With March Madness now in full swing, discussion of congestion is trending like the latest viral video. Hot on the heels from the Herald’s multi-modal race, yesterday the Automobile Association released a report on congestion in the city.
Aucklanders are spending close to 80 hours stuck in motorway traffic congestion each year, time that the AA describes as a “noose” around motorists’ necks.
The Automobile Association is calling for a raft of initiatives to tackle the problem, including encouraging parents to send kids to school on foot or by bike to put a brake on the number of cars.
An AA Congestion Report released today picks apart the time Aucklanders spend moving at a glacial pace along the city’s busiest routes.
It comes on the first official day of “March Madness”, which is set to bring even more misery to the city’s beleaguered commuters.
Latest figures show about 40,000 more cars jammed Auckland’s roads in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Each motorist wasted an average 78.6 hours sitting in traffic, just on our motorways.
This equated to close to two full weeks of work for many Aucklanders – though most motorists would not be receiving pay cheques for the wasted hours behind the wheel.
Between the hours of 7am and 9am drivers were travelling at an average speed of 43km/h on Auckland motorways last year. This slowed even more on our arterial roads – where drivers were crawling at just 34km/h on average.
Sitting in traffic can be absolutely maddening but in my experience it’s not the total time that drives the frustration but the unreliability of travel times and the lack of control you have over the situation. The time aspect is highlighted by the fact that if you break down the 80 hours quoted, it doesn’t add up to all that much. For example, once you subtract weekends, public holidays and leave, most commuters will travel to work for about 230 days a year. Dividing the 78.6 hours by 230 days gives us about 20.5 minutes of delay a day, so just over 10 minutes in each direction. What is really frustrating is when you have a 30 minute commute one day then for no apparent reason your commute the next day is 1.5 hours. As we saw with the commuter race, the bus, train and car all took about the same length of time but my guess is the three reporters arrived with vastly different stress levels.
The report notes that Waterview made a noticeable difference, for a few months, but that congestion is now back to normal.
After the multibillion-dollar road opened in July last year, commuters in the notoriously gridlocked city saw up to 11 minutes shaved off their rush-hour trips.
But those gains are already being eroded away, with around 43,000 more people moving to Auckland and 40,000 more cars on the roads in the past 12 months. The average Aucklander now drives just over 9000km a year, up 189km.
“It’s going to get worse, no question about it,” said Mr Irvine.
In March 2016, the average speed on Auckland’s arterial roads was 37km/h. A year later it was 32km/h. In the second half of 2017 speeds began to surpass those of 2016, as the Waterview Tunnel eased stress on the network.
But by November 2017, speeds were back down to 2016 levels.
It was obvious that this would happen because it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME. What is perhaps surprising is that the congestion relief benefits didn’t even last six months. Nevertheless, the AA have said we need more big roading projects like Waterview, as well as rail and other transport projects. As we know from ATAP, even the former National government agreed that there simply wasn’t the space for many new big roads and only limited options for widening the ones we already have. I think that what Waterview does highlight is that we simply can’t build new road projects to bust congestion. What it did do is link up a new route through the city and improve the overall capacity. But, if all we’re really doing is adding capacity, then there are far more efficient ways of doing that.
Finally we come to some of the AA’s other suggestions
The AA report includes a handful of smaller-scale initiatives, which the team wants to see Government and Auckland Council adopt to address the scale of the problem.
These included installing a smart traffic light system, setting firm congestion targets, delivering more park and ride bays and trialling different forms of congestion charges.
Irvine also suggested schools could play their part in making walking and cycling to school safer.
Removing barriers that prevent parents sending their kids to school on foot or by bike could help reduce car numbers on our roads.
Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president Kevin Bush said he would support any type of scheme or project implemented by central Government to make this happen.
He saw the impact congestion had on both parents and students and noted school buses were increasingly late in delivering students to school, because of traffic.
Ironically, Bush said the traffic creating the issue made it too dangerous for many younger students to walk or ride to school unattended.
That last line reminded me a lot of this great cartoon
Some of the other ideas, like smarter traffic lights, are one of those perennial suggestions but that are unlikely to make a huge amount of difference, if any. That’s because prioritising or syncing one journey will throw other journeys out of sync. Even if it does make a difference, it’s also not something is going to be sustainable long term. That’s because Auckland is growing strongly and is expected to continue to do so.
If congestion is only going to get worse then it becomes even more imperative that we build a city that gives people the ability to opt out of congestion. That means creating viable alternatives that are faster and more convenient to use than driving. This alternative comes in the form of a network of safe, connected cycleways and a high quality rapid transit network, like our Congestion Free Network, backed up by a strong and efficient frequent bus network. That way, the roads may still be congested but many more people are still able to travel without suffering from it.