A lot of people think that Auckland’s got bad traffic congestion. The annual TomTom Traffic Index reinforces this perception – it regularly describes Auckland as one of the most congested cities in the region. (We’ve previously highlighted the methodological flaws with TomTom’s numbers – don’t take them at face value!)
However, I don’t think this perception matches up with reality. My experience is that Auckland has much better congestion than cities overseas. It’s incredibly easy to drive in Auckland. I’ve noticed that:
- Although speeds on motorways and arterial roads drop during rush hour, traffic keeps flowing at a relatively constant rate. It seems uncommon to get totally deadlocked traffic in Auckland – unlike in California, where it’s common to see speeds of under 20km/hr on freeways.
- The rush hour is incredibly short in Auckland – when I have to drive up to the North Shore after work to visit family, I find that traffic’s basically free-flowing after around 6:30. In other cities serious congestion starts much earlier and ends much later.
- Counter-peak traffic is shockingly low – on the occasions when I have to drive to Takapuna in the morning, I’ve found that I encounter few queues and no congestion on Pitt St, Victoria Park Tunnel, and the bridge.
Of course, Auckland is more congested than small New Zealand cities with one-tenth its population. That’s only to be expected. But is Auckland really more congested than other large cities overseas?
Jarrett Walker points us toward some new data that can help shed some light on this issue. A recent study (pdf) of commute times in Brazilian cities provides comparative estimates of average commute travel times for thirty large cities all around the world. I used data from New Zealand’s Household Travel Survey to add Auckland to the list. Here are the results:
As you can see, Aucklanders enjoy some of the fastest commutes of any city on the list. We travel faster than people in London, Stockholm, Sydney, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. Only Barcelona, a compact city with a densely-developed subway system, offers faster trips to work. (However, it would be good to see a few more Australian cities, like Perth and Brisbane, on the list for comparison.)
While population growth will put some pressure on Auckland’s transport infrastructure, this data suggests that our congestion problems are not severe at all. We look pretty good on Alain Bertaud’s preferred measure of transport accessibility! It seems like the impending completion of Auckland’s motorway network and the significant fall in vehicle kilometres travelled per capita over the last decade has given us a lot of breathing room on congestion.
Rather than trying to solve problems that can’t be observed in the data, we should use this breathing room to invest in real transport choices for Aucklanders. That means getting ambitious about building Auckland’s “missing modes”:
- A rapid transit network that reaches all parts of the city – starting with the City Rail Link and continuing with something like the Congestion Free Network
- A frequent bus network that is useful for more Aucklanders, more often – which Auckland Transport is currently doing
- Safe cycle infrastructure throughout the city – while Auckland Transport and NZTA are starting to deliver great projects like the Grafton Gully and Beach Road cycleways, there are still many holes in the network
- Good pedestrian-oriented streets – Auckland Council’s shared spaces in the city centre are fantastic but change hasn’t been as rapid in other parts of the city.
What’s your perception of Auckland’s transport problems?