Work started last night on a temporary fix for the Harbour Bridge in the hopes of at least getting another two lanes open until a more permanent solution can be installed.
While there’s obviously plenty more work to go till things are back to normal, one thing that’s impressed me so far is how Waka Kotahi NZTA and Auckland Transport have responded.
By and large I think there’s been good communication via both media and social media from our transport agencies. This has included things such as videos explaining the damage and what they’re doing to fix it – some of these are on the NZTA’s youtube page. But it’s also what they’re doing to reduce the impacts.
The most notable change so far came on Monday with the addition of much needed bus priority through St Mary’s Bay thereby allowing northbound buses to skip the congestion on the motorway and on the Fanshawe St on-ramp. This has also resulted in the closure of the Curran St on-ramp. The change has seen buses crossing to the middle of Fanshawe St and to use the PM peak only extra onramp at Fanshawe St and onto a space inside the moveable barrier, in what they’re calling the ‘bull run’. How it’s working is shown below.
I guess you could call that a protected bus lane. It is a good example of the engineers thinking outside the box to deliver real benefits for a lot of people. The biggest disappointment with it is that it will only be temporary with it only expected to last till the bridge “is fully operational again“. It’s good to see our agencies being fast innovative with this. I hope they can take that energy to other areas of our transport system too.
So Waka Kotahi NZTA can complete temporary fixes on the Harbour Bridge, all southbound lanes of the Auckland Harbour Bridge into the city centre will be closed overnight tonight Tuesday 22 September and tomorrow Wednesday 23 September. The closure will be in place from 9pm–5am. pic.twitter.com/cqKeZu2ech
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) September 21, 2020
Assuming normal occupancies, every person in car you can see climbing the bridge in the tweet above could fit in that small bus that’s exiting the bull run. If they were in a single double decker, that bus would still only be at about 50% capacity.
This new bus lane as well as the existing busway mean that buses are seeing only a few minutes of impact to overall travel times. This is great and helps give the public real options instead of just having to sit in traffic.
And it appears to already be helping do just that. Early indications are that bus usage on Monday was up about 5% on Monday last week. That’s not as big as I was expected but with disruption like this it often takes people a few days to change habits. It’s also nothing on ferries though which were up about 85% compared to the Monday the week before with Birkenhead ferries seeing the largest change
Yesterday, Auckland passenger numbers on ferries increased by 85% compared to last Monday. The Bayswater service was up 121%, Birkenhead up 284%, Devonport up 106%, Downtown up 93%, and Hobsonville up 38%.
AT and NZTA also say that bus usage on the North Shore yesterday morning was tracking about 10-15% up on Monday – although we have to be a bit careful with that figure as it’s not uncommon for a Tuesday to see 10% more usage than a Monday.
Unfortunately the media seem to have focused almost exclusively on the delays to general traffic, some going so far as to blame the bus lane for it and not that there are too many cars on the roads. Some of the reporting and complaints were that there were “no signs anywhere” but I’ve also seen reports that there were big signs warning of the closure that drivers were simply ignoring. Regardless, the NZTA say they’ve improved the signage. The reality is these things do sometimes take time to get right but the positive is that AT and the NZTA have been doing that.
Meanwhile the disruption has seen a big reduction in private vehicle travel over the bridge with the NZTA reporting:
Traffic data shows southbound traffic across the bridge between 10:00AM and 10:00AM was 16,500 vehicles or 60% less than at the same time last year. Northbound traffic was down 39% (38% yesterday).
On Upper Harbour Drive (SH18) southbound traffic was up 39% and northbound was up 9%.
It’s also interesting to compare the response we’ve seen with the Harbour Bridge to the other area of our transport system currently experiencing significant disruption, resulting in reduced capacity and travel times, the rail network.
With the rail network disruption the communication has been near non-existent and with weeks-long closures announced with only a few days notice. Then there’s the issue of progress. Kiwirail say they need to replace about 100km of track across the network. By now I assume they know approximately where that is so why not share that with the public, perhaps with a map showing how much there is to do and how much has been completed. Something that allows the public to see how much progress they’re making and how much more there is to do.
Auckland Transport are not doing much better, for example they’ve been running some unscheduled services to bring some timetables back up to 10-minute frequencies but without telling anyone. They’ve now formalised that with a new Western Line timetable from today through to mid-October and this also changes the times trains arrive at stations but again there’s been no communication of the change.