Much of the focus of public transport improvements is around Heavy Rail, Light Rail, and Busways which will make up our rapid transit spine. This often makes sense as these are high profile investments that transform our city. However, it is important not to ignore smaller improvements that can be made to public transport. The bulk of our trips both now and even after the Congestion Free Network will be delivered by buses, especially those along the frequent network. It is important that we don’t forget to invest in these corridors as they can deliver improvements for passengers quickly and at a low cost that will lead to both high immediate as well as long-term dividends.
There is a lot we can do to significantly improve these bus services and a key area we have often highlighted in the past is bus priority. However, often the best solutions are smart ideas rather than simply focusing on kilometres of bus lanes delivered. This post is the first in a series where I will use several Auckland examples to illustrate how we should deliver bus priority in the future.
The corridor between Newmarket and the City is a busy one. It was even the subject of a what was then a large public transport investment known as the Central Connector which included many of the sections of bus priority now in operation, including Grafton Bridge and Symonds St. While the New Network has, and will, decrease the number of routes using this corridor, it will still be an important for buses in the future.
However, the corridor has two major pinch-points for services:
- The intersection of Khyber Pass Rd/Park again especially City-bound
- The intersection of Broadway/Khyber Pass Rd especially City-bound
Notice the common theme: intersections.
As with cycling, the most important areas we can focus infrastructure on is around intersections, however, just as with cycling, we seem to focus the infrastructure on everything else, which is odd considering intersection priority has fewer effects on parking and provides a large benefit.
We don’t always need to roll out hundreds of kilometres of lanes along the whole bus corridor to fix the big issues. While some corridors will need this approach, there is a large opportunity cost to this, which I will go into further detail during the series. What we need to focus on is fixing the actually identifiable pinch points.
The Intersection of Khyber Pass Road and Park Road
The issue here is this is not just a usual intersection, but the worst of all movements required in bus operations, a transition from a kerbside bus lane into a right turn lane before a busy intersection. This means the bus has to cross from the left-most lane to the rightmost lane, across two lanes of traffic. This often means the bus lane leading up to the intersection is effectively useless, as the bus has to cross lanes well before the intersection. The bus driver also has to guess when the best time to cross the lanes will be causing both issues for general traffic as well as buses.
Luckily a solution exists to this which is a combination of technology and infrastructure.
The solution is to create a kerbside right turn bus priority pocket with a right turn advance phase. The bus can continue using the kerbside lane the whole length to the intersection then gets a priority B advance phase where buses needing to access Park Rd can turn right while buses continuing down Khyber Pass can continue straight.
General traffic will still be able to turn left during a normal phase while they will be inconvenienced by the new B phase for buses they also won’t get stuck with the current mess of buses trying to merge across them.
This arrangement can be seen in various Australian cities including Melbourne and Brisbane. The example below is from the Northern Busway in Brisbane, where the bus transitions from an on-road bus lane to a separated busway. The buses have a special traffic light so they can cross the 6 lanes of traffic.
This is a type of practical technology solutions that is actually needed to solve identified problems, rather the than the current obsession for new apps!
The Intersection of Broadway/Khyber Pass Rd
The issue here is a result of the odd shaped off-line bus stop, combined with the limited space for cars to queue up to turn left (stacking space). The traffic often overwhelms the left turn lane, queuing back past the bus stop, which leads to buses getting stuck in the bus stop, further delaying buses which don’t need to stop.
While usually off-line bus stops are not recommended for best practice bus operations, for this corridor it does make some sense due the high level of different bus routes using the stop, and the presence of the left turn lane. The solution here is to turn the middle Broadway lane into a combined straight/left turn lane while converting the current left turn traffic lane into a bus priority pocket. This still allows general traffic movement, while providing adequate space for buses to stop.
For buses coming from the city that need to right turn into Broadway, they face the issue of a right-hand turn from. Therefore a similar intersection treatment could be done as I showed in the first example above.
With the combination of these two treatments a bus heading city-bound can now stop at Newmarket without getting stuck, can turn easily into Khyber Pass Rd using the existing kerbside bus lanes to full effect, then simply turn into Park Rd without any need to merge across lanes.
We don’t need 1000’s of km of bus lanes to make priority work, often if we look at bus corridors we can solve the problem with smart quality solutions rather than just quantity. The former has many other benefits beyond just cost and effectiveness which I will go into more detail in the next few posts.