This is a guest post by Greater Auckland reader, Jack Gibbons.
The Northern Busway extension from Constellation Station up to Albany is opening within a few months, and in several years an infill station over Rosedale Road will open. The continued upgrading of the busway is fantastic. Pre-covid it was competing to be the most used public transit line in the country, and yet there are so many areas that could be improved that would bring it to a totally different level. I think the time is right to really start the discussion about what could happen next to further upgrade the busway and get something in people’s minds.
There is a plan from AT that outlines a lot of great potential upgrades. Platform-based ticketing, extensive platform lengthening, Eastern Busway-style infrastructure on Fanshawe St, potential transit lanes on the harbour bridge, etc. These upgrades almost exclusively exist to improve capacity. They are supposed to be funded after 2028 but will probably be done whenever needed to relieve congestion, as has happened at Smales Farm lately.
One disappointing omission in this report, and every busway document I can find, is no mention of an infill station around Tristram Ave between Sunnynook and Smales Farm stations. A station here would be a fantastic addition to Auckland’s rapid transit network.
What a Wairau Station would be
The run between Smales Farm station and Sunnynook station is 2.8 km. That’s nearly double the gap between other stations on the busway proper, and far longer than what would be considered best practice for a rapid transit line. This leaves a big hole in the catchments. Residents and businesses here are right next to the busway, but don’t have reasonable access to an express bus. They are being bypassed by the best bus services in the country. It’s little wonder that the average am peak traffic speed on Tristram Ave is 13km/hr!
The best place for the station would be just south of the tennis centre, 200m citybound from Tristram Ave itself. This is roughly the mid-point between Sunnynook and Smales farm, 1300-1400 metres from each. The busway here runs at-grade, meaning construction costs of the station could be much more manageable than the 70 million spent on Rosedale Bus Station. Between the unnecessarily wide motorway merge, a tree line and a few metres of field there is plenty of room for a standard busway station. There’s space for platforms, passing lanes, and all the length needed to avoid any potential bus congestion, without eating into the neighbouring rugby fields.
The Forrest Hill residential area to the east has passable pedestrian infrastructure with quiet streets and some cut-throughs allowing walking or bike / scoot and ride. There’s even a cute Tristram Ave underpass. There are 2 large schools and fairly large recreational facilities like the Forrest Hill Tennis Club and Soccer Club. Recreational facilities are particularly important to get public transport access too, because off-peak recreation remains highly car-centric in Auckland. How often have we heard the phrase ‘but how would I take my kids to sport??’
A station here would improve the lifestyle for the residents of a transit oriented development like Smales Farm. These off-peak trips are also where the busway has massive spare capacity at the moment.
Another big win would be fast access to the Wairau Valley industrial area. Industrial areas generate large all-day travel demand and host all kinds of businesses that don’t require a private motor vehicle for every trip. From rock climbing gyms to supermarkets, even car dealerships, staff or customers are not always going to be required or even able to use a car every time they visit. A nearby busway station would open up the pool of employees and customers for businesses, and could even enable them to maximise land utilisation doing away with some staff car parking for example. Job access is a key part of the pitch for the Rosedale station, which is mostly serving an industrial area.
One thing that would need upgrading outside of the station itself is the local pedestrian connectivity to the west. This narrow footpath on one side of Tristram is the only pedestrian crossing of the motorway for over a km in either direction and it isn’t even easy to get to, requiring a big detour from the south. A new, safe pedestrian overbridge is needed to Currys Lane, along with a footpath on the south side of Tristram Ave. There is also a great opportunity to make a well integrated section of the Northern Pathway in this area.
Sunnynook is proof that a station that primarily focuses on the walking catchment works. Around 60% of its ridership walks to the station, and the amount of medium-density residential construction in the area is proof that it’s in demand. We just need another Sunnynook station, a bit further down the busway. With local elections coming up, now is a great time to make some noise to North Shore Ward Councillors or those that want to replace them and build some support for this busway upgrade.
What the station would not be
Having the station set 200m off Tristram Ave and away from other arterials means that it might not be a good transfer station. People would end up walking between the new busway station and their local bus at Tristram Ave.
I think this is acceptable. Rosedale station, which is an example heavily designed for transfers from feeder buses, is costing 70 million dollars. To replicate a similar station over Tristram would probably be even more expensive being on a busier road, and in the middle of a motorway interchange.
There are a few more reasons why Tristram Ave doesn’t need to be a major transfer station:
- Sunnynook and Smales Farm are better transfer stations. Feeder routes can still be centred around those stations, as they are today.
- Some consolidation of feeder services at fewer stations is helpful to enable more direct transfers between local services.
- A 200m walk, well protected, away from busy roads, wouldn’t actually be that bad as a transfer. That’s what Britomart to Lower Albert St transfer is today.
- A lot of the local buses should still continue along Forrest Hill Rd and Wairau Rd, for closer bus access to businesses / schools, in particular for mobility impaired people. This naturally leads these services to Smales Farm.
A Wairau Station shouldn’t have any park and ride, except for some mobility parking. Matt has outlined the poor economics of park and ride before. It would be an expensive way to induce more motor traffic on what is currently a quiet street, would make bike and ride less attractive / safe, and would set the expectation that parking is available, even though it effectively wouldn’t be, because it would instantly fill up. Expanding car park and ride is often cited in articles as a way to solve issues like drivers parking on residential streets at Sunnynook but a cursory glance around the largest park and ride on the network reveals that strategy doesn’t work. Cars are illegally parked on footpaths, driveways and even private land.
Providing enough parking to meet the insatiable demand for such service is simply impossible. Instead there are more practical fixes that get to the root of the issue. Expanding the rapid transit network (like adding a Wairau station), improving feeder services, charging for car park and ride, better parking enforcement, and the extremely powerful bike park and ride.
One word on capacity
Until the busway is experiencing un-solvable congestion, which is well over a decade away, we should continue to make improvements on it. At the very least, the increased ridership and demand will justify better solutions and more political will for the busway’s relief or replacement, and decrease the political demand for motorway projects (and co2) to the north. Even if the busway was full in the peak direction in peak hour today (which it’s not), improvements would still be worth it. These upgrades make off-peak or counter-peak trips more attractive, lifting the busway’s use when it has more spare capacity, getting more value for our investment.
So, a big increase in catchment area on a major rapid transit line, giving great access to amenity and employment for busway users, for the low price of a single at-grade station. What about a Wairau Valley Station?