We like to keep an eye on what’s going on in the world of transport overseas as it can help inform discussion of what happens here and one of the most interesting recent examples comes to us from New York.

The city is well known for its subway system which in the year to the end of June carried over 2.6 billion trips but buses also play a significant role and over the same period, MTA buses carried another 700 million trips. That number has been falling fairly constantly though, down from over 950 million in the mid-2000’s. New York may have found a way to reverse that trend and all with the implementation of a temporary busway on 14th Street that has already been so successful that there are already calls for more of them on other Manhattan streets. But perhaps what’s most important to us is so far it appears to be another example of disappearing traffic.

The origin of the busway stems back to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which among other damage, flooded the L train subway tunnels that run under 14th Street. In 2016 it was announced that to properly repair them they needed to close the Manhattan end of the line for 18 months (later reduced to 15 months).

The busway was initially proposed as one of the solutions to mitigate the impacts of that and would also help speed up the notoriously slow buses on the surface with those on 14th Street averaging only about 7.5km/h, not much faster than walking and even slower than the average speed of buses in Manhattan of about 9.5km/h. The slow speeds had also seen ridership reduce from about 36,000 trips per day to 27,000 per day over just five years.

The plan was to make large parts of 14th Street for buses, trucks, emergency vehicles and bikes only, with local car access allowed for within a single block. This would be in force from 6am to 10pm. The inclusion of trucks is an interesting one and something we often don’t think about enough.

Of course as with seemingly any change to a street almost anywhere in the world, the idea of restricting cars leads outrage from some segments of society and in this case, even to an unsuccessful lawsuit. Many complaints were that it would cause chaos on neighbouring streets.

The results (so far)

The busway was implemented just over a week ago and the results been so far have been incredibly positive.

Without all of the congestion, the buses are really flowing. So much so that now they’re often having to slow down so they don’t get too far ahead of their timetable.

People were actually enjoying their bus ride.

Reporters who flocked to the M14 during the first few days of the busway found jubilant bus riders shaving up to ten minutes off their normal commutes. As the WSJ noted, bus drivers had to slow down to keep on schedule. I echo AM New York reporter Vin Barone’s observation that it is exceedingly difficult to find someone calling New York City buses “amazing,” yet here we are:

As well as freely flowing buses, one thing I saw a number of comments on was just how much quieter and pleasant it made the streets (once the buses had passed).

As for the traffic impact on those neighbouring streets, it so far appears to have disappeared and reports are those streets are quieter than they were prior to the introduction with even those skeptical of the change positive about the result.

The results so far have already strengthened calls from advocacy groups to repeat the busway on other major east-west streets across Manhattan.

Sydney too

New York isn’t the only example of this recently with reports out of Sydney that since George St was closed to traffic for the construction of light rail, throughout the city centre traffic volumes decreased by more than 10%

How is this relevant to us

We’ve already got bus lanes and busways and we know they work. Where the example of the 14th Street busway is important to us is it’s another case of disappearing traffic. When we remove road space for cars it doesn’t mean that traffic just gets spread to neighbouring streets and so is worse, it’s that many people stop making unnecessary trips by cars. and that traffic often gets better. We have of course seen this ourselves with the disruption to Albert St for the City Rail Link which has seen traffic improve in many cases. We’re also seeing the number of cars entering the city consistently reduce.

Perhaps even more important for us is that today marks the start of Art Week and with that the first trial closures of High St which is a prelude to the Access for Everyone concept which will see traffic movement through the city significantly changed, including making the Queen St Valley people and public transport only.

It’s also an important point to think about for Auckland Transport’s Connected Communities programme which is about rolling out more/improved bus lanes across the region. Undoubtedly it will end up with as a modelling exercise where plans ultimately get watered down due to the perceived need to accommodate traffic. Perhaps AT need to take a leaf out of New York’s book and instead of compromising the bus (and bike?) lanes, simply start removing traffic lanes to disappear some traffic here.

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46 comments

  1. I work Epsom near the shops on Gt South Road where there are am & pm temporary bus lanes. AT spend considerable time there clearing parked cars out of the bus lanes. The most common complaint I hear from parkers arguing with the Towies & AT Warden (as their car is being hoisted up & away) is “I didn’t see any yellow lines so I thought parking was OK” and variations on that theme. Let’s make it easier for everyone. Make the bus lanes on the high frequency routes permanent all day, every day. Allow trucks (over 3.5T) if that would help. Cut the confusion. People will learn. Might do some wardens & Towies out of work but it’s ‘make work’ anyway. Learn the great lessons from elsewhere and get on with it.

    1. Most motorists caught breaking road rules are pretty infantile. Some even throw tantrums. In fact, if the excuses were arbitrarily interpreted to mean they have no idea what the road rules are and therefore should not be behind the wheel, and because of those admissions, lose your licence, then I think things may change.

    2. Another solution would be a different colour line on the road on clearways (red maybe). They do this in the UK. Clearways are often badly signposted – we had one across the road at work and every afternoon AT would show up to tow people that didn’t see the clearway sign that was in a different direction to the P60 sign that implied you could park there at all times.
      I do also agree that 24×7 busways would be good too – especially for cyclists.

  2. But do our traffic models even allow the possibility of disappearing traffic? Aren’t they just all set to displacement/deflection? Weren’t they predicting carmageddon with the works on Albert St? (Didn’t happen).

    The problem with models is they all depend on inputs, and traffic modellers raised on fixed, or inflexible traffic demand ideologies, likely don’t ‘believe’ in phenomenon of disappearing traffic….?

    1. All models and modelling systems should be calibrated against reality. The models being used in Auckland should be applied to a situation like New York or Sydney to see if they are predicting things the right way. If the predictions are wrong, then the models need to be adjusted. This is just good engineering practice.

    2. The Albert Street works have made getting through lower Auckland much more efficient, pleasantly so from a transit point of view but have royally stuffed up commerce in that area.

      It really depends on what the objectives are.

      1. Waspman those in Albert St should not moan , if they had lived in London in the late 1800’s then they would have had someting to moan about as per this youtube video at around 2.18mins showing the problems that were caused ;-

    3. Some transport models “sort of” reflect induced demand and disappearing traffic. The ‘decrease in attractiveness’ of using that route or that mode is picked up by the models, that might allocate the trip to a different time, route or mode. Some models might even reallocate trip origins and destinations – or even reshape land-use patterns if there’s a proper LUTI model (which Auckland has but rarely uses).

      I think the problem arises from more detailed traffic models, which used very fixed traffic inputs and therefore only reallocate to different routes, rather than different modes or time or land-use adjustments. This is largely an issue of the different models not integrating with each other well enough.

  3. GIven we are not New York, a very different city, where parking is a premium and the population is massive, I don’t think this can be exactly translated to Auckland. And it at least has decent alternatives to buses.

    But something should be done because the 933 bus leaving Auckland Uni for Beachhaven currently takes over an hour to an hour 15 consistently to get just 2/3rds through its route and that is hopeless. And it uses bus lanes in many parts. But in a car, 30 minutes tops. The reason is it gets bound up in traffic and lights and intersections in downtown Auckland. The difficulty for making Customs Street a busway is the alternative, Quay Street is already pretty much out of action.

    The thing that worries me about bus lanes being the answer is from Customs Street to Newmarket there is a continuous bus lane (except outside Auckland Hospital) and the trips are sssssooooo sloowwww, regardless. It’s just typical of buses.

    Perhaps AT needs to, actually badly needs to reevaluate the way it controls intersections because this is where the problem lies in getting around Auckland inner city streets.

    1. There are many reasons our buses are so slow. Have a look at the seating arrangement on the NY bus above for example – doesn’t it look so much more spacious and easy to move around?
      The fixes are quite simple: HOP only, halve the number of stops, have proper 24×7 dedicated busways, all door boarding, change the seating arrangement. Make buses more like Trains. Auckland’s transport problems could be solved for a few million dollars. But its not sexy and doesn’t win votes so no one can be bothered.

      1. True on the amount of stops and true that the loading of buses especially is slow. And the Hop card system struggles at times to read the card and this adds to the seconds sitting. Not unusual to see 3 plus attempts every trip for the odd passenger. Although that may come down to the card sitting deep in a wallet behind other cards.

      2. I agree our buses are way too slow – but then again so are our trains due to the stupidly long dwell times.

        Auckland Council should develop a KPI around average bus speeds and then ratchet it up year on year to force AT to find innovative ways of making the buses go quicker. I’m sure they’d quite quickly look at things like off-board ticketing, better bus pre-emption at traffic lights and more bus priority overall.

        1. I am a regular bus user and it is generally not the time at stops that is the issue, but the time spent in traffic and at lights.
          I am not convinced that less stops is the answer. Unloading say four people at two stops is probably going to be only slightly slower than eight at one stop as buses can slow, stop, load/unload fairly quickly – our trains of course with their dwell times are an entirely different proposition.
          I must post a piece about Milan driverless metro that I read. It can travel a route with 16 stops faster than what would be the dwell times for Auckland rail.

        2. Literally same speed to walk down Queen Street from Wellesley downwards as it is to take the bus due to Traffic lights. Insanity

      1. There is a large amount of discontent about the amount of time taken to complete the project, stemming mainly from a limited understanding of the amount of work involved. Pretty much 150-200 years of development being untangled and fixed, but the light rail project being blamed for issues.

  4. You can’t stress too strongly: a bus operator that doesn’t have all doors boarding simply isn’t serious about running an efficient service.

  5. A great example of how the predictions of NIMBYs can turn out wrong can be seen in the leafy-green suburbs of the isthmus. Residents have routinely railed against local parking schemes – often on the basis that they shouldn’t have to pay for what is their “right” – to have exclusively available parking outside their front doors, free of charge.

    AT is now consulting on a 15-street extension to an existing parking scheme for parts of Epsom which has been REQUESTED by members of the local community because they can see how successful it has been. Almost certainly the scheme will still be opposed by some but it’s great to see the mindset of some of those living in “privileged” suburbs start to get with the programme.

    1. So for $70 a year somebody gets to rent a parking-place sized piece of land in one of the most expensive areas of Auckland.

      Sounds like a bargain to me. Why can’t they pay market rates like everybody else?

  6. Was checking out YouTube/Twitter videos of this the other day. Yes seems a lot better, they had strong enforcement out early on it seems as old habits were hard to break.

    Also their newly developed bus lane cameras on some NY buses themselves will be effective.

  7. Is this another April fools joke, or are people seriously perplexed as to how closing a street to traffic resulted in less traffic on said street?

    A simple look at the street map would suggest that the traffic would simply rerouted to Houston and 23rd St, or one of the many other primary east/west road. Close all of Manhattan to traffic and people wouldn’t even bother trying to drive.

      1. There was no mention of the other streets, only a couple of minor side roads that people where highly unlikely to divert down.

        1. The bus lane was added to 14th Street, the quotes were from people noticing less traffic on 13th Street. That runs across town the same as 14th Street does, the two don’t even touch so no not a side street. The West 13th Street Alliance even admited they didn’t expect less traffic on their road to be the outcome of the bus lane on 14th Street.

    1. I can’t see anywhere in this post that suggests that people are perplexed that closing 14th St has resulted in less traffic on 14th St.

      1. “As for the traffic impact on those neighbouring streets, it so far appears to have disappeared and reports are those streets are quieter than they were prior to the introduction with even those skeptical of the change positive about the result.”

        “But do our traffic models even allow the possibility of disappearing traffic?”

        “The problem with models is they all depend on inputs, and traffic modellers raised on fixed, or inflexible traffic demand ideologies, likely don’t ‘believe’ in phenomenon of disappearing traffic….?”

        “A great example of how the predictions of NIMBYs can turn out wrong can be seen in the leafy-green suburbs of the isthmus.”

        1. Yes I agree there are plenty of references to other streets, I still can’t find any references to people being perplexed that closing 14th street has resulted in less traffic on 14th street as per your statement:

          ‘how closing a street to traffic resulted in less traffic on said street’.

        2. Jazza, the entire post is about how closing a street to traffic resulted in less traffic on the street that was closed to traffic.

          It seems that this is such an amazing event people are calming the traffic has simply disappeared. It’s like writing a story about how the ground got wet today after it rained.

        3. Incorrect. The post is about closing 14th street and it’s impact on traffic on 13th street, these are different streets, the obvious clue is that they have different names.

        4. ‘Many complaints were that it would cause chaos on neighbouring streets.’

          ‘As for the traffic impact on those neighbouring streets, it so far appears to have disappeared and reports are those streets are quieter than they were prior to the introduction with even those skeptical of the change positive about the result.’

          ‘the 14th Street busway is important to us is it’s another case of disappearing traffic. When we remove road space for cars it doesn’t mean that traffic just gets spread to neighbouring streets and so is worse, it’s that many people stop making unnecessary trips by cars. and that traffic often gets better. We have of course seen this ourselves with the disruption to Albert St for the City Rail Link which has seen traffic improve in many cases’

          Basically Richard, you’re either a troll or you simply comment on articles you don’t read. You come on here and disagree with every single post, every day. That’s trolling..you don’t offer alternatives to problems, you just disagree and make comments like ‘must be April fools’. Suppose you gotta stand up for those Cars and Carparks that can’t defend themselves, this War on Cars is a real blood bath!

        5. Goodness me Joe, so angry.

          Given you claimed yesterday I wanted to stop development across huge swaths of Auckland I already know you don’t read 99.9% of what I say but simply dream up your own agreements to assign to me. So….

        6. “In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses[2] and normalizing tangential discussion,[3] whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”

        7. I apologize to those who feel I was trolling. I was primarily responding to the insinuation that transport engineers are unable to understand what happens if you restrict vehicle access, as most evident in the post by Dave N.

          To a similar extent I found the following post from the author somewhat short sighted and not supported by the 14th St example with the information at had.

          “When we remove road space for cars it doesn’t mean that traffic just gets spread to neighbouring streets and so is worse, it’s that many people stop making unnecessary trips by cars. and that traffic often gets better.”

          As I mentioned in my 1st post, you really need to look at a map.

    2. The best one is “Traffic volumes on Sydney’s George St plummeted 100% as soon as it was closed to traffic”
      Yes, I imagine it would!

  8. I remember working on that project when I was at MTA post-Sandy. I’m glad to see that it’s finally come through.

    I’m pleased to see the opposition admitting that they were wrong and are happy with the outcome, but it’s funny their response, “Don’t think anyone could have anticipated this shocking result”

    …except basically every transport expert aside from Wendell Cox.

  9. I think the key takeaway is just trial it and test the outcome.

    It is better than just doing nothing because somebody oppose it.

  10. On a small scale AT should be congratulated for the scooter park near the corner of Queen and Wellesley. The footpaths here are very busy presumably from, amongst other things, people coming and going from the nearby bus stops and the Civic car park. Relocating Lime and other scooters off the footpath and into a converted parking space seems a great allocation of space.

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