The Eastern Busway is one of the biggest and most important transport projects in Tamaki Makaurau right now. The first stage of the Eastern Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga is nearly complete and due to open next month.
Now Auckland Transport have launched consultation for their draft design for the remaining 5km stretch between Pakuranga and Botany, and there are some major changes to the compared to designs that have been presented in the past. The most notable difference here is at Burswood but there are also changes at Botany and to the bike network. Concerningly these changes all seem focused on finding ways to not upset existing traffic flow and priority. They also seem to be another product of the growing trend to secrecy where the public are presented with near finalised plans right at the last minute instead of agencies canvasing the issues of previous designs with the public before coming up with solutions.
The Burswood Deviation
The northern section of the project between Pakuranga Rd and Gossamer Dr remains the same as we’ve seen before with a major station to be built at Pakuranga and then the busway down the centre of Ti Rakau Dr.
From Gossamer the new plan is to shift the busway back to the northern side of Ti Rakau and then for it to go around the back of the commercial area at Burswood to a station, taking out 30-40 houses, before sending it back to the northern side of Ti Rakau.
The primary reason AT give for this change in design is the cost, saying that sticking to Ti Rakau Dr would see the cost of the project exceed the $867 million budget. They also claim this option has benefits for safety, is 12-18 months faster to build so results in less disruption, is better for bus speeds and reliability and is better for general traffic.
The argument for improved bus speed and reliability is that buses would only have two low-traffic intersections to pass through. Those intersections would have lights added and buses would be given signal priority meaning the only time they would normally need to stop would be at the Burswood Station. By comparison there are currently five major traffic light controlled intersections on this stretch of Ti Rakau.
I understand the argument and also note that while it looks significant, it does only add about 300m to the overall length of the busway. But I’m yet to be convinced this is the best outcome and here’s why.
They say this is not the case but the strong impression I get is that even though it’s not in any of the outcomes they say they’re seeking, someone in the middle of AT has decided the project needs to reduce the impact it has on general traffic. The project team then work backwards from there to come up their proposal and the justification for it.
For example, the main reason for the high cost is because the engineers say the busway can only be achieved by widening the entire corridor to accommodate not just the busway but also all the existing turning and other auxiliary lanes on this section. The lack of reliability is due to right turns being permitted at every intersection. In addition they said the widening would impact on the access to the commercial properties on the south side of the corridor.
Yet both council and government plans call for significant mode-shift away from private vehicles and for a reduction in amount of kilometres travelled in vehicles to help tackle both emissions and congestion. The traffic models being used to justify the need for those lanes and for diverting the busway will almost certainly not be taking that kind of change into account.
Instead, changing most of the intersections by removing right hand turns so they are left in/out only would reduce the need for property take an make buses more reliable. Drop some of those other additional lanes and that cost could reduce further.
The image below is what would fit within most of the existing corridor now.
It would be interesting to see the outcome of the consultation if an option like this was presented alongside the new preference for a diversion.
Urban Redevelopment Potential
Another factor that AT say counts against keeping the busway on Ti Rakau is that they say it has ‘reduced future land use opportunities’ compared with the diversion option. At the very least it seems like it would be much easier rezoning and redeveloping the large commercial blocks on the south side of Ti Rakau than it would be acquire a lot of the small residential properties in Burswood.
One thing that strikes me about looking at Burswood is that it is a peninsula that could easily be connected up to the nearby areas with some simple walking and cycling bridges. These could also enhance the catchment of the station and I wonder if the locals should be asking for some of them as mitigation for the proposed change in route. Some options could include:
- To the West to make it easier to get to Riverhills Schools
- To the North to link to the industrial area around Ben Lomond Cres – there’s a Watercare site with access down to the water which could be useful here
- To the Northeast which could put houses there within walking distance of the station.
The Botany Deviation
The busway is also being diverted east at Botany end too with the proposal for it to cross Ti Rakau Dr and then through Guys Reserve to a station which appears to be around Te Koha Rd. That station would also be the end point of the Airport to Botany busway that is being planned. This route would be a slightly faster journey than going through the massive Ti Rakau Dr / Ti Irirangi Dr intersection.
What surprises me is that AT have gone for the option that paves over part of a reserve.
There are no images yet as to what the Botany station might look like.
One less station
An additional change from previous plans is they have dropped the proposal for a station at around Huntington Dr.
The Bike Network
You’ll noticed from the maps above that at Burswood the proposed cycleway also diverts off Ti Rakau. AT say the reason for this is safety and avoiding having it cross multiple driveways on Ti Rakau, even though it will need to cross almost just as many driveways on Burswood Dr.
Looking at the map there are only a few properties that don’t also have access a side road like Burswood Dr or Torrens Rd. I wonder if AT couldn’t have just worked with those property owners to rationalise driveway access and keep the cycleway on a direct route.
A similar issue exists at the Botany end but Botany also raises another question, how do those from east/northeast of the area access the cycleway?
I appreciate this project can’t deliver everything but it feels like at least getting a cycleway as far as the Ti Rakau / Ti Irirangi Dr intersection should be in scope here.
Reeves Rd Flyover
As mentioned earlier, the plans at the northern end of this stage remain unchanged and that means the Reeves Rd Flyover is still on the cards. Like with the Burswood deviation, AT continue to claim this is all about making the buses more reliable and reducing congestion even though it’s really about making it easier for drivers which will encourage more people to drive and make congestion worse. Also, if this is what a major public transport project looks like …….
Why are AT adding in or retaining slip lanes. And for pedestrians there are up to five crossings they will have to make to get from one side of Ti Rakau Dr to the other, such as from the Southwestern side (right hand side on the image above) to the mall. That’s hardly a way to encourage more walkable and cyclable communities.
Consultation is open till 10 December and AT say they hope to have some enabling works underway late next year with the whole thing finished by 2026 – which is a delay with it previously being 2025.