Yesterday afternoon it rained and traffic around the region ground to a halt, once again highlighting why it is so important that our city gets on with improving the alternatives to driving.

For additional irony, this happened on the same day the IPCC synthesis report landed, putting the focus on how cities can pull their weight to quickly lower emissions and improve our lives – and the same day our local paper led with a story on speeding up the drive to reduce traffic.

While congestion was bad all over, Google maps showed that in and around the city centre it was particularly red.

A scan of congestive planning failure at the heart of the city. Time to unclog those arterials.

Delays of up to 60-minutes are completely unacceptable – and for those stuck in it, extremely stressful and frustrating. There will undoubtedly been people who may have been late picking children up from daycare or after-school care, likely incurring extra costs, others who may have missed important appointments or just missed important time with their families.

To be clear, Auckland Transport can’t stop these kinds of congestion events from happening. On Tuesday it was the rain, but it it could just as easily be a crash or some other force majeure event that causes this degree of gridlock.

But what AT can do – if they choose to – is give people viable and reliable congestion-free options. Essentially, this means making our public transport and active modes networks complete and connected and resilient enough so that when these kinds of situations happen, the buses can continue to get through, and more people feel safe enough to be able to ride a bike or scooter.

Taking action really should be top of the agenda for AT and Council, because doing nothing is clearly not working. Here are a couple of ideas.

Bus Lanes

Auckland currently has around 8,000km of roads in the region, of which around 5,000km are in the urban area. Some of those roads have more than one lane, so in total there are just under 11,000 kilometers of lane in the urban area.

In total, we have bus or transit lanes on just 15-20 lane km, meaning there are many gaps across the network. Or to put it another way, most of the potential bus network is, currently, a ghost network.

Even in just the city centre there are many glaring gaps, such as along Customs St.

We need a massive, and urgent, rollout of bus priority across the city, filling in the gaps on existing corridors and adding new corridors. To do this will require making some calls that will undoubtedly result in loud media coverage, such as removing on-street parking or changing flush medians.

But without some degree of urgency, even a small programme will take years. Shouldn’t a climate emergency provide that sense of urgency? How about a cost-of-living crisis?

AT does (or, did) have a programme that is meant to be for exactly this, which appeared around 2018 as the Integrated Corridor Programme and now goes by Connected Communities. Since it began, it’s become bogged down in the standard complication-and-consultation machine. To give just two examples:

  • New North Road, which was consulted on last year, was immediately “paused” by AT for a stocktake after the Council election last year.
  • The city end of Great North Road, finally on the verge of delivery, was likewise paused and then trotted back to Council last week by AT for another pointless sniff-and-taste.

Any authoritative plan to “fix Auckland”, or at least to fix Auckland traffic, would take a good hard look at getting these dynamic corridors up and running ASAP.

Bus lane hours

Even when bus lanes exist, far too many of them only operate at peak times and only in the peak direction. In yesterday’s case, this likely means many buses were delayed just getting into the city before they could start their run taking commuters home. AT should be making more bus lanes 24/7, or at least operate at both morning and evening peak times.

Intersection Enforcement

More and better bus lanes are important, but they won’t work if buses still get caught up at intersections.

A lot of the issues with ‘gridlock’ events is that impatient drivers enter intersections when there isn’t space on the other side, resulting in them blocking intersections. This in turn can quickly cascade, blocking traffic arriving from other directions, and impacting buses as well as pedestrians.

AT should look options for improving road markings at intersections to help remind drivers not to enter unless they can exit. Theycould also look at options for enforcement cameras to help discourage this from happening. This is something the Australian state of Victoria is trialling right now.

Maybe we could also trial adding bus lane enforcement cameras to the buses themselves? Other cities are doing this, with success.

There are a couple of other things this traffic-weather-event does highlight.

The city centre is not dead

The demise of downtown has been repeatedly and almost gleefully predicted by some, and while numbers have been down in recent years, he city centre appears to be bounding back – just as it has every other time its downfall was proclaimed. Indications are that the number of people in the city centre is currently at around 80% of pre-COVID levels.

Public Transport demand is not dead

There were, unfortunately, many reports of large numbers of people left waiting at bus stops, highlighting that PT use is far from dead. AT hasn’t released any new data for the last three weeks (this is meant to happen weekly), but indications are that like the city centre, PT usage is back to about 80% of pre-COIVID levels. That’s quite an improvement over the last few years.

How much did the ongoing PT crisis contribute to Tuesday’s congestion?

For nearly a year now, public transport has suffered from a shortage of bus drivers and ferry crews. Combined with an unreliable train network undergoing maintenance, and I’m sure many PT users have gone back to their cars. Did this widely publicised lack of reliability and shortage of options mean there were even more cars in the city centre than a normal Tuesday evening?

What about bikes?

At this point in the post it would be handy to able to share the stats of Aucklanders on bikes, especially as March is traditionally the busiest month for cycleway counters – but unfortunately, that’s another indicator that AT hasn’t got around to updating this calendar year.

So the last word goes to the clever cats at Big Street Bikers, who in a very timely move, wrapped a smart message about one of the most obvious congestion solutions around today’s paper. Extra, extra! Read all about it.

Hopefully all the Herald subscribers who’ve already made the switch to e-bikes – or are thinking about it – will be on the blower to their councillors first thing, asking what’s being done to make it easy for them and others to break out of traffic. They might also pop along to Bike Auckland’s Power to the People forum this evening, in Wynyard Quarter 6-8pm.

PS Here’s the text of today’s wrap-around ad. And yes, that’s our proud imprimatur alongside the other organisations. BSB The Big Switch – NZH Wrap 254×280

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  1. Bus priority in and out of the CBD is completely abysmal. There needs to be full continuous bus lanes with CCTV cameras giving huge fines all over the city.

  2. Of course AT could roll out more tactical bus lanes – why not have them put in using something similar to regular traffic management around build sites? After all no one can complain if a build site removes curb parking (or even a whole lane) for an extended period of time.
    And once the bus lane is in an providing benefits – just keep it there.

    1. “After all no one can complain if a build site removes curb parking (or even a whole lane)”

      I find it quite objectionable that the office building site on Carlton Gore has now closed a bike lane for nearly 4 years running.

      Sadly you can be sure that there will currently be a lot more people complaining about closing car lanes than there are regarding bike lanes, and even if the opposite was true, we know who our mayor and AT listens to.

  3. What an awesome message to have in the paper. Auckland would be so much nicer if it was easy to ride a bike around, there is a lot of potential to improve things. Nice work GA and the rest of you.

    1. Di anyone read it? I hadn’t realised it was about transport until I read it above. I usually pull those ads off and drop them in the recycling. Sometimes it means losing the back sports page but we never read the sports nonsense anyway.

  4. A figure I like to remind people of is for about one and half billion dollars and 3-5 years real effort you could complete a gigantic integrated cycle network and give every Aucklander who wanted one a free e-bike & helmet. Just saying.

  5. Absolutely brilliant move on the wrap-around on the Herald – I hope it has a good positive effect, and sure makes a nice change from the usual Harvey Norman bumf. I’m sure there will be some flack back from some petrol users – ignore them.

    On the maps, what really stands out to me is the complete idiocy of Mayoral Drive – I remember when Auckland Council built that road back in the 1980s, and can’t believe that it has still not been adopted in a useful way. Half a busway makes no sense. The whole point of Mayoral Drive was to be able to move traffic from one side of town to the other side, without clashing with the big attraction of Queen St. It nearly made much sense to me – but it makes less sense when such a big broad wide road is still not utilised properly some forty years later!!

  6. I was on the Onehunga train at around 5pm, laughing at the silly people in their cars not moving on the motorway adjacent, and then they have to find a carpark! So stressful! Public transport is a must in this city, the heavy rail must link to light rail and electric buses, perhaps half the size of the current fleet could fill the gaps. So simple. Hardlined electric trains are magnificent after kiwirail fixes tracks, feel like an aeroplane taking off and landing without the climate anxiety nor altitude sickness / deep vein thrombosis. I could have fallen asleep as if it was a taxi home home after a hard night. All the powers need to combine to build public transport, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, apartment / condominiums with parklands and make this city a truly safe and pleasant place to raise our children, while also giving them a chance to live to our age. For a dreamer forty year old single dad it is impossible to understand why everybody cannot see that this is the only way forward, essentially returning to a 1950s humility and with modern progressive decolonised social structure. Utopia, Metopia, Ourtopia!

  7. We’ve got a Mayor riding up and down the Great North Road footpaths because his reckons outweight evidence, data and of course approved plans. I currently have no hope for this City and am looking to move out, we have no actual leaders from the top downwards when it comes to transport or emmisions. We have great advocates, but they aren’t the ones that sell the message.

    We’ve always been behind the rest of the world, in some ways it’s been great – when it comes to things like crime, safety etc..but now we are behind on the things that matter, that other countries are progressing with.

    None of this should be hard and it isn’t. That’s the most frustrating part.

      1. You mean around the world? Quite a few places it seems…prob just pick a random city from this weeks ‘Weekly Roundup’ lol

    1. Feeling the same dismay. There are so many good things about Auckland but we seem to insist on absolutely messing it up. I spend a bit of time in other parts of the country and try to convince friends and colleagues about how good it is but it always comes down to “but the traffic…”

      I’ve always thought that just leaving doesn’t help solve the problem and if you want to fix things you need to be present, lead by example and actively help. But it’s becoming soul destroying if you don’t want to live a life dictated by cars.

  8. That map of AKLs bus lanes really highlights just how pitiful our bus priority is, surely such a quick win.
    I would be intrigued how other cities compare in terms of proportion of bus lanes to overall road lanes? Did you look into this at all for this piece?

  9. I cycled home as usual, didn’t notice the traffic being different, wasn’t paying too much attention to it beyond what the cars directly around me were doing.
    We have bus lanes and some more would help but I think the CRL will be open before AT manage to do much about anything.
    Cycleway past the waterview vent stack has been diverted for years, further down the hill Gt Nth Rd lost a lane 6+ weeks ago and still nowhere near fixed. AT can’t do basic maintenance let alone get on with transformative work.
    Kids should be walking and cycling to school. If someone is stuck in traffic for an hour doing the school run, I have little sympathy for them. I do have concerns about the economy and loss of productivity to businesses and delays to freight. Nothing has happened to allow all kids to cycle to school.
    The cycle network map form 2011 still has a long way to go.
    It appears we have more planners and managers at the council and AT, than guys with shovels getting jobs done.

  10. I totally agree the Auckland bus lanes map shows so clearly how fragmented & many gaps in bus priority lanes. Only continuous & enforced bus lanes will complete an integrated bus network for congestion free bus travel. AT & Auckland Council have an civil duty & public service commitment to do so. Their current failure is no longer an option.

  11. Something I’ve never seen commenting on is that increasingly, the argument for biking is *counterposed* to that for PT. Our family’s PT use has dropped by about 80% since we got our electric cargo bike. No more being at the mercy of a bureaucracy’s unreliability and borderline hostility to its own customers. Perhaps it’s best to just focus on getting e-bikes out to working class families and accept that PT is not a goer in Auckland.

    1. I think the intent is that for short trips they would actually prefer us to be walking and cycling, with PT replacing the longer distance car trips. That certainly seems to be the agenda behind the fare setting that over the past decade has seen them systematically ramping up the 1-2 stage fares at a higher rate than inflation while nearly freezing the long distance fares.
      However you are out of luck if you are on the lower Northshore and trapped into paying the escalating price of PT to the city with no viable walk/cycle alternative.

  12. They seriously need to get rid of parking on a lot of streets and put in cycle/scooter lanes. Its probably been said many times before but roads are for transport not for parking. I see so many houses with off street parking they simply don’t use. its infuriating that AT doesn’t have the balls to just do it. They don’t need to ask anymore, yet they still still insist on asking people and finding any excuse they can to not deliver. They are a joke.

    1. Take a look at Friesian Drive in Mangere and surrounding streets. Traffic calming bumps and chicanes, bike lanes protected by on-street parking and even a bit of concrete.

      Notably absent is the enforcement that keeps those bike lanes open…

      1. Yes that’s what I’m taking about, that should be minimum standard. And about the enforcement, I’m sure it would produce the enough revenue to pay for it itself. Give a few people jobs and get them to enforce keeping lanes clear.

        1. Part of it is fitting the culture.

          In Mangere I think you’re more likely to see scooters and e-scooters than bikes.

          For kids a scooter doesn’t have a helmet requirement, can legally be ridden on the footpath, be stowed in a car, on a bus or in a classroom and it will never, ever get a flat.

          Scooters need smooth, continuous footpaths and priority at side roads.

          Escooters will benefit from the bike lane, but again, you can ride them on the footpath, so what’s the point of that bike lane?

          To many people it doesn’t look like they’re gaining an enviable safe street, it just looks like they lost some parking. Direct action is alive and well among Auckland drivers.

  13. This is EXACTLY why we must double down on building MORE MOTORWAYS and EXPRESSWAYS so people can get to where they need to be on time. All major cities overseas with successful transport networks complement public transport with efficient and effective road infrastructure. It baffles me why we can’t learn from 1st world countries: more people can move on motorways in electric buses than cars. Far more cost effective than lavishing tens of billions of hard-earned taxpayers $$$ politicking over tunneled light rail… the Waterview tunnel costs peanuts in comparison. For the same $/km, we can build an underground motorway network through the isthmus, PLUS the East-West Link, possibly with spare change left over. MOTORWAYS are true multi-modal solutions that support freight, private and public transport options. Good for you, good for business, great for the economy. Supporting local enterprises and industry is essential to improving productivity and defeat our Cost of Living crisis.

    1. You should probably 6x motorway construction costs compared to yesteryear.

      The cambridge bypass cost 182 million and started around the same time as the Waterview connection. That came out to 11 million per km. Today flatland expressway sections like Otaki to North of Levin (ie the same as cambridge) are projected to cost 60 million dollars per km.

      Construction price inflation in the expressway world is staggering.

      And also without congestion charging, new motorways in Auckland instantly fill up with low value use (single occupant car commuters) and impede high value use like trucking, tradies, buses etc. The economic benefits are dubious when the primary benefactors are office jockeys, which highways do a very poor job of transporting economically. The single biggest net economic benefit project in Auckland would be charging the motorways.

      1. Excellent comment Jack. I like your impartial yet insightful perspective. Many motorways overseas are tolled to deal with the reasons you mentioned, with a disproportionately high charge for cars over vans or buses / trucks etc. Outcome = much lower rates of single occupancy vehicles; expressway buses become popular with reliable times. Tolls / congestion charge becomes a continuous revenue source for transport projects. A win-win for everyone.

    2. You mention successful road infrastructure in overseas 1st world cities, but seem to ignore and discount the successful public transport and multi-modal services these cities also provide. Why focus so narrowly?

    3. Unfortunately, busses simply don’t have the capacity to move enough people at rush hour. Dominion Rd has double deckers every 5min now, and it’s at capacity. The Dominion Rd catchment is ideal for intensification. Also, there isn’t enough room in the CBD for busses to park and give drivers a break before they turn around. The northern express will be at capacity by 2030.

      Trams don’t look much bigger, but they have 3x the capacity, and can let passengers on & off faster through multiple doors. Beyond that, trains have higher capacity still.

  14. wow – Big Bicycle is sponsoring NZHerald front page ads.
    There is money in non stationery mobility devices it seems.

    If only we had somewhere to not die on our roading corridors.

    1. Paying seems to be the only way for bike sector to get anything other than ignorant culture war verbal violence from the media, which is then echoed by half the councillors.

      No doubt it feels horrible giving this venal business hard to find cash but how else to get balance and reason in our media, when their business model is to irresponsibly stoke social conflict?

      Good on them.

  15. Look closely at Park Road in Grafton on the city centre map. It is subtle, but you can notice the lack of southbound bus lane just after the Grafton Bridge. If there is congested traffic on Park Road you can spend 20 minutes on a bus just to cross the bridge.

    There must be people working at AT who are able to come up with a scheme where Park Road has 2 bus lanes and a single one-way general traffic lane.

    1. Yep – there’s been scheme’s drawn which have 1 way circulation on traffic through Grafton.
      Again, as Matt points out, consultation fear / never ending churn, or whatever else AT suffers from means that those drawings along with multiple other ideas for the connected communities routes will sit on shelf and be forgotten about.

      So sad that only New North Road has had any public light shed on it, and that’s disappeared into never never land 🙁

    2. You’re talking about making the middle lane a single dynamic lane, with the kerb sides bus lanes being tidal, to provide for the other direction traffic lane. I think that has been looked at several times in the past. The biggest challenge is the heavy turn movements into the hospital car park – the entry rate to the car park is slow, so traffic backs out onto Park Rd from both approaches. Not unsolvable I’m sure, but yes – a car park is probably the single biggest barrier to making this work.

    3. Be best with a one way general traffic lane, clockwise. Keep it simple stupid. One way so you would just loop around Carlton Core Rd, Grafton Rd if coming from the south/east. This would prevent extra lanes/hold up for right turning traffic into the hospital park. Ambulances could just use the bus lane in an emergency.

  16. Just a question out their for Greater Auckland readers, I currently live about 20 minutes drive from CBD so around glenfield area. I am wanting to build more houses on my property and under the unitary plan I could get 8 -10 houses. The problem I am having is in order to access my property I first have to go through a private road where I have 1/20 ownership, second I also need to access a share driveway where I only have an easement to use the driveway as land under is owned by front properties. Also I have a land convent which prevents more houses with out community approval. Just wanted to ask readers anyway to get around these obstacles as community has taken one neighbor to court for trying to subdivide his property and also he lost the court so had to stop.

    1. Sell and find somewhere else with fewer hostile conditions. Where you are it will only get solved when a developer has enough money to buy several contiguous titles to allow creating better access.

  17. With part of the Southern line recently being closed for nearly 3 months for track upgrades it was disappointing that as part of this shutdown AT did not work in conjunction with Kiwirail and create cycle ways / pathway or at the least the earthworks for future ones along the corridor.
    An example of an easy section would be Greenlane to Ellerslie with an advantage of picking up the no exit streets adjoining the rail corridor to feed the railway stations. Lost opportunity.

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