In part one of this series, I used the case example of Khyber Pass Rd to show how we could be much smarter about bus priority than simple kerbside bus lanes, I also mentioned how taking the approach of quantity over quality has large opportunity costs beyond just effectiveness and cost. In this post, I will show how being smart about bus priority leaves space for much-desired placemaking in Town Centres as well as balanced the specific needs of these centres.

Centres are hard to push bus lanes through due to concerns about amenity as well as parking. The current battle over bus lane operation through Mt Eden town centre is the epitome of this in Auckland.

Any Mt Eden Rd bus user will know for the most part the route is pretty good; you have great frequency and span of services, the service is for the most part pretty quick except at Mt Eden town centre where even off-peak can be a nightmare.

The question is, however, what if pushing bus lanes through town centres is not even the best option? Can we achieve a win-win for both bus users and the town centre?

What if instead of in many town centres pushing bus lanes through the middle of them we instead used traffic lights to created tiered priority through the centre. Both general traffic and buses would stack before the town centre then an advance B phase given to buses to allow them through the town centre first.

This would give buses priority through Town Centres without requiring the second lane. The second lane could be kept for parking or be used to provide space for cycling, walking, loading zones, allowing space for shops to put chairs/tables out or general placemaking. Other places that come to mind as being suitable for this style of bus lanes are Sandringham, Kingsland (New North Road), Grey Lynn (Great North Road) and Epsom (Manukau Road) town centres.

Bus Priority Phase

At the end of the day do we even really want to be pushing general through traffic in our town centres? Wouldn’t it be much smarter to focus on people trying to actually access the centre itself? Is delaying through general through traffic something to really be concerned about?

This logic also applies to 24/7 bus lanes, which now exist in parts of the city centre. They sound great in theory, but rarely would they ever be needed along large sections of the corridor. For example, has 24/7 bus priority on Symonds Street (especially towards the Anzac Ave end) really made the place better? The lack of loading zones it has created has led to illegal parking on the footpath becoming commonplace across the day and weekends.

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  1. Wholeheartedly agree with this post! While I’m never a fan of parking I am huge fan of getting the balance between movement and place right- and this smart approach really helps for somewhere like a spatially constrained centre. I would argue that currently mt eden village works pretty ok from a place perspective- good barnes dance in the middle with generally slow moving traffic pinched through single lanes. While the parking could be managed better for much shorter stays, uber drop offs, loading zones and wider footpaths/ street furniture etc the current function of the street side parking is arguably more on the side of place-( narrowing the corridor and fascilitating easy crossing) rather then maximum throughput. Buses should have more priority yes but just as you say that should be time-based priority at the expense of car delay rather than spatial priority at the expense of making it a nicer place (with better use of its parking edges).

  2. For this to work, you’d need continuous bus lanes outside the town centre (otherwise buses would get stuck in general traffic before even reaching the B signal). That is not the case on Mt Eden Rd.

    1. I’m also a little confused about how this would work. I assume that there would need to be light control of the general traffic lane at the end of the bus lane just before a village with the bus(s) getting priority into the one lane in the town centre itself. Bus priority lights could be either at an intersection right before the town centre or just creating a mid block crossing before the centre. Is that right?

      1. Yeah I think that’s it. Basically limiting the number of vehicles in the town centre so it is never congested via a set of traffic lights just outside, and allowing buses priority at those lights. I’d mix that with some speed tables too otherwise people might drive too quickly through the uncongested town centre.

        1. In fact you don’t even need to give buses priority, just don’t have the lights apply to the bus lane so they don’t stop at all.

  3. I wonder whether a better solution for Anzac Road is to narrow the bus lane to 3.2m and then actually install some more loading zones. We can also install loading zones on side roads.

    The corridor is massive there, we can fit loading zones and bus lanes.

  4. This sounds good but I am not sure how you can prevent queuing of traffic through the town centre during peak times? Some sort of dynamic traffic light control system similar to motorway ramps?

    1. I think exactly like motorway ramp signals, with the bus lane excluded from the signals just like the motorway ones.

      1. In which case this is a heck of a good idea for dealing with bus priority pinch points. Given everyone is used to how motorway ramps work it should be easy to implement without a massive education campaign needed.

  5. Great suggestion.

    This is a very radical idea which sounds feasible in theory and may actually work in practice. I’ve read a few papers about something a bit more complex being done in China and proposed in the US, but not for this application of bus priority. It is called Tandem Sorting Strategy and is a recent idea, but not implemented anywhere that I know of yet.

    Your idea is a bit simpler, which means it may actually work in practice.

  6. Sounds good for some areas but don’t we have to have at least a small bus queuing spot/extra bit of lane at the intersections for this to work (just like we widen to have a right or left turning general lane)? If that is the case then just a small amount of car parking perhaps removed on the side near an intersection (like is often the case anway).

  7. The only way this would work in Mt Eden is to signalise Valley-Mt Eden-Oaklands Rd intersection, and probably also Grange-Mt Eden Rd intersection. Is that really preferrable compared to removing 6 car parks in the village to ensure bus priority?

      1. That’s correct, except the left lane would be limited to left-turning cars – unlike currently where it gets clogged with people going straight trying to out-drag the inner lane at the green light. Also, because cars are only permitted to use the bus lane for 50 m, that would limit the number of cars in that lane, most of which would get through on the short ex-Stokes Rd signal.

    1. presumably these new signals would be perfectly phased with the existing intersection, so that while there are three sets of light now, once you get a green at the first one, you will get a green wave through the other two.

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