          But being in Auckland, I’m touching wood.

          1. the writer of this press release has a only very tenuous grip on precise language. does no one proof read these things after the 21-year-old straight out of universty hacks out a dodgy word file? (yes, i am being facetious)

    2. They are still talking about lifting the designations so I assume that to mean there will be no buses behind the shops.

  3. Dom Rd is about much more than transport – whether it is public or private – so I welcome a plan that respects its wider community values. It will be interesting to see what is proposed. Outside of villages I think they will be able to recess parking and bus stops (as is the case outside ASB Call Centre for example) with land already acquired. This would provide four lanes 24 hours a day in much of the road (dedicated bus lanes maybe?)- while retaining the benefits of carparking for businesses and pedestrians. This is a Ponsonby Rd style solution rather than a Balmoral Road. I didn’t see anything about putting buses behind the shops. I think George is right – I think this refers to taking bus lanes through to the lights so at peak hours buses get a clear run.

    1. Is Ponsonby Rd much wider than Dominion? Hard to tell.

      As a regular driver along Ponsonby Road it does make compromises in terms of having a very narrow median strip and a very narrow left lane. Still, a million times better than a Balmoral Rd solution.

      I do wonder what might make businesses give up their parking. Light-rail?

  4. Light rail is the best option for Dominion Road and this is what the existing designation intended to achieve, but it does not make sense to just construct a light rail on Dominion Road only – one must also think about where would this light rail link to and a wider network approach is required. You wouldn’t expect one will take light rail train just to travel from the Eden Valley to Mt Roskill shops only which may only benefit the residents who live at either end with the destination at another end/along the Road. However, it seems to be little has been mentioned about the potential linkage of this light rail and it does not seem the Auckland Unleashed document has made any reference to this idea at all.

    The original 24 hour bus lane idea does not seem to achieve anything – how frequent is the bus service after dark and is Dominion Road really that congested off peak that warrent a 24 hour bus lane ? I drove past there last night at around 830pm and the flow was pretty free.

  5. All- There is no intention to take buses off Dominion road to go behind shopping centres. In terms of designations, some areas/properties will have them retained to achieve road widening etc where needed.Some designated land won’t be needed and we will remove the designations on that land.In short, designated land will be purchased or released as soon as possible so as to give certainty to property owners along Dominion Road. The picture will become clearer as detailed design progresses.
    WALLY THOMAS (Auckland Transport)

    1. That’s good to hear Wally, but you guys should really work on articulating things more clearly in your press releases. I mean what on earth does “in the area Mt Roskill bound through to Valley Rd” actually mean?

  6. “The original 24 hour bus lane idea does not seem to achieve anything – how frequent is the bus service after dark and is Dominion Road really that congested off peak that warrent a 24 hour bus lane ? I drove past there last night at around 830pm and the flow was pretty free.”

    @Stanley – one of the ideas with 24/7 bus lanes is not only to have bus priority at all times, but also to ensure that you don’t have some idiot still parking in the bus lane every morning or afternoon, just because off-peak, he’s allowed to, and doesn’t care or has forgotten that he should move off in time.

    1. Thanks Karl – though I would think it would be far more cheaper, easier and acceptable for the businesses by simply strengthening the enforcement to tow these cars away with some heavy penality (like what happens in CBD) rather than removing all the on-street parking for a 24 hour bus lane along the road in order to just tackle these ‘idiots’.

      1. I’m not saying that was why the decision was made – just that it is one of the fringe benefits of 24/7 bus lanes. I do assume they have enforcement staff on duty there in the mornings and afternoons, and I would doubt that the bus lane fine is any different here than in the CBD.

  7. It is too hard to enforce in some cases. I find along dominion that people stop for 5 min to pop into the dairy or laundry. You can’t tow these people away because they move off soon enough, but they are causing as much problem as some guy who leaves their car for an hour. People see others doing it, so they do it. Combine that with right turners into side streets where there is no median and the traffic doesn’t move at all.

  8. Like what everyone else has said some form of rapid transport would be great since this part of town isn’t close to rail services, so trams/light rail I would fully support.

    Since room is an issue on the road with buses, car parks, and lots of cars all competing for road width, then what about a singular tram line down the middle? Running towards the city in the mornings and then the other way at the end of the day. It would move a lot of people quickly at the critical parts of the day. Buses could work when its not operating. It would be a compromise dedicating a whole lane for a tram for fast transport, while only taking up 1 lane, so not impacting on other road users too much.

    1. Two tram lines take up less space than the two bus lanes that currently exist, meaning it would probably be possible to use that space for bike lanes – I don’t agree that a 1 lane tram line would be a good idea, it would probably cost no less than two lines and would not remove the need to keep bus lanes on the street, so overall we’d end up with a worse situation than now.

    2. No, We need two lines. Are you proposing to take the fleet of trams from the end of dominion road into the CBD in the morning, then park them up in the CBD, Then take them back out of the city at evening peak?

      Some major flaws:
      – Where are you going to park them in the city? CBD land is very valuable and trams are big.
      – (modern) Trams cost a few million dollars each, but have very low running costs. Absolutely not the technology to use for just a single trip per day.
      – Buses would still need to run for counter peak/off peak services,many of which I know to be very busy.
      – It has been proven that a high quality/frequent off-peak service promotes patronage at peak times.
      Can’t use trams to replace “diesel” citylink buses.

      In short, trams are awesome, but really expensive. If we do build trams they must provide a extremely high quality service over long hours to attract enough patronage to justify there expense.

      1. Ok points taken. I guess things just get tight around the Balmoral and Mt Roskill shops, thats why I was concerned about two lines.

        I think stuff the tourist tram thats down on the waterfront, even a Britomart to Wynward line is hardly a necessity. Trial a tram down Dominion Rd first where there is a real transport problem and there is a decent distance for it to travel.

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