With the Northcote byelection happening in the next few weeks, it was inevitable that attention would focus on Onewa Road on Auckland’s North Shore. Thanks to geography, the western North Shore has a terribly disconnected street network and when combined with the reliance on the State Highway 1 corridor, it results in a huge number of trips funneled into this one road.
Unsurprisingly, at peak times (especially during the morning peak) this is one of the most congested roads in Auckland, not just for those travelling along the road itself, but also for those trying to get onto Onewa Road in the first place.
Despite this congestion, Onewa Road is also one of the most productive corridors in Auckland – in terms of the number of people it shifts at peak times. This is because of the extraordinarily successful T3 lane that extends along it. I don’t have more recent data, but back in 2010 around 83% of people travelling down Onewa Road in the busiest hour were using the T3 lane:
Public transport ridership has grown enormously since 2010, and we know from comments in board reports that Onewa Rd is one of the corridors with the strongest growth, especially since the introduction of double deckers. As such, that share is likely even higher how.
However, there has long been a desire by some locals to turn the T3 lane into a T2 lane. This has most recently been picked up by National Party byelection candidate Dan Bidois:
Contesting a by-election gave him the luxury of avoiding national level policy issues, instead focusing on the hyper local, so if elected, Bidois made clear he had Auckland Council in his sights.
“There isn’t one solution, so I will be holding council to account for the services that they can get improved in the area.”
“For example, they could in fact listen to the residents of this area and trial the T2 lanes down Onewa Rd.”
In 2010 the former North Shore City Council did some detailed analysis of what would happen if the Onewa Road T3 lanes were turned into T2 lanes.
What the analysis showed is that changing the T3 lane into a T2 lane would be incredibly stupid and would make things worse for everyone. Instead of one congested lane you would now have two congested lanes and there would no longer be an incentive to use the bus or carpool, meaning vehicle occupancy would go down and that would lead to even more congestion. Because public transport ridership has grown so much since 2009, when the analysis was undertaken, I would imagine the impact of changing to a T2 lane would be even more dire. We know from ATs plans for the New Network that during the height of the peak, there could be 35 buses an hour heading down Onewa Rd.
So clearly this change makes absolutely no sense and would only make things worse. If anything, with the number of bus services there are it should be moving the other way, to a full bus lane. But this begs the question of “what would help?” Looking at this corridor, and in particular the observation that its congestion is so much worse in the morning peak than the evening peak, I can’t help but wonder whether onw problem is the strange intersection between Onewa Road, Lake Road and Queen Street. It certainly seems like this is a “pinch point” in the system:
Having two intersections so close together is always creates challenges. In sequencing the traffic lights AT need to make sure that queues from previous intersections don’t block right back, making it impossible for people to get onto the main road from the side-streets. And that inevitably means a much less efficient intersection. All those missing pedestrian crossing points right next to a school (in the top left) also make me wonder how bad this area’s safety record is.
Turning this mess into a normal four-way intersection would potentially create a lot of benefit for all road users in the area.
- Buses and cars would be able to get through the intersection much more efficiently
- A safer pedestrian environment could be created
- A major upgrade could create the opportunity for some proper cycling infrastructure
There are two options for how this could be done, either by diverting Queen Street to line up with Lake Road, or vice-versa. Both options would have fairly major property impacts:
I’m not saying that this would be a silver bullet solution (it may just create further bottlenecks down where Onewa Road joins the motorway), but it certainly seems like an improvement much more likely to help than the T3 to T2 change that we know will make traffic much worse for everyone.
If I were running in the by-election I would focus on pushing Auckland Transport to look into this further. Do you use Onewa Rd, is there anything you’ve noticed that could help improve it?