I cycled along the Eastern Busway from Panmure to Pakuranga on Friday. It is a nice cycleway: comfortable, intuitive, and with some nice views, particularly from the bridge.
The busway looked inviting, too – smooth and efficient. I love buses.
It was all surprisingly… short, though. I guess it was a short length of nice busway and nice cycleway.
There was a bit of a “bricolage” feel to it, like everyone’s dreams were included, but they weren’t quite sure why.
Lots and lots of lanes of traffic: tick.
Even more lanes of traffic at the intersections: tick.
Nice sweeping curves so the cars can go fast. Tick, tick, brrrmmm.
The people who managed to get the Eastern Busway to Pakuranga built had had to work hard to overcome strong business-as-usual resistance, and need to be thanked wholeheartedly for their persistence. We’re lucky they did: there’s now much more choice in how to travel in the area.
Still, the sheer incoherence of the planning is in full view. An integrated plan would have diverted the traffic away from the main street of Panmure. Instead, it’s swamped with fast, noisy traffic.
And when biking along the cycleway itself, the width of the corridor is quite overpowering.
Remind me again: why did we widen the corridor?
You wouldn’t widen the road corridor if your main focus was the bus network. Widening the road here – instead of reallocating traffic lanes – means that feeder buses and connecting buses are held up by more traffic elsewhere, reducing the quality of the public transport system.
Nor would you widen the road corridor if your main focus was the cycling network. The wider the road here, the more traffic throughout the network, and that means more bike-vehicle conflicts. That’s how people get seriously hurt.
You also wouldn’t widen the road corridor if your main focus was delivering a regional plan that delivered value for money. Buying up properties along a corridor uses money that’s sorely needed elsewhere, for all sorts of transport improvements. This was never more apparent to me than on Friday, riding along next to all the forlorn “half” properties left over from the widening.
It had shades of Christchurch’s Red Zone, but without the rural peacefulness.
So why am I talking about this now? Time to move on, right?
I’m talking about the Eastern Busway because of two looming issues that coincide:
- Phase Three of the Eastern Busway – from Pakuranga to Botany – is on the cusp of getting consent to proceed, and
- Auckland Transport needs to vary the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) – for budgetary and other reasons.
As anyone who’s ever attempted a home renovation knows, when finances get tight, there is always a silver lining – a budget-conscious rethink can lead to refinements that improve a project.
The key thing to know here is that this project has lots of public support:
There was support for encouraging active modes and cycling in particular, through the design of roads, paths, cycleway connections and station facilities. Suggestions have been made for improvements and further ways to encourage uptake at several points on the busway, walking and cycling paths and at stations.
So, we don’t want the Eastern Busway to suffer in this upcoming budget cut. The Eastern Busway is important – and it can be even better! Best of all, modifying the design now so it’s more sustainable could simplify the project so much that its opening date may even be brought forward.
This project could be adapted to become so transformative, so inspiring, that people will say, “That’s what we want here, too, please.”
And it’s an opportunity for our transport organisations to show what’s possible. It could mark a watershed in climate-appropriate and cost-effective transport planning.
Before I explain how, let’s take a look at the what: What’s the goal here? Let’s look forward in time… and take a peek at the people-friendly, planet-friendly future we could enjoy – within this decade – if this project is redesigned today.
East Auckland in 2030
In 2030, East Aucklanders feel their transport system is serving them well. All over the wider area, people of all ages and abilities have found new freedom in how they move about their day. The commuters and businesses along Ti Rakau Drive have been delighted to discover that the transport transformation is serving them better than the decades of old car-based planning ever did.
In 2030, children cycle and scoot at liberty, by themselves. It’s a short, safe walk or cycle to visit friends and favourite local places, and people enjoy the quietness and conviviality now there’s not so much traffic running through their neighbourhoods.
The cul-de-sac layout common in the area has been a boon, easily adapted by adding a few more bridges and other walking and cycling connections.
Local buses run every ten minutes, going wherever you want to go. And they’re reliable, because there’s so little traffic to compete with. For longer distance trips into town, or to connect with the trains at Panmure, the Busway itself is the preferred option for most people; far more attractive than being stuck driving long distances in traffic.
Car ownership has become a lifestyle choice now. Owning a car is no longer an unavoidable burden, and there are plenty of other things people choose to spend their money on instead. Shared cars are easy to use for when you do feel like driving somewhere. Local streets are almost empty of other motor traffic, so driving itself is much easier and calmer, too. It’s one of the beauties of changing the system comprehensively. After the first wave of disruption, even driving improves.
People live much more locally than before.
That’s because it’s nice to live locally. Residential street corners are great places to hang out, with more people walking and cycling past, and far less traffic. Many street corners have new amenities.
Little grocery stores and pharmacies. Coffee shops. Bike shops. Youth centres. Band practice rooms. Bistros and bars. Yoga centres and hair salons. Produce markets on land that was once just tarmac for carparks. Once people felt they could get around easily without a car – and once the planning rules changed to allow it, local amenities sprang up quite quickly.
Ti Rakau Drive also offers a more mature mix of economic activity. The commercial property owners there didn’t take long to realise that the real potential wasn’t in low-rise buildings and surface car parks. By 2030, more and more of these huge spaces are being converted into mixed-used developments: shops, commercial premises, recreational facilities, and apartments above.
Of course, this means the local opportunities keep opening up – for working, shopping, or whatever it is you do: sports, music lessons, or getting furniture upholstered. People in East Auckland enjoy the habits of using local services and shopping locally just like people do in any city with a healthy transport system. Once you’re walking to the bus, or biking around your local area, it’s easy to discover where the shops and services are, and to form connections with people and businesses. It just makes much more sense to stop in on your way somewhere, or to hop off the Busway on your way home, and do your errands locally before whizzing home on the fast and efficient feeder bus. Or on your securely-parked bike.
Other aspects of life that have changed include how people send, and receive, packages.
The once-ubiquitous courier vans are now rare. The logistics companies safely run e-cargo bikes throughout the area, which are way more economical than courier vans for most deliveries. Dropboxes installed in the local neighbourhood hubs have also been a game changer.
All this, and at a lower cost, too! And, everything I’ve described above can be achieved if we use two complementary approaches:
- Road reallocation, and
- Area treatments.
When implementing bus and cycle lanes, reallocating lanes offers value-for-money that’s far superior to the eye-watering cost of buying up properties to widen corridors, which is why it’s been the preferred strategic approach for years:
- As long ago as December 2016, Mayor Phil Goff instructed Auckland Transport to use road reallocation
- In 2018, Lester Levy (then Chair of Auckland Transport’s Board) announced AT was boldly committed to doing so
- In 2021, Waka Kotahi’s (draft) Aotearoa Urban Street Planning & Design Guide clearly indicates that reallocating existing road space is recommended, rather than widening the road:
Looking at Ti Rakau Drive, where the road corridor is already 30 to 32.5m wide, you could take a “road diet” approach, in line with Waka Kotahi’s intervention hierarchy (which recommends “best use of the existing system ahead of new infrastructure solutions”). No need for road-widening here, when the existing space has plenty of room for:
- two lanes of central busway
- two lanes for cycling
- more trees
- better footpaths
- and two or three traffic lanes, depending on the location.
Not only does this achieve a safer and much more civilised street on Ti Rakau Drive itself, but the entire wider area will be better off – because reducing the number of traffic lanes like this also radically reduces traffic volumes.
This approach simplifies and improves the whole project, costing us less while delivering more:
- Far less property purchase is required, reducing property costs considerably.
- Far less construction work is required, reducing construction costs considerably (and reducing exposure to – and impact on – cost inflation in the construction sector)
- Side roads can also have fewer turning lanes – as they are catering to less traffic.
- All the intersections on Ti Rakau Drive can therefore be far smaller.
- All streams of traffic will see reduced waiting times – notably this will include the buses themselves.
- Safety would be achieved at a fundamental level rather than tacked on clumsily; it’s easier to make walking and cycling safe across smaller intersections and fewer lanes, and on streets with less traffic.
- And the Burswood Deviation can be dispensed with – as all the supposed reasons for it are resolved by the above improvements.
And, with less traffic, you have lots of room to increase the flow-rate of people along Ti Rakau Drive – because busways and cycleways have vastly greater capacity. There’s heaps of headroom for population growth here.
The cost of ongoing road renewals would also be lower, leaving more money in the pot for things like maintaining the bus shelters, and for feeder bus services.
The beauty is that scaling back the size of Ti Rakau Drive would save so much money, that the project cost could be reduced while also delivering the other big and crucial change required…
An integrated approach for revitalising the whole area would use low traffic neighbourhoods, plus treatments to make walking and biking safe along their boundaries.
— Better Streets Waltham Forest (@WeSupportWFMH) December 23, 2021
Here’s one possible layout. (Thanks again to the transport specialist who prepared it!):
Matt has suggested a city-wide programme for bridges would be helpful here, using a shared but simple modular design to reduce the delivery costs.
I’ve also discussed how the industrial and commercial areas need these area treatments too, and I explored how one-way roads could help on the smaller streets which still need to fit large trucks:
So how do we make our way through this tricky moment, to the future painted above for East Auckland?
In my next post, I’ll get into the nitty gritty of why Auckland Transport’s analysis somehow keeps rejecting road reallocation as a solution here – and I’ll give some suggestions for how the Board can help break through this barrier, and turn everyone’s great theoretical intentions into excellent tangible outcomes by 2030.