Last week there was a report and presentation to the Council’s transport committee about the Northwest Busway, asking that a ‘staged approach’ to implementing busway be supported. The minutes confirm that the Committee did support this approach. It seems the main driver of the recent support for this project is the realisation that the northwest is planned to grow significantly over the next 30 years – with this fact being well illustrated in the graph below:

The numbers are pretty massive, but that’s not too surprising when you look at the area in question and the changes proposed for it by the Auckland Plan’s development strategy:

One agency that seems somewhat far from impressed with the relatively recent surge of support for this project is NZTA. I suppose this is to be expected to an extent, as their plans for shoulder lanes only along SH16 are now being called into question – especially for the less advanced section of SH16 for upgrade, between Te Atatu and Westgate. This is what NZTA had to say about the project in the Herald a week or so ago:

Although Labour transport spokesman and Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford is pleased about support for the concept in a staff report, he is disappointed the Government’s Transport Agency will not “future-proof” the motorway project for a dedicated off-road busway like that on the North Shore.

“My view is that we are going to need a full-service busway there within a decade,” he said.

Transport Agency acting northern highways manager Steve Mutton said a 2010 study had indicated passenger demand for a busway was “decades away” and a plan to widen and extend shoulder lanes would suffice for now.

This 2010 study somewhat intrigued us, and helpfully Matt L pointed out that in one of his recent OIA requests to NZTA he’d actually received a copy of this report. The whole thing is over 20MB so a bit big for WordPress to handle but it does show that NZTA actually have asked for quite a bit of analysis around how a busway could fit along SH16 and were guided by previous Councils only including this corridor as either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”. This is the report in question I think:

The study delved into the very issue that is now at the top of everyone’s minds. To what extent will shoulder lanes really provide for the long-term public transport demand along the Northwest Motorway corridor and when might something more than this be necessary?

Keep in mind of course that when this study was done the Auckland Council hadn’t even been formed yet and the growth envisaged for the northwest was a lot less than what emerged out of the Auckland Plan.

Interestingly, NZTA’s consultants for this particular study seem to be a bit unsure themselves about the level of infrastructure which high level policy documents were suggesting should be constructed along SH16 – especially the Lincoln Road to Westgate section classified as a “possible future RTN”:

Some discussion was held between different parties to get an idea around the priority of a busway standard piece of infrastructure – notably only focusing on the Lincoln to Westgate section:

Preliminary ideas around the location of a busway were explored: 
It seems the key goal was to ensure that construction of motorway interchanges would not preclude the future provision of a busway – with that busway most likely to be on the southern side of the motorway (at least for the Westgate to Lincoln section). This is good, and hopefully was carried through to the most recent designs of the interchanges (including Te Atatu).

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study are the diagrams at the back, which show a few possible designs of the different interchanges that could accommodate a full busway – at least for the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Let’s start with the Te Atatu interchange:

And the Lincoln Road interchange (though it’s not particularly clear how this would connect to the Te Atatu-Lincoln section of busway):

And Royal Road, where I think the offramp would pass under the busway (or vice-versa obviously):

What I take out of this interesting document is that actually a surprising amount of work has been done on studying a busway along SH16 in the past – at least along the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Because, at the time, this was only either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”, NZTA quite rightly felt that they only needed to plan for shoulder lanes as part of their motorway upgrade project. Yet to their credit, they made sure that interchange upgrades would be designed in a way that allowed a busway through them reasonably easily in the future.

The issue now is that things have changed. The Auckland Plan has confirmed all of SH16 between Waterview and Westgate as forming an important part of Auckland’s rapid transit network. Growth in the northwest is likely to be much greater than previously anticipated. It seems that the upgrade of the Waterview to Te Atatu section of  motorway is too far advanced to radically change its design, and even in the longer run a busway mightn’t be required as there are not too many conflicts here and no likely stations.

But for the Te Atatu to Westgate section, I think it would be foolish to build shoulder lanes when they might only be useful for 10 years, due to the immense growth in the northwest. Surely it would be smarter in this section, where the stations actually are, where there’s overlap with the Henderson to Albany corridor, where the design is less advanced, to build the busway from the get-go. After all, quite a bit of design has already occurred which looks at where the busway might go.

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  1. Utterly mindless to go ahead with either section without a lot more action in getting this built. Bus service for this area is pitiful at best, and there’s no sign of improvement till the 2016 bus network comes on stream. The non-peak hourly 048/049 services for example that take 3 times longer than just driving a damn car to the city or back and are horribly unreliable anyway, and only TWO hourly on Sundays.

  2. Those designs don’t look overly friendly to cyclists on the existing NW cycleway, adding serveral uncontrolled crossings and it appears they are putting the cycleway down the middle of the bus station but I assume that maybe an error.

    1. I am discussing the fact that the cycleway provisions seem pretty much an afterthought (and not a very consistent one) with NZTA, representing Cycle Action. However, I am not too worried yet, these being just concepts from 2010 (even though I had hoped for more cycling knowledge from the designer!).

  3. after completing a study tour of US and Canadian cities with the Brisbane busway team, we sat down to ask at a very high level “is the Northern Busway in the right place to serve the needs of North Shore Commuters?” the question same question needas to be asked here, i.e. what purpose does a busway in the motorway corridor meet?

    in the case of the Northen Busway because the motorway effectively splits the Shore down the middle, it the least worst place to put it, i.e. moving it to one side or the other diminishes accessibility from the other side,

    but I don’t think that’s the case in the west where the North-western is largely on the periphery of the urban fabric and a fair chunk of it is over water. This location suggests that a North Western Busway would simply be a tool to drain people out of the west to the CBD for work, which begs the question is a local bus system that supports shorter trips and work close to hame a better proposition? or are we still fixated on supplying the diminishing share of the job market that is in the CBD?

    you can’t just think of transport infrastructure in a societal vacuum, it has to have a purpose and make a contribution to society

    1. PT serves the CBD well and is well used. But the new newtork is not as CBD focused as the existing network – have you seen where the eastern terminus is of the red bus line is that travels down the NW busway?

  4. Kumeu / Huapai is where all the land development action will take place so why not upgrade the railway from Swanson northwards? Better ROI I believe. Has a proper analysis of a rail service upgrade from Swanson northwards been done?

  5. One of the arguments against a bus alternative to the rail tunnel is that normal growth will soon clog Auckland’s streets with buses and we can’t add any new services. So how can it make sense to propose any other busways? Either this needs to be developed as a rail service, or there is actually capacity available for extra buses in the CBD and you’ve undermined the case for the rail tunnel.

    1. Obi I think you’ve kind of missed the point. One of the big benefits of the CRL is that by increasing the capacity of the rail system we are able to get more people into the city without significantly increasing the number of buses. Ultimately this means that from rail served areas most buses will just feed the train stations whereas in non rail served areas their buses will continue to go into town.

      I kinda think of the northwest as somewhat similar to the North Shore in terms of being an area not readily served by rail (by in large). Would you really be suggesting that improvements to the Northern Busway so we can run more buses from the Shore undermines the argument for the CRL, or in actual fact strengthens the need for the CRL so we can get buses from the west and south out of the city to free up space for those from the north, northwest and central isthmus? I tend to think the latter.

      1. I think you’re making the case that busway buses would replace non-busway buses and therefore that the total number of buses in the CBD would remain the same from that general part of the city. And also that building the rail tunnel will shift some existing demand from buses to trains and therefore free up some CBD bus “slots”. I think there is some merit in that in principle… Except that I’d expect demand for the busway bus services to increase significantly, based on our experiences with the Northern Busway. I’d also expect a successful busway to attract passengers away from the existing rail line which does sort of parallel roughly the same route. Even if the tunnel is built, the current western rail services (based on a line originally designed to haul freight) will be meandering and slow, whereas busway bus services are likely to be fast and direct.

        I’m not too worried about bus capacity in the CBD. Observation suggests that our streets aren’t congested with buses and there is plenty of room for bus traffic growth, especially if you take cheap and pragmatic steps to set aside bus lanes. BUT… the rail tunnel proponents have been making the case that we’re in eminent danger of CBD bus gridlock. In which case we’d be dumb to think of building new busways.

        1. We will hear more about just how much capacity the CBD has for more buses once we hear the results of the City Centre Future Access Study. I also don’t think the catchment for a NW busway would have any impact on the use of rail as I doubt there would be many at all from the likes of Te Atatu (north and south), Massey or Westgate that would travel to Henderson to catch a train when they could just drive down SH16. The real competition is the motorway not the trains.

        2. Dunno where you’re observing from Obi but as a pedestrian and cyclist in the city I think we already have far far too many buses belching and crowding out life for people there. They certainly dominate several important areas in ways that undermine attempts to make meaningful improvements to the quality of life in the city, especially around Britomart.

          Of course they bring a lot of people, but to suggest that this is fine as it is or that we can keep adding more buses to the city is madness. But then if you oppose investing in real alternatives you do have to try to pretend this bus blasting of the city is just lovely….

          The CRL and other rail (and ferry) upgrades are the only answer, though we’ll still have a lot of buses but with these investments the numbers will be manageable. And give more thought to where they go. This is happening.

          We also need to reduce the environmental effects of those that are there; get better cleaner buses. I hope this is happening too.

  6. I agree with obi, by building a busway into Auckland, where do all the buses go when they get into the City? Wellington has major bus congestion along the golden mile (partly due to the fact that all buses use the one route) and I wouldn’t want to see the same thing in Auckland. I understand that the benefits of the CBD rail link will remove buses off Auckland streets, but projects like this one will just put them back on again. While I do believe something needs to be done, I do wonder whether this will add to improving the urban life in the CBD, particularly how this project would work into the City Centre Master Pan.
    I would think light rail would be a better idea?

    1. Ummm, a busway is not just for NEW buses, but also to make sure existing buses and re-routed buses are not caught up in the same car traffic jam? So makes sense on that count whether or not there are issues further east…

    2. Light rail would be fantastic but the time delay to go straight from what we have now to a light rail line due to funding constraints would be significant. At least with a busway we get the corridor sorted for the future.

  7. I think in 10 years time under a different government, setting a light rail up may not be as difficult as it is at this time. Particulary if the price of petrol rises.

    A solution to limiting bus congestion into the city could be to have larger buses running along major busways in Auckland. Something similar to transmillenio would be good. This would enable more people to travel with less vehicles. Surely larger buses would suit the RTN model better and carry more people than standard buses.

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