Auckland’s transport history is littered with mistakes and missed opportunities and one of the biggest in recent times was that after spending around a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars widening the Northwestern motorway, a busway, or any other form of rapid transit, was not included or even future proofed for. There are a variety of reasons for this, which I won’t go in to in this post, but even before the widening had started it was patently obvious that full a full rapid transit route was needed.
In 2012, now Transport Minister Phil Twyford was quoted as saying:
“My view is that we are going to need a full-service busway there within a decade,” he said.
Instead of a busway as initially envisioned, the government promised to instead build the route as light rail but with that (or now light metro) initially focused on getting to the airport, that’s left the northwest in limbo despite being one of the areas most in need of rapid transit. Finally plans are back underway to do something about that.
Tomorrow the Auckland Transport board are being asked to make a decision on the “North West Rapid Transit Corridor Indicative Business Case” (IBC). The IBC was completed a couple of years ago and it recommended a staged approach to building a busway along SH16 but it was never endorsed by the board due to the subsequent light rail discussion. The key reason for looking at light rail for the corridor was because the IBC only assessed up to the edge of the city centre, effectively assuming there were no capacity constraints within the city.
But even though light rail is the longer term goal, we should be looking to how we can get bus improvements in place in the interim and could be upgraded in the future if/when light rail happens. As I understand it, endorsing the IBC is about moving the process along to do just that. The plans were described as a ‘pop-up’ busway a few weeks ago.
A “pop-up” busway is being considered for Auckland’s northwestern motorway, where improving bus priority has been one of the city’s slowest-moving projects.
NZTA’s board is expected later this month to consider a “quickie” plan to turn unconnected sections of motorway shoulder bus lane into a continuous priority lane.
The idea is to boost the attractiveness of bus services on a route where a proposed light rail line could still be decades away, but where rapid growth is underway.
“We are committed to rapid transit out west, and while we work through our plans for light rail, we are looking at how we can improve public transport and ease congestion,” said Phil Twyford, the Minister of Transport.
Twyford said the proposal included new interchanges – understood to be at Te Atatū and Westgate – where other bus routes intersect but don’t connect with those on the motorway.
Building a couple of stations and using bus shoulders along the motorway is the same process that took place on the North Shore before the Northern Busway was built. In that case, initially just the Albany and Constellation Dr stations were built, opening at the end of 2005 and helped to start building usage. The busway south of Constellation Dr didn’t open till February 2008 and by that time those buses were carrying about 750k trips annually which would be better than many bus routes even today – today the busway is carrying 7.9m trips annually, more than any of the individual rail lines.
It’s good that something is being done but the devil will be in the details of just what’s proposed. For example, in the case of the Northern busway the full Albany and Constellation stations were built but there have been some the plans for Northwest could just be some very basic temporary stations. The IBC’s first step was to also build the busway itself between Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd. As to the stations themselves, those two do make the most sense as are where there are potential routes to connect to.
Back when the New Network was originally being consulted, AT showed this high-level view on what difference a busway would make to the design of the network.
At the time AT planned on building a station at Te Atatu on land left over from the motorway widening, perhaps not unlike what could be proposed. But that plan was strongly opposed by some residents and AT gave up on the idea and there are now houses being built on it.
The big advantage of buses is they make it cheaper/easier to stagably develop infrastructure. We’re currently seeing that same thinking in place with the Airport to Botany route with the early package of works being the Puhinui station upgrade and initial bus priority along SH20B, Puhinui Rd and Cavendish Dr. It also begs the question of if we should be doing something similar on the SH18 corridor too.
Seeing as these things seem to progress faster if you put them in a programme of work with an important sounding title, perhaps we could call it the Northwestern Gateway.