Traffic in Auckland – no one loves it. Every objective we have for transport is hindered by the one common problem: we have too much traffic. It’s taking a toll on our health, and it’s keeping people stuck in congestion without transport options. Wherever the location, and whether the problem manifests as an issue of safety, access, air quality or congestion, the solution lies in reducing traffic.
Too much traffic means many people who drive are unable to make the shift to other ways of travelling, because congestion is slowing down the buses, and the traffic volumes make cycling dangerous. This locks people who don’t drive in an unsafe system with low amenity. Our children are particularly disadvantaged, with low independent mobility affecting their development.
In this post I look at dynamic lanes, and how their technology could be assisting modeshift, but instead is being applied to increase traffic.
There’s a paradigm shift needed; if we aimed to reduce traffic, consistently, across all the work programmes, benefits of improved access and mobility, of public and environmental health, would come thick and fast. Without making this paradigm shift, however, we can expect to see failure in:
- The Connected Communities programme for arterial roads
- The Cycling Programme
- The Safety Strategy and Vision Zero
- Access for Everyone
- The Road Network Optimisation programme
- Accelerated Modeshift to the Sustainable and Healthy Modes
Indeed, everything impacted or enabled by transport planning needs traffic reduction:
- Children’s Independent Mobility
- The Compact City Strategy
- Auckland’s Carbon Emission Reductions Targets
- Physical Activity targets for Public Health
- Universal Accessibility
- Healthy Streets
- Local Board plans for vibrant, connected communities
- Air Quality goals
- Objectives to reduce Auckland’s reliance on fossil fuels
- Leaving a responsible legacy – infrastructure with as small a maintenance burden as possible
- A transport network that supports a healthy economy
- Quality Land Use goals
One factor that impacts traffic volumes is road capacity. No project should increase road capacity, and overall we must act to reduce it, because road capacity has a big effect on traffic volumes.
Unfortunately, Auckland Transport is still trying to fix congestion problems by providing more road capacity. Even when a project doesn’t involve physically widening roads, Auckland Transport still attempt to “ease congestion” at each pinch point by increasing capacity.
Dynamic Lanes are a superb example. They are a tool that should be used sparingly, as they introduce ambiguity and danger, but can be useful if this danger is mitigated with other safety improvements. They can be used to promote our city’s goals, or to hinder them.
Used positively, dynamic lanes offer up road space to other uses, and therefore increase access. Imagine a street with 4 general traffic lanes, which sees heavy flows in one direction in the morning, and in the other direction in the evening. Dynamic lanes could allow the street to reduce down to three lanes, with a neutral effect on capacity. This provides a whole lane of road space that can be reallocated to different uses. Cycle lanes, for example, might be possible within the road corridor if this reclaimed road width can be added to other space available. This provides another link in the cycling network, improving transport choice and physical health.
Used negatively, however, dynamic lanes are used to simply increase road capacity without having to increase road width. This induces more traffic and creates congestion elsewhere.
The proposed Redoubt Road Dynamic Lanes project is an example of the tool being used poorly: In this location, there are three lanes, two heading west in the peak morning direction, and one heading east in the peak evening direction.
The Dynamic Lane here will repurpose the central lane so it can swap direction, meaning that both the peak morning and evening flow will have two lanes.
This creates road capacity for the evening peak without having to build a wider road. And for people stuck in the mindset of wanting to increase road capacity, this seems like a benefit. It may be only incremental, but because this is being repeated all over the city, the cumulative effects are substantial. A U-turn in thinking is required.
What Redoubt Rd needs is viable sustainable transport options. This is, after all, a key route for residents to access Manukau City Centre and the Manukau Train Station. That certainly means making space for protected cycling. And it probably means road pricing, to enable an improved bus service to flow.
I asked Auckland Transport about the project, specifically what effect it would have on traffic volumes, and therefore on modeshift, safety and climate change.
The work to install dynamic lanes on Redoubt Road will be kept inside the existing road corridor and is about making better use of this space.
No answer was given about analysis of traffic volumes; I can only assume that as usual, any modelling assumed the effective road capacity increase doesn’t increase “person-trips” nor affect land use.
As you may be aware, the larger Mill Road corridor project (which includes this section of Redoubt Road) is proposed in the medium to long term.
The Redoubt Road Dynamic Lane is certainly not as damaging as the boondoggle that was part of the original Mill Rd project:
But it’s still a solution stemming from a delusion that we need to increase capacity.
The Mill Road corridor project will include appropriate facilities for walking and cycling. Also, there are currently no appropriate bike connections at either end of this 350 metre section. The Mill Road corridor project will address these connections.
And this is where the delusion is most damaging. Establishing a cycling network requires
- traffic volumes to be reduced, to ensure wherever cycles and traffic cross, there are as few traffic movements as possible. This dynamic lane project is part of a mindset that is doing the opposite, and
- adding cycling infrastructure in all projects, to create a network over time. Auckland Transport was criticised in the Road Safety Business Improvement Review for not:
leveraging the annual AT major road Capex programme and the annual AT maintenance programme to deliver important low marginal cost road network safety improvement over time
The revised Mill Rd project would be successful if it improves safety and adds bus priority and cycling infrastructure. If it adds any general traffic capacity, it too is part of the problem.
The dynamic lanes are an opportunity to improve customer experience within the existing road space. They are expected to improve travel times for people in buses and general traffic. With an added benefit of potentially improving bus operations on Manukau Station Road.
Initial improvements in travel times in buses and general traffic for this stretch of road will likely be lauded as a success, but induced traffic causes a gradual worsening of travel times over a wide area. Of course, the network will see other changes, good and bad, so the long term effects will never be clear, nor fully attributed.
The dynamic lanes on Whangaparaoa Road and Panmure Bridge have had no adverse safety effects. Safety is a key priority for AT with independent safety checks undertaken and close monitoring of the lanes to continue throughout.
Let’s have a look at the Whangaparaoa Rd dynamic lanes project. It repurposed a median strip into a dynamic lane, doubling the road’s capacity in each peak direction.
The corridor was, and remains, deficient for walking and cycling. There isn’t even a continuous footpath, access to bus stops is via a muddy berm, and there’s a complete lack of crossing infrastructure for 1.9 km. The project page shows how low the safety standards were:
Part of the monitoring will also help determine whether the change in layout results in more gaps in traffic for safer pedestrian-crossing opportunities.
Amenity for cycling was reduced by the project. Bike Auckland covered the topic well and concluded:
“we believe AT is actively promoting an unsafe environment for cyclists.”
I wonder if, in monitoring safety, they’ve counted the number of people walking – this is an effective way to track changes in safety for people walking.
However, that project was designed before the change in government, before we had a progressive Government Policy Statement on Transport, before Safety became the top priority at AT and before the Council declared a Climate Emergency. It was a regressive project that would never be approved today.
Or would it? What is disappointing about this new Redoubt Rd project is that it shows that little has changed. The lack of cycling amenity is an egregious matter of safety that needs addressing, and is of a higher priority than traffic flow. Auckland Transport claim to prioritise safety over traffic flow, but they are doing the opposite here. Continuing with quotes from AT’s response about the Redoubt Rd project:
This section of Redoubt Road is currently at a standstill and enabling buses and general traffic to flow reduces unnecessary CO2 emissions.
This myth is busted: adding more capacity might reduce idling a bit, but it will actually induce more driving, which will lead to higher, not lower carbon emissions.
Auckland Transport is being irresponsible to promulgate it, and this needs to be clarified if the Climate Action Framework is going to direct any meaningful action in reducing transport carbon emissions.
The Whangaparaoa Dynamic Lane project saw a 58 per cent increase in people movement with an annual saving of 83,500 hours and a reduction of 845 tonnes in CO2 emissions.
I’ve asked for more detail, as the analysis needs scrutiny. If these people were on buses, the lane should be a bus lane to lock in the improvements. How many extra private vehicles did this 58% increase in people represent? Studying a short length of freely-flowing road just after the capacity has been added doesn’t show the full picture. AT would need to measure the CO2 emissions throughout the network, and especially at other pinch points where congestion has been made worse. Also, what land use changes will this spur, encouraging sprawl and discouraging good density?
There is simply no room for pretending that projects that induce traffic are part of meeting our emissions reductions goals.
Reducing traffic with evidence-based techniques puts our road corridors and public infrastructure to the best possible use, giving us the best value for our investment. Reallocation of road space to healthy modes, bus priority, safe walking infrastructure, safe speeds, protected cycling, low-traffic neighbourhoods, investment in bus services and reduction of car parking work as a system together to reduce traffic. These changes make the city more liveable and healthy, and give people efficient and safe options to get around that don’t require them to hop in a car and worsen everyone else’s problem.
Cities change constantly, and no matter how car dominated or sprawling they are, their transport systems can be improved with good planning. These two videos of the same street in Amsterdam show the change from the car-domination of the 1960’s to the bicycle- and people-friendly success of today. And even sprawling Indianapolis is taking big strides on its journey towards having a functioning transit system.
Auckland can tackle its traffic problem. We can create a low-carbon and healthy transport system, to improve our lives and to set our children up for success. We just need Auckland Transport to make the leap into the 21st Century, and stop focusing on easing congestion at the pinch points. The way to ease congestion fundamentally is by reducing traffic itself.