Yesterday we launched CFN2, the second version of our Congestion Free Network. It has been great to see your response to it, and already we’re getting serious support by key decision-makers. Our detailed report runs through how CFN2 works across different sub-regions of Auckland, and over the next days and weeks we’ll put some focus on our key initiatives, and the reasons behind some key choices that we have made.
A good place to start is with probably the biggest “change” that CFN2 makes from what’s in ATAP (the Auckland Transport Alignment Project) – in the Northwest, where we propose a major new light-rail line running from Waimauku through Kumeu, Westgate, along the State Highway 16 corridor to the city and then over to Takapuna on the North Shore. This forms Line B of our network:
By way of comparison, the ATAP “strategic PT network” map shows a line out to Kumeu/Huapai, but talks about the “Northwest Busway”, initially from Te Atatu to Westgate and then eventually extending in both directions along the entire route.
Why Light Rail
Three key factors sat at the heart of our decision-making on busway vs LRT for the Northwest corridor:
- Growth and Capacity
- City Centre Bus Constraints
- Connection Opportunities
Let’s work through each of those in turn:
Growth and Capacity
The Northwest is expected to undergo significant growth in coming decades from a couple of key areas in and around the SH16 corridor.
- Significant greenfield growth is planned north of Westgate and in and around Kumeu.
- Within the existing urban area, especially on the Te Atatu peninsula, substantial development is also planned, especially on the Te Atatu peninsula
- Closer to town, the Great North Rd corridor is already experiencing a building boom and this is expected to continue.
All up the corridor is likely to be home to at least 150,000 people in coming years, possibly more. Light rail was chosen due to its ability to provide appropriate long-term capacity to the area.
City Centre Bus Constraints
Similar to the issues faced by key bus corridors serving the city centre from the isthmus (Symonds Street) and the North Shore (Fanshawe Street), over time growing bus demand from the Northwest and inner west is likely to lead to bus volumes that the city centre cannot easily and efficiently cope with. The ATAP Supporting Information report noted this likely long-term issue:
Like with most elements of ATAP, we think they’ve underestimated the demand for PT and that capacity constraints will likely occur sooner than projected. Furthermore, the impact of large bus volumes along Karangahape Road, down Albert Street and then having to turn buses around in the downtown area undermines a lot of desired outcomes from the City Centre Master Plan.
Current thinking for the Northwest Busway envisages that services would terminate downtown, probably in Lower Albert St like the Northern Express currently does. Through routing services through the City Centre not only removes the issues of terminating services, but can provide useful new connections.
As you can see above, ATAP also agreed on the need for a spur of the strategic network to Takapuna, but the question for us has always been how that would operate. Given the demands suggested in various reports, there would be more service coming to the city from the North Shore than there would be from the central isthmus. Thus, we thought about where the logical places were that these Takapuna services could go after passing through the city and linking them up with the Northwest route felt the most appropriate.
This still leaves a couple of questions though:
- What’s the best way of providing a “congestion free” corridor between Pt Chevalier and the city?
- Even if you did eventually go to light-rail, would it make sense to build some busway first?
Pt Chevalier to City Section
Most buses that currently run out to west and northwest Auckland use the Great North Road corridor from the city to Pt Chevalier. This runs almost parallel to State Highway 16:
Great North Rd works pretty well for buses currently. It has extensive bus lanes along most of this length, and just a couple of bottlenecks around the St Lukes Rd motorway interchange and through the Grey Lynn shops. For the short and potentially medium term this would likely continue, with the focus on providing congestion free improvements further west. However, growing demand will likely drive the need for faster and more reliable travel times along this section, and eventually (ATAP schedules it for the second decade) an upgrade is likely to be needed.
The route could shift to stay on SH16; however, that gets tricky around the St Lukes interchange and as it gets closer to the city centre where SH16 is hidden in a gully, away from the massive growth that is happening along Great North Rd.
Our first preference though is to keep the route where the people are, on Great North Rd and in doing so where the potential benefits of light-rail come through by allowing for greater capacity.
Should we still progress the Northwest Busway?
We have long been supporters of the Northwest Busway, in fact arguably this blog came up with the idea. Compared to other constrained bus corridors in the city centre and on the main routes feeding the city centre (especially from the isthmus and the North Shore), the problems highlighted above are undoubtedly lower priorities. Yet at the same time the Northwest is growing like crazy, faces a future with declining employment access and needs a way to provide its bus services much more efficiently.
Therefore, we definitely think the first phase of the Northwest Busway – from Westgate to Te Atatu – still needs to happen as soon as possible. There are huge gains to be made from this first stage but it is critical the busway is designed for an easy upgrade at a later date.
The rest of our network in the Northwest matches up with what ATAP proposes perfectly. The Henderson-Westgate-Constellation bus rapid transit corridor has been long-planned and is able to occur in a staged and sensible way over time, especially as growth occurs along the State Highway 18 corridor.