In October 2018, we first learnt that Auckland Transport were planning to upgrade a range of corridors across the region to improve bus priority, safety as well s walking and cycling. Initially called Integrated Corridors Programme but later renamed Connected Communities, we saw more detail about the plans a month later when AT refreshed it’s Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).
The RPTP says of the programme:
As part of this RPTP, AT is also looking to apply some of the advantages of the RTN to the Frequent Transport Network through the Integrated Corridor Programme. This Programme will seek to extend bus-priority for the full length of key FTN routes, improving average speed and reliability and reducing operating costs.
Auckland has constrained arterial corridors and there will be trade-offs to be made around competing uses including general traffic lanes, cycle lanes, parking and median strips. AT will design and deliver whole-of-route bus priority on the FTN where:
- current and planned services experience inconsistent travel times due to congestion
- where travel-time savings and patronage levels justify the cost of delivery
- where capacity exists, or new services are planned that can leverage priority infrastructure to deliver patronage growth
- if reallocation of road space is required, where expected patronage gains are sufficient to ensure that bus priority implementation will increase overall people throughput along the corridor.
The integrated corridor programme will be critical to deliver the next wave of patronage growth for Auckland’s bus network and instrumental in providing the next major improvement in customer experience. It will also be a major mechanism by which placemaking initiatives can be instituted – leveraging the changed environment generated by the corridor programme into urban design elements that will reflect local identity and character.
Map 2 and Map 3 indicate the location of the Integrated Corridor Programme on the isthmus and in south Auckland. The programme includes bus priority, safety and cycling upgrades as part of the overall programme
This is a critical project for AT to deliver and we know there has been some work going on about it as they’ve awarded about $15 million in contracts so far to various companies for investigations and business cases. Yet despite this, for the public there’s been radio silence about what’s happening, there’s not even a project page explaining the information above.
That silence is until now.
Yesterday a new consultation appeared on AT’s website for the New North Rd and Symonds Street Upgrade.
The route from Anzac Avenue in the city, along Symonds Street and New North Road to Avondale connects West Auckland to the City Centre, through many of our central and western suburbs.
We have identified some key issues on this route that we want to work with you to fix. These issues include safety, poor bus reliability, lack of separated cycle lanes and quiet town centres. Over the coming years we’re likely to see significant population growth along this route and demand for safe and efficient transport will increase.
The changes we make will fit in with other projects such as City Rail Link (CRL), Urban Cycleway Programme and our 10-Year Programme. While these upgrades are planned for future years, we want to work with our local communities now to find solutions.
We want to make sure the upgrades are completed to fit in with future developments such as City Rail Link and events such as the Women’s Football World Cup in 2023.
Connecting our communities
This project has been set up to future connect Auckland’s transport network in a more safe, sustainable, and efficient way. This transformation will help us offer Aucklanders more travel options.
As Auckland’s population increases and more people join the road network, we must find ways to make it safer and easier for people to move around the region.
We need to get the most out of our transport network and believe our communities have important knowledge that we can use to help improve our regions transport.
- Improved safety by reducing deaths and serious injuries.
- Better cycling facilities so it’s safer and easier for people on bikes.
- Improved bus reliability and public transport connections.
- Supporting thriving town centres.
- 2 February 2021 – Feedback opens.
- 3 March 2021 – Feedback closes.
- Mid 2021 – Begin co-design improvements with key stakeholders and the community.
- Late 2021 – Develop solutions based on initial feedback from people and investigation by AT staff.
- 2022 – Preferred option(s) identified, and consents obtained.
- 2023 – Construction completed in sections.
We are looking to improve safety, public transport, walking, cycling and other active modes on New North Road, Symonds Street, including Anzac Avenue, Morningside Drive, St Lukes Road (from Morningside Drive to New North Road) and Rosebank Road (from Blockhouse Bay Road to Avondale Road).
New North Road provides connections to key locations, such as the universities, Eden Park and the business and retail focused area of Kingsland, Morningside, St Lukes, Mt Albert and Avondale.
I’m glad we’re finally getting some progress on Connected Communities but I have to say I’m a bit disappointed that after more than two years and huge amounts of money, we’re still only at the “give us some ideas of what we should do” stage.
This also got me thinking, in no particular order:
- Why haven’t AT provided any information about the bigger picture behind why this is needed. There is nothing to explain why it’s important we improve safety, bus reliability, add bike lanes etc. This doesn’t have to be a hugely difficult exercise, they just need to talk about the council’s, the government’s and their own existing goals and plans, such as those to encourage mode-shift, combat climate change.
- I’m assuming there is already quite a bit of work that’s gone on before this point, why not highlight some of it, explain in a bit more detail what the issues they’ve identified are. For example, explain how those identified intersections are considered high-risk, show some analysis highlighting the current state of bus reliability and how much faster/better they could be if we improved them.
- This style of consultation, where agencies just give the public a blank slate to suggest changes, is becoming more common. In a way this is not surprising given their history of getting frightened by “the public” for consulting on specific designs – though often “the public” can be defined as one or two noisy voices. This just feels like they’re getting the public to do their work for them so they can claim public buy-in. At the very least, why don’t they explain the challenges and the kinds of trade-offs that may need to be made to achieve the objectives, for example how there’s simply not the space to fit in everything that everyone will want.
- I think a big part of AT’s challenge that they’ve never realised, is they need to not just deliver transport outcomes but to inspire people to support better outcomes and a better city – there will always some opposed. So, why not at least present some high-level concepts for what could be done. Show a few potential cross sections and some examples from other cities with similar streets and/or challengers to highlight what’s possible so they don’t just get requests for more parking.
As for what to do on the corridor, as I’ve mentioned before, one idea I’m quite fond of for some of these corridors is the Indianapolis approach of a central bi-directional bus lane with the direction depending on the time of day, to free up some space on the corridor for the needed bike lanes. Bus stops could be handled by higher quality stations
So this but with protected bike lanes instead of parked cars.
There are many other things that need improving in the corridor too, such as making it easier just to cross the road.
The consultation for this is open until 3 March however note in the timeline above construction on any changes won’t be for another few years (at least).
Finally, I said this back in August 2019 about the Connected Communities programme. At this point it doesn’t seem all that far off the mark.
Another concern is how this is going to be delivered as ATs doesn’t have the best history in this space. I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong but at this stage I worry the programme it will be roughly similar to the following process.
- AT will spend 18 months working on multiple business cases, probably one for each corridor.
- They will come up with some semi-decent plans and put them out for consultation.
- As the plans will involve changing or removing carparking, a small number of retailers will complain, but be amplified by the media. The likes of the AA will get involved too, concern trolling the project by claiming they support better PT but not if it impacts on drivers.
- AT will then spend the next 6-8 months analysing the feedback from the consultation, ultimately watering it down and removing the most valuable changes.
- They will then take 2-3 years to finalise designs before looking to start construction, by which time many people will have forgotten about it and start complaining again.
- So maybe, if we’re lucky, we might see some mild improvements in about five years.
AT please prove me wrong.