This is a guest post from Wellington contributor Andy C who has previously written about the capital’s laneways.
Last year I wrote a post about Wellington’s so called Bus Rapid Transport system. In the comments a reader wrote how they would like to see more bus lanes in Wellington and gave some suggestions. So this post looks at one of those suggestions in a little more detail.
As some may know, the Wellington City Council has just finished consultation on improving the shared cycle path along the Old Hutt Road – a 3km long stretch of road. They are also asking about introducing peak hour T2 lanes there.
That consultation covers the area in the red circle below and calls for a wider shared cycle and walking path on the right hand side of the road. It also asks about introducing T2 lanes during peak hours.
According to their consultation documents this is one of the most used cycle paths in Wellington (around 400 southbound cyclists hour at peak compared with around 2,000 southbound vehicles with 2,500 people in them an hour at peak). And at peak time it has 40 – 45 buses an hour run along it. To give you an idea of how congested it can get, the northbound bus time for this 3km stretch ranges from a fast 5 minutes, to a very slow 26 minutes.
According to the consultation documents; ‘buses carry a comparable number of people as motor vehicles along the corridor even though the number of buses is a very small fraction of the number of motor vehicles.’
Based on that, I personally submitted on making the proposed T2 lanes full time bus lanes for two hours at peak. Firstly because they are already moving almost as many people as the cars, and secondly because adding bus priority in this way should act as an incentive to get more people out of cars and into the congestion-free options.
Sadly the Council documents say the current level of vehicle traffic is too much for only one lane. I find this odd given that we are about to get a whole new northbound traffic lane on the urban motorway that exactly replicates this stretch of road. But it seems we will keep adding traffic lanes and not bus priority down here as part of the Wellington way…
Anyway, having taken the bus this way quite a bit lately I’ve actually come to the conclusion that the easiest way of improving bus times along the road is not necessarily what they are consulting on, but is the stretch circled in yellow on my map – Thorndon Quay.
The photo below was taken at 5.30pm on a Thursday evening recently, and as you can see, with only one lane for traffic things can get pretty congested. In fact, some evenings I can walk faster than the traffic along here, and when I cycle there is no comparison at all.
As you can see, there are a huge number of empty angle parks along the street. I estimate that the street ranges between 20 and 30m wide along its whole stretch. So to put it simply: if people are not using the car parks at peak time then surely we can use this road space for another use that will help all commuters – peak hour bus lanes.
From the railway station to the overbridge from Aotea Quay is 1.8km. Imagine peak hour bus lanes the full length of that road (with the exception of the intersection with Tinakori Rd where buses would probably have to merge with traffic for 30m or so). And then see what it does to patronage and timeliness.
Now I’m not traffic engineer, but when you have huge unused road space as we do here, and buses struck in general traffic, then the solution seems pretty simple. So come on Wellington City Council – take the plunge and run a three month trial and measure the time savings. I bet you’ll be surprised by how much this will improve bus times.
So what do you think? Is this a realistic plan? And where else you think we can easily introduce more bus lanes in Wellington?
Addendum: The morning after I wrote this, the local paper ran a front page piece using some fairly emotive language, claiming that Wellington’s next big cycleway fight is brewing on Hutt Rd, and it’s already drawing comparisons to the Island Bay saga. I found myself struggling to take the article too seriously when one of the people quoted was worried about it [the road] becoming congested once it was reduced to a single lane (fact: the road is remaining the same size with four traffic lanes) and another wanted a path on the along the edge of Wellington Harbour instead (fact: the Council have already explained this option will be six-times more expensive and will not easily connect to the other paths around here). So if that is the nature of the debate on a road where almost no one lives, then maybe my bus lane suggestion won’t be welcomed by many…
Editorial note: Since sending this to me a few days ago a review of Wellington’s cycleways has now been announced. Seriously Wellington, sort your priorities out. If Auckland can implement cycleways and bus lanes then you’ve got no excuse.