Last week the Upper Harbour Local Board passed a resolution (below) to try and get Auckland Transport to rip out recently installed cycle lanes near the intersection of Upper Harbour Dr (UHD) and Albany Highway. It’s a section of road that I am very familiar with as I use it regularly when I ride to work.

That the Upper Harbour Local Board:

request that Auckland Transport urgently revert to the board with an interim solution regarding the potential to reinstate the second vehicle lane near the intersection between Upper Harbour Drive and Albany Highway, by evaluating options including a shared cycle path and walkway.

The cycle lanes along UHD were installed last year and I’ve previously written about how AT removed the existing broken yellow lines (BYLs) when installing the cycle lanes resulting in locals parking in the cycle lanes. This issue wasn’t unique to UHD but something good came from it with AT agreeing to change their policy and mark BYLs on all cycle lanes.

So what’s the problem this time?

This year UHD has been noticeably more congested this year than it has in the past. On the worst day I’ve seen the slow moving queue was over 2km long* although that’s an extreme – I’ve definitely been thankful to have been on my bike and not caught up in that.

Upper Harbour Drive Congested 3

Drivers and residents have been complaining to the local board about the congestion and all have taken a correlation equals causation position on the matter. In their view the problems all stem from the creation of the cycle lanes. You can see the old layout on the Google Maps image below where for about 200m prior to the intersection there were two lanes, one for each direction.

Upper Harbour Drive old layout

And here’s what it looks like now from Streetview. The cycleway extends to the intersection. You can still see the old lane markings.

Upper Harbour Drive new layout - streetview

Here’s what the local board chair told our friends at Bike Auckland:

Since the upgrade we have had too many complaints to count and have asked the residents for patience. We met with representatives several months ago, but the issue has only worsened. The peak time queue is at pre motorway levels.

The issue is the merge to one lane meaning cars wanting to make a free left onto Albany Highway have to wait. The police have been involved due to driver behaviour with people reported driving up the berm along the footpath etc. it is unsafe. There are corresponding issues on Albany highway with cars driving straight ahead in the right turn lane to jump the queue but that has nothing to do with the cycle lanes – it is the function of the junction as a whole.

It is noted that since the road changes there is significant additional traffic using it from the several hundred new homes in Hobsonville, Whenuapai and beyond. We have substantial delays on all of our arterial roads but this one has been exacerbated by the on road cycle lane.

What we are investigating is whether we can relocate the cycle lane on to the footpath and reinstate the free left. We do not wish to remove the cycle lane. Neither the footpath nor cycle lane is busy at peak times with commuter traffic but is well used at weekends by recreational cyclists. Over time with the many hundreds more homes planned in the surrounding area the delays will get longer and we will need to look at bus priority measures.

I don’t think it is car vs cyclist in this case but getting the most out of what we have with a population growing almost daily.

Even the local Community Constable is blaming the cycle lanes and pushing for the cycle lane to be removed or able to be used by cars.

Below are some observations I’ve made from travelling through here:

  • Northbound towards the commercial area (over 15k jobs) north/east of Albany Highway is frequently more congested than southbound traffic. In the few times I’ve driven to work I’ve also noticed the left turn off the motorway is normally much more backed up than the right turn.
  • I’ve frequently observed cars simply ignore the cycle lane and try and use it as an extra vehicle lane- ultimately they end up blocking the cycle lane.
  • The footpath is too narrow to be a shared path and widening it wouldn’t be cheap and would lead to poorer outcomes for those on bikes or walking (not many). For one it would likely increase the risk for those like myself who are turning right as we would have to cross the slip lane reach the right turn lane.
  • Returning the road to a three lane configuration would also likely require the removal of the westbound cycle lane.
  • If it’s new development which is causing the issue, then any change is only likely to have short term benefits at best before it’s all congested again.

By now you might be asking, “but didn’t we just build a parallel motorway, why aren’t people using that?” The image below is from Tauhinu Rd which crosses over SH18 at the southern end of UHD. Like UHD it only seems to have become so congested this year.

SH18 Congested - Tauhinu Rd

This changes the question to “why are both of these routes suddenly seem so much more congested than they were last year?”

The answer to that is actually quite simple, and is one of the oldest reasons in the book – roadworks. For some time now Auckland Transport have been working on Albany Highway and since about the middle of last year that work has focused on the southern section which is the one that most affects traffic to and from the commercial area. Those road works are due to finish later this year. That needs to be completed before any assessment is even considered.

It’s also worth pointing out that traffic isn’t always bad. This was taken last week at the same time and day of the week as the first photos. It was also taken the same day as the image above. The road was empty all the way to the intersection. Perhaps the congestion on UHD was being exacerbated by people trying to use UHD as a rat run to avoid the motorway?

Upper Harbour Drive Uncongested

I’ll obviously be watching closely to see how Auckland Transport respond to this request from the local board. It seems to me a case of correlation does not equal causation and if it is decided that the only way to get bike infrastructure is only if it never impacts drivers then it will be a very much longer and more expensive to make any meaningful progress.

* the 2km long queue appeared to be the result of the drivers rubbernecking at the police stopping drivers who travelled through the intersection illegally.

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47 comments

  1. It’s a typical have your cake and eat it too situation. Drivers get a whole new motorway built next door al la Gt North Rd and the NorthWestern, yet still expect absolute priority to remain for drivers and cars on the original route. This view appears to be held by many in AT too, based on the their years of refusal to re-gear Gt Nth Rd to allow cycle lanes or any removal of car capacity because of its effects on LOS.

    If anything AT should be installing barriers to make sure this cycle lane isn’t abused at the intersection as the local residents start to feel like it’s their right to break the law egged along by the local Police – makes a mockery of any illusion that the NZ Police have any concern for the safety of all road users when their response to some queued rat runners is to remove the cycle lane.

    1. Cycling will be a non event come winter. Then its wasted realestate. I’m sure people on this blog will now jump on me for saying that, but its also a no brainer. There will only be a few hardy cyclists who cycle throughout winter. And that’s why dedicated cycle lanes need to be away from roads. they don’t mix no matter how many silly barriers get erected.

      1. Auckland doesn’t really have a winter, does it? Not from my memory of living there – not a real, Dunedin / Ontario type winter with ice and snow etc that might be a good reason not to cycle perhaps. When I lived in Auckland, I used a bike year round, no lycra, no helmet, no problem.

        1. There’s this perception (mostly by people who don’t ride) that it’s always raining, but honestly I love riding in winter. Nice cool weather, maybe warrants a slightly thicker jacket but nothing like the subzero + windchill you get in a lot of places.

        2. You are correct we have very mild winters. In a year of riding I have only gotten soaked maybe 3 or 4 time the rain is very patchy and typically clears up during commuting hours like magic. My husband experiences the same on his motorcycle. It also never gets that cold, even in the very early morning the most layers I have ever needed is a thermal and a wind breaker.

      2. However many people ride this route this winter is irrelevant in the broader context of fitting a viable safe cycling network onto the city, because the value of people riding is so high. And we know people will ride in any significant numbers only once there is a joined network of good routes. And how valuable are people using bikes instead of driving? How does US$24 Trillion globally over 35 years sound?

        https://www.itdp.org/a-global-high-shift-cycling-scenario/

        1. They joined up network is the issue here. The cycle lanes on Upper Harbour Drive end at a nasty seagull island on Albany Highway where narrow lanes and a continuous through lane with absolutely no cycle provision means you have to be very brave or a complete idiot to cycle. I use the cycle lanes just for a bike ride. I go to the end, cross the road and come back.

          1. Yup full networks are so much greater than their parts. Auckland is very close to having a full mway network with completion of the WRR.

            We could get to a full Rapid Transit Network with effort and ambition in a decade; CRL, AMETI, NW Busway, Mangere/Airport Rail, Northern Busway extension, LRT-1. Plus supporting New Bus Network and expanded ferries.

            A cycling network is the cheapest and quickest one to add and that too is now begun.

            So we’re on the way, but will be messy and frustrating for years yet, and sadly we are still overbuilding the one full system as well, which we literally can’t afford to do.

          2. Careful Patrick, in new Zealand it is only acceptable to talk about the ‘network effect’ in regards to motorways. Cycle ways are obviously not justified because so few people use this one with dangerous intersections at both ends.

      3. Traffic greatly reduces at night. Motorways are ‘wasted real estate’ at night. Justification to remove motorways?
        Equally silly to suggest that cycle lanes should be removed because usage reduces in the winter.

  2. It’s very simple. Two lanes will always flow more than twice the traffic of one lane. No brains required to work that out. Any time there is a reduction in lanes traffic slows or stops. Dedicated cycle lanes need to be separate to roads, not encroach on them, that is where the conflict starts. And the reduction of lanes from 3 to 2, 2 to 1 always impacts flows, especially where there is a turn included in the one lane section. Even without turns any lane reduction causes issues. Witness some of the most obvious – southern motorway at Manurewa, motorway at Silvia park, Tunnel on the way to Orewa and so on.

    1. Hi Ricardo
      Did you know that having a single lane all the way is actually more efficient than 2 into 1 designs?

    2. The counter to your two lane vs one lane argument is the now standard response to congestion on SH1 on the Kapati Coast section where passing bays are closed resulting in improved traffic flow.

      1. The weird thing is that they haven’t closed the passing lanes north in the peak with the roadworks south of Paraparaumu. Really bad congestion (2 hours from CBD to just north of Pukerua bay most evenings ATM) and no obvious reason for it other than poor lane merging etc. The other night we were stopped at Mackays, yet moving freely at 100km/h once past Raumati South turn-off. No reason for this that I can see – there’s a lane clear while the roadworks are going on.

  3. Did they do anything to fix the intersection between Upper Harbour Drive and Albany Highway? I used to try to turn right onto Albany Highway from Upper Harbour and it was very dicey trying to get across the slip lane(/straight through lane) for Albany Highway. I often saw recreational cyclists looking stranded and worried trying to make it across that intersection on the weekends.

    With an increase in housing in the area they will also need to add a footpath along both sides of Albany Highway in that area, there are even bus stops but no footpath to service them. I frequently see people walking in the grass and mud along that stretch of road.

    Removing the cycle lane is obviously insanity, that entire region and all its roads is about to become more congested do to the amount of housing going in. That is life, and no amount of removing cycle lanes is going to fix it. I predict that people will be calling for the Upper Highway Motorway to be widened soon.

    1. Nothing has yet been done to fix that intersection. If I understand correctly it is part of the southern part of the Albany Highway upgrade. But I’m not clear if that is being done after the northern part, or at some stage in the future.

      I would expect that at some stage the upper harbour motorway will need widening. I don’t quite understand why in Auckland they allow buildings so close to the motorway. In particular the bit from Albany Highway through to Constellation drive there are buildings way too close which will cause massive problems when at some stage does when it have to be widened, even possibly for a bus lane.

  4. As always these rich entitled folks always forget that they created the traffic.. cars create traffic. Cycle lanes are there to protect cyclist from idiotic drivers who care more on being 1 minute quicker rather than some else life. Busy roads need cycle lane. Havent we learn enough from all the accidents and deaths in Tamaki Drive?

    And if these people don’t back out, I propose we turn the parallel motorway into a cycle/pedestrian only way since these folks aren’t even utilising it. Then they can have their 3 lanes back!

  5. What strikes me is the process used to work out what is actually causing the problem. The method employed seems to be to observe the immediate problem and then make a story to fit. By this I mean increased traffic happens at point A so therefore it must be coming from somewhere (ok so far) then someone decides it must be from increased residential housing (in this case) and the often few dots are joined resulting in a decision to act which is often is make more lanes at the current choke point often resulting in just moving it further and starting the whole process again.
    Has there ever been an attempt made to determine exactly where vehicles are coming from and going to? The methods available are becoming simpler by using number plate recognition on all feeder and exit roads to the area concerned. From this a much better picture could be obtained before knee jerk action is taken.

  6. Sorry I haven’t read the above post yet but I can tell you the current problem. It isn’t the cycle lanes any more as people queuing at the intersection now ignore them. The problem is that the queue on Albany Highway southbound is so long and slow that many now use the right turn lane at the Upper Harbour Drive intersection as a through lane. It means when Upper Harbour Drive gets a green the exit lane to the right is often already full of cars (and even one bus) than have ignored the rules. Some enforcement would fix it.

    The Honda Accord wagon in the first picture is me!

    1. As at the end of the post, police were enforcing it a few weeks ago and rubbernecking made the situation worse. Also the problem isn’t just southbound, northbound is often equally clogged which I think I’d in part due to the road works on Albany Highway

  7. The cause of the problem is SH18 now dumps a huge amount of traffic on the North Shore but the intersections at Paul Matthews cant cope and causes a long long queue as well as the off ramp to Albany Highway queuing to an extreme level. So people get off the motorway at Tauhinu Road and use Upper Harbour Drive. It only occurs on days when SH18 is blocked so people must be using google maps or TomTom with traffic data to decide which route to go. The fix is to finish the motorways!

    1. Agree with this; as we have a motorway dominant system we should at least connect the ones we’ve got. Then stop building more of them, as they only generate more driving and crowd out the alternatives.

  8. What amazes me is the number of commenters in the link re the UHD complaining about the cycle lanes and how much longer it is taking them to drive to their places of employment that are only several kilometres away from their homes on UHD. Surely, for that distance you could hop on a bike and cycle there in way less time that it’d take them to drive – thus once again easing the congestion on that road.
    But whatever the solution to the traffic don’t let the Local Board and the Police win by taking away the cycle lanes. Once they take them away it’ll surely happen in other areas and after the hard won fight for many years for cycle lanes and safe cycling/walking that’s the last thing we want to see happen. It would be a retrograde step.

  9. “The answer to that is actually quite simple, and is one of the oldest reasons in the book – roadworks.”
    I think this subject deserves a post (and discussion) of it’s own. I am unfamiliar with UHD but I see plenty of instances across our road network where the roadwork disruption makes no sense. By which I mean I wonder “are they doing it on purpose?” (Obviously safety of the road workers is paramount)

  10. The exact same thing has caused major issues on Lake Road around Belmont (intersection of Bardia Street) for years. Originally this intersection had two holding lanes and would merge back into one. Now, because it’s only one lane, it takes such a long time for traffic to get going again once the lights turn green, the queue stretches back all the way back to Hauraki Corner.

    What it has done is made people feel negatively about the cycle lanes – when all the NSCC (at the time) had to do, was design it better without causing such disruption.

      1. There’s definitely a problem at the Belmont signals in the morning (northbound) and I think its the short merge. Solution – strip out some on-street parking and lengthen the merge distance a little. Better yet, strip out the parking and put in a bus lane…

        1. I used to cycle up there a couple of days a week to get to work, I don’t see any point in lengthening the merge as all it does is get vehicles to stationary queue at Hauraki Corner quicker.

          A bus bypass would be far more beneficial.

    1. But is there really a problem? Yes there’s often a queue from Hauraki Corner, but it moves fairly quickly. In my experience it would be very unusual for it to take more than ten minutes to drive between Hauraki Corner and Devonport, even at peak times.

      For all that people moan about it, I’ve never found the traffic on Lake Road to be an issue. The queue on Esmonde Road to get onto the motorway is atrocious, but that’s a different issue, and strangely one that people never seem to complain about much in the local press. I wonder it’s because there are no cycle lanes involved.

      1. There are cycle lanes on the first part of that route that Jan O’Connor wants removed for a T2 lane, and there is a fairly generous shared path on Northern side, although it does fail completely at the intersections. Will need serious work once Seapath and Skypath are built.

  11. I agree with the article that the Albany Highway North Upgrade roadworks are a major factor in the cause, and it is silly to react until this work is complete. The congestion at the Albany Highway/UHD intersection is definitely worse than I remember, but I can’t see how cycle lanes have made the problem worse on UHD. I’ve started riding my bike to work now partly because of the traffic, but mainly for exercise, as I had a bit of a scare with my general health and fitness not being where it should be. So I for one really appreciate any cycle lane, and will be looking forward to when the work starts (hopefully) for the Albany Highway South upgrade, as cycling home through that intersection is a bit scary to be honest.

    1. I used to live in Bayview and my Partner by Albany Junior, this intersection terrified me and I actually stopped riding the journey and took longer on the bus as a result.

    2. I can remember when the queues extended back to Hobsonville. These newbies don’t know how good they’ve got it… 😉

  12. Upper Harbour Drive is but one of the many problems in that area. Constellation on ramp south bound is almost permanently grid locked even at midday, and the northbound exit is equally fraught with huge queues to exit from it west bound. The ramp lights, the lack of a 3rd southbound lane and drivers inability to merge the existing lanes is causing massive problems.

    There are simply too many cars, too many people, not enough road and too many traffic lights phasing against each other that has turned Auckland into a traffic nightmare and the worst I have seen.

    1. The crazy thing is the NZTA scheme to connect the two motorways doesn’t have a direct connection to or from the south. Yet they are the two busiest ramps! Again they are leaving out the important bit.

        1. South facing ramps here would be out of scope to the aim of the Western Ring Route project – which is to take traffic around the city centre instead of into/through it.

          What we need is more of a complete and safe cycling network in the area so more of those stuck commuters can use that instead and bypass the problem.

          1. And how does that view apply to people working in Takapuna who travel to West Auckland? They would use the south facing ramps as an alternative to the Harbour Bridge. The NZTA mindset has always suffered from fallacy that people get on the motorway in Wellington and get off SH1 in Kaitaia. The plan for long distance trips when the vast majority of trips are local or regional. It is kind of like “The National Roads Board is dead- long live the National Roads Board.”

          2. This is why I think the motorways should be treated and funded like local roads and with direct input from local government so Auckland can have a day in how that investment stacks up vs other opportunities. HNO act completely independently because they know they have gaurenteed funding

        2. Matt that makes sense for the onramp south but not the northbound onramp. The left turn queue to SH18 is often back to the SH1 motorway and it is the single worst problem at the interchange.

          1. mfwic is correct, a direct off ramp between SH1 north and SH18 west would reduce congestion and increase capacity (and it would be relatively easy to build, as it wouldn’t require a long bridging section, as SH18 east to SH1 south would) – and agree with Matt that a south-facing/southward direct connection here would be unthinkable at present as that 2-lanes section of SH1 to Tristram Ave are already overloaded.

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