It feels like Auckland Transport live in a strange world some times. Just days after the council made it abundantly clear that they supported the Victoria St Linear Park and wanted the agreed City Centre Master Plan implemented, AT have launched consultation for the Midtown bus route, which if they go with their preferred option, openly defies the council by preventing the Linear Park from being possible.
The Midtown bus route runs along Wellesley and new bus network being rolled out will see it become one of the busiest bus routes through the city. Some of the key bus routes that will use it include the Northern Express 2 (NEX2 – which will likely be busier than the existing NEX), the outer link and buses from busy isthmus routes like New North Rd, Sandringham Rd and Remuera Rd. So many buses are expected to use it that through the central section all four traffic lanes are planned to be a transit mall, dedicated to people and buses – this is one of the key routes that would be almost impossible to operate if the NZTAs Advanced Bus Solution became a reality.
These are the bus routes following the New Network consultation.
All of the plans prior to the formal New Network consultation had always shown buses on Wellesley but none on Victoria St – I’ll go into a little more about the reason for this later in the post. One of those plans was the City East-West Transport Study (CEWT) by Auckland Transport, released in 2014. It showed Wellesley St one of two key east-west bus corridors with no buses on Victoria St.
The CEWT study was based on the original plans for the New Network, as shown below.
On Friday they quietly started consultation on the midtown route and it has shades of the Mt Albert Town Centre consultation all over it, with a lot of very selective information presented. To start with, there’s a lot of positive and fluffy information, urban issues wash if you will.
Auckland’s city centre is changing rapidly, and we are working with Auckland Council to create a thriving city centre, supported by frequent, efficient transport for people walking, cycling and travelling by bus.
On to the actual consultation, AT say the inbound route is straightforward, buses heading to the city will head north down Symonds St and turn left into Wellesley St, like many buses already do today. The issue comes in how AT deal with buses heading out of the city and they’re consulting on three options.
Their first, and preferred option is as shown on the New Network map at the top of the post but in our view, is the worst option presented. Outbound buses would use Victoria St, Bowen Ave, Waterloo Quadrant and then Symonds St.
This is a route currently used by buses and is notorious for delays, especially on Bowen Ave for which there doesn’t appear to be any space to add in bus lanes unless AT were to eat into Albert Park.
AT say the advantages of this route are that the bus infrastructure (bus stops) is already in place and that it provides more coverage of Auckland University. But, on the first point, the other options either already have the infrastructure in place, or it is being installed for other routes anyway. As for coverage, just because a route covers more area, it doesn’t necessarily make it better. Splitting the routes by direction makes them less legible, especially for unfamiliar users ensuring no matter what. Further, a longer route, like suggested here, is likely to be considerably slower than the more direction option which has the strong potential to put off people from using the bus so can work against public transport use. This is something AT acknowledge as a disadvantage, along with that it kills the Linear Park.
- Being less direct, this is a slightly longer route, with some parts of the route (such as Bowen Avenue) will be challenging to install bus lanes on.
- This route will make it difficult to reduce the number of lanes on Victoria Street, as part of a planned future upgrade of Victoria Street.
It would be interesting to know how much more it would cost to run all of those buses on this longer, slower route.
This is the best option and would see buses use Wellesley St both ways and isthmus buses would access Symonds St using the ramps up from Wellesley St.
AT say the benefits of the route are that it is simple and direct, which also means that it would be faster, therefore helping public transport to be more useful and attractive to a wider selection of the public.
As for its disadvantages, two relate to the fact it would use the ramps up to Symonds St, both of which seem dubious at best.
- This route would require buses to use an uphill slip lane to reach Symonds Street, and introducing more buses to this narrow, pedestrian-filled area would be challenging.
- This route would require new traffic lights to enable buses to turn right out of the slip lane into Symonds Street, which would delay other buses using Symonds Street.
Why would buses on a road here be an issue for pedestrians on the footpath. Perhaps more importantly, how many pedestrians even use that footpath. Any coming from south of Wellesley are more likely to use the footpath on the opposite ramp while those coming from the University of Auckland are more likely to get to Wellesley St via Princes St or get to the city via Albert Park. As for traffic lights, are right turning buses any different from those that use Wakefield St today. What’s more they already exist at this intersection to provide pedestrian crossings and for traffic turning right onto the westbound ramp. In the future, especially after Light Rail or advanced bus options get taken up, there won’t be as many buses on Symonds St north of Wellesley.
In addition, they claim that there is reduced coverage for those in the northern end of UoA but equally this option provides greater coverage for both students at AUT and workers in and around Wellesley St.
Lastly, they say a disadvantage is that buses would will need to turn and layover near Victoria Park. Why is this a disadvantage for option 2 and 3 but not option 1. Further, from what it appears, this option starts at Fanshawe St which gives greater coverage to Wynyard Quarter which was one of the reasons for sending buses down Wellesley St in the first place. Option 1 only appears to start from Victoria St which makes it much less likely people from Wynyard would use it.
Option is similar to Option 2 in using Wellesley St but east of Queen St would turn down Mayoral Dr and then use Wakefield St to access Symonds St.
AT say this route is the shortest and as mentioned earlier, buses already use Wakefield to access Symonds St. The disadvantages are that it is much further away from the UoA campus, would require a right turn to Mayoral Dr, affecting inbound buses and like Option 2, they say buses would need to lay over near Victoria Park
Finally, as mentioned, other routes will be using Wellesley St too and that need infrastructure, most notably the NEX2. It will travel and likely terminate under the Symonds St underpass where AT plan a new major bus stop – but it’s not clear yet where buses would then go to turn around. Adding that bus station is going to require major change in the area anyway so adding things like traffic lights for Option 2 would be minor in comparison.
By now you might be wondering the real reason for all of this. In short, it’s because the University of Auckland have been waging a war against buses going past their campus for a number of years now, as well as many key parts of the City Centre Master Plan, including the Linear Park and even making Quay St more pedestrian friendly. Below are a series of letters between Auckland Transport and the University I received some years ago, as part of a LGOIMA request. As you can see the last one is dated May 2014 and you can be guaranteed the issue has been dragging on since then.
As I understand it, the opposition by the University eventually lead to senior leadership at AT deciding to ditch Option 2, which is the formal New Network consultation in late 2015 shifting buses to Victoria St.
It’s scandalous that such major changes to key, publicly consulted, city centre plans have been allowed to be undermined, behind closed doors. So now that there is an opportunity to have a say it’s important we do so. If you want the Linear Park, make sure you submit on Option 2.
Auckland Transport have two public sessions planned to discuss the route, they are
- Auckland University, main quad – Wednesday 5 April and Wednesday 12 April, 12.30pm – 3pm
- AUT, Hikuwai Plaza, Thursday 6 April and Thursday 13 April, 12.30pm – 3pm