Hot on the heels of last weeks flurry of consultations, we now have another one to add the mix and it’s one that could definitely use some help to stop Auckland Transport going rogue with a nonsensical and dangerous plan.
You may recall that back in November, the Albert-Eden Local Board undertook consultation on plans to revitalise the Mt Albert town centre. The plans were decent and included some great changes such as removing the slip lane onto Mt Albert Rd for southbound traffic, but as always, it had some areas that could be improved, particularly related to the lack of bike infrastructure. In February it was announced that overall, the plan had 94% support from respondents with the provision for bikes being the main objection and so the plans were adjusted to include raised cycle lanes the length of the town centre. Here’s what was confirmed at the time.
Since then the first part of the plan, the direct connection to the town centre from Mt Albert Train Station was completed.
Now, suddenly, Auckland Transport are back with an unusually short consultation on one aspect of the plan, for northbound on New North Rd, that is completely at odds with the stated goals of the project. It’s worth noting that this is a local board led project, they want Mt Albert to be more people friendly town centre. AT say this about the upgrade
Mt Albert Town Centre upgrade is an Auckland Council and Albert-Eden Local Board joint project that will be delivered by Auckland Transport to revitalise the heart of one of Auckland’s older suburbs. It aims to celebrate its unique character while creating a clean, safe, pleasant and lively environment both day and night that locals can enjoy and take pride in.
There’s not a lot of information online but based on what we’ve experienced in from AT in the past it’s clear from the language what must have happened. Essentially it appears that as the project has progressed, the traffic engineers have got hold of the plans and grabbed their traffic modelling tight like a child clinging to their favourite blanket or toy. The problem with this is we’ve seen over and over again the traffic modelling been proven wrong yet it still gets used, after all the computer saying no to an idea is easier to explain. So when there’s even the slightest hint of inconvenience for car drivers, even if a proposal does all sorts of other wonderful things, the engineers put their foot down. I’ve heard of projects being delayed for months, possibly a year or longer and all at huge cost just to show that a proposal won’t cause the sky to fall.
At issue is how to deal with right hand turns from New North Rd to Mt Albert Rd. They say that all up are around 1,200 right turn movements at the intersection currently. There four options are suggested.
- Option 1: Right turn at all times
- Option 2: Right turn banned part of the time
- Option 3: Right turn banned at all times
- Option 4: Changed layout with right turn allowed at all times
I’ll cover each of these below but Option 4 is AT’s preferred option.
Option 1: Right turn at all times
This combines the right turn lane with a straight through lane. The issue is AT say the models show a 50% increase in delays in the morning peak and 300% in the evening peak. Something doesn’t seem right with this as in the evenings when most traffic is southbound, why would northbound traffic delay the intersection.
Option 2: Right turn banned part of the time
This would prevent right turns being undertaken during busy times but AT say they don’t actually know how long that would need to be. They say it would also cause confusion for drivers
Option 3: Right turn banned at all times
This option just does away with right turns altogether and surprisingly doing so has some big benefits including reducing intersection delays by 10-30%. It would also have the benefit of having more people use Richardson Rd/Owairaka Ave which would help get some traffic out of the town centre.
Option 4: Changed layout with right turn allowed at all times
As mentioned this is AT’s preferred option as it gives right turn movements a dedicated lane but it does so at the expense of the cycleway which instead stops dead at the bus stop and cyclists are then expected to mix with traffic.
What’s notable about this consultation is not just what AT say but what they don’t say. Nowhere in the consultation do AT talk about the benefits of having a safe bike lanes as part of the solution or what is lost by removing them in option 4. All that is really focused on is having turning options or not. Also not mentioned in the information is the impact on carparking as you can see that the first three options actually retain more carparking than option 4 does due to squeezing in that turning lane. They don’t even mention clearly that option 4 would perform worse than option 3 from a traffic movement perspective.
Just back on the bike lanes, AT say this as one of the benefits of the town centre upgrade.
A safer, more appealing environment for pedestrians, cyclists, commuters, road users and retail and restaurant businesses.
Do they really think that cutting out the bike lanes will make it safer for users. I wonder if the engineers who proposed this daft idea would be prepared to look a parent in the eye and tell them with a straight face that it’s safe for their child to use. These plans will do nothing to get people who aren’t currently brave enough to cycle in the city to try ride a bike.
Putting aside the design for a second, the timing and details of this consultation are also odd. It went up on AT’s website quietly on Friday night and three different dates are listed for when feedback closes. One comment in the timeline section says December 13, the “Have your say” section lists the date as Thursday December 15 while the paper feedback form says Friday December 16. The timeline section also says feedback will be received and analysed while also stating that construction starts in January. That’s got to be a record turnaround time, especially once Christmas and New Year are taken into account so perhaps suggests AT have already decided on the outcome and are only going through the consultation motions to be able to tick a box. In a final bit of poor form, the only way currently visible to make a submission is to print off a form and send it to AT, even though the form itself says you can do it all online.
Overall this appears to be a sham consultation to justify a shoddy option, one that is at odds with the stated goals and visions of the Mayor, Council, Local Board, those who have previously submitted, because it removes more parking probably the retailers and of course it’s even at odds with AT’s own policies and vision.
Hopefully AT can put up an online version of the feedback form today as it’s important we get submissions in to stop their dangerous preferred option. Given Option 3 also improves traffic at the intersection by 10-30% and other options for regional trips already exist via Richardson Rd/Owairaka Ave, it appears Option 3 is probably the best of what has been suggested.
*UPDATE: From AT: page now has online form: https://at.govt.nz/projects-roadworks/mt-albert-town-centre-upgrade/#feedback