In a time of emergency budgets cutting spending, Auckland Transport looks like it could have $47 million more to spend on projects around the region after the Devonport Local Board rejected ATs plans to upgrade Lake Rd. Radio NZ reports:
Auckland Transport’s $47 million plan to upgrade the only road in and out of Devonport could be dead in the water.
Four members of the local community board have quashed proposals for more cycle and transit lanes on Lake Road, used by about 30,000 motorists a day.
It means the funding could be off the table, leaving locals worried they’ll be contending traffic chaos for another decade before a new plan can be formed.
Auckland Transport has spent three years and $2 million coming up with a solution it released for public consultation in March, including transit lanes in the most congested parts of Esmonde Road and Lake Road, new and spruced up bike lanes, and electronic signs with estimated travel times.
While it was all set to get the green light, with $47m funding from Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan, it was given the thumbs down by four of six Devonport Takapuna Local Board members this month.
The detailed business case is due to go to the NZ Transport Agency in September for final approval, but Auckland Transport said it could be difficult to progress a project that a local board had voted against.
One of those that opposed the plan was board member and former Councillor George Wood who described the plan as AT holding “a shotgun at our heads” and that if they hold out, AT and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency will come back with a better deal in the future.. Well, that’s a mighty expensive shotgun and there are a lot of other parts of Auckland, that are also seeing a lot more growth and don’t have ferries or subsidised taxis that would love investment of that scale. Far more likely is AT and NZTA will focus their attention on those areas.
One of the main problems with Lake Rd is that anything that will involve widening it is going to be extremely expensive and previous studies have found that level of cost unjustified. There’s also the not insignificant issue that even if you could make the road four lanes, much of the time it wouldn’t make all that much difference as the motorway is still going to be congested. As such, ATs focus has been on getting more out of the corridor. Their most recent consultation to upgrade Lake Rd back in March just before lockdown. AT’s proposal was to:
- mainly making improvements to the cycleways along the road by physically protecting them with barriers – annoyingly they still stopped short of Takapuna itself.
- add transit lanes in some sections, although this included downgrading the bus lanes on Esmonde Rd to transit lanes which also would have required a new or changed motorway onramp and has the potential to slow down the buses that use it – mainly the 82 which links Takapuna and Milford to the city.
- add real-time signs so people know the traffic conditions and could make alternative plans if needed.
- add a shared path on Bayswater Ave
- include an upgrade to the Belmont Town Centre, however, the designs drawn up by the council were something from last century with design features such as unprotected cycle lanes outside parked cars – the old using cyclists as squishy barriers approach.
The key proposed changes are shown on the map below.
All of this is now up in the air and it seems AT are concerned that without the support of the local board, the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency won’t provide their share of funding.
What stood out to me was some of the comments in the Radio NZ piece above. Some of these are just vox pops on the street but it highlights how much more we have to go in how we think about and talk about transport. For example.
regular Devonport visitor Judith Pearce said it had become “absolutely dreadful”.
“I can’t leave where I am in Mt Wellington until at least quarter to 11[am]. Even today when I came… it was phenomenal,” she said.
Now we don’t know what Judith’s situation is but I wonder if she had ever even considered other travel options, such as catching a train to town and then the ferry?
Trish Deans was among four members who voted against it, worried it would not future-proof public transport, did not take into account the future expansion of Devonport, and would not help local residents who did not need to travel very far.
“AT have come up with a plan and I don’t think they’ve been entirely honest with the public. Their plan is to address some issues on Lake Road but also impose the greenways project on Lake Road as well. So that creates a kind of tension,” she said.
Without the expensive and unjustifiable widening of the road, it’s hard to see how much more AT could do in the corridor to future proof for public transport. And if the funding to widen the road magically did come about again in a few years, making the existing cycle lanes safe now is hardly going to prevent adding bus lanes in the future and is hardly imposing greenways on the road. Furthermore, those lanes are also often used by kids accessing Takapuna Grammar, where does she propose they go, mixing in with cars and buses?
As per another of the vox-pops they can’t use the backstreets either as those are filled with rat runners.
It seems this could all just be the board being too scared to make a decision given they’ve previously supported the approach taken.
In a statement, Auckland Transport said the general direction of its planning had always been clear and at the previous business case phase, the local board had already voted to support that direction.
It said the board’s decision this month was “somewhat of a surprise”. A member of the working group that came up with the plan, Paddy Stafford-Bush, was also surprised.
“It’s ridiculous. I think it’s because people are too frightened to put a stake in the ground and say ‘this is the way forward’ or ‘this is what we’re doing’,” she said.
Among board members who do like Auckland Transport’s plan is Toni van Tonder, who said it was well worth taking up the $47m and acknowledging the huge difference it will make to many residents.
“It definitely had [public] support for sure. It was saying what it was always going to say, and we were never going to do the high investment proposal some people were asking for,” she said.
“We knew the project would be compromised if we didn’t back it. I believe we should back it, do some tweaks, work alongside Auckland Transport and deliver something great for the community. That’s what we’re elected to do.”
Finally it’s probably a good thing the National Party have already announced their Auckland transport package otherwise we might have seen something really crazy like building a bridge across Ngataringa and Shoal Bays to bypass Lake Rd.