Not including a rapid transit solution to the northwest while the motorway was being widened less than a decade ago, after we’d already seen the success of the Northern Busway, is arguably one of Auckland’s biggest transport mistakes. It’s certainly the most recent big one.
The process of fixing that mistake is not going to be quick or cheap but in a couple of months, the first stage to that will finally launch – the interim bus improvements on to the Northwest. This will see a bus service (the WX1) running along SH16 from Westgate to the City, making stops only at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd where buses will exit the motorway at some fairly basic stations to interchange with local buses, then carry on with their journey.
From 12 November, Auckland Transport (AT) will launch a new flagship bus route, the Western Express (WX1), along with a range of other improvements to bus routes in the area.
The bus route changes are partnered with over 7km of new bus lanes, new bus interchanges near the motorway at Lincoln Road and Te Atatū and over 40 new bus stops.
“The new WX1 and 11 routes will combine to provide buses between Westgate, Lincoln Road, Te Atatu and the City Centre in both directions every six minutes, from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.
While this is an improvement on what exists now, it’s far from the quality of the Northern Busway with it’s dedicated corridor and proper stations.
I’ve had fears that our transport agencies would claim this interim solution as “job done” and that we wouldn’t see any progress on a permanent solution for a long time.
A project to determine the future of safer, faster and more reliable public transport for Auckland’s northwest is underway.
The project is responding to the rapidly growing population in the northwest and the increasing demand for fast and frequent public transport which contributes to a healthier and more connected city.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is working in partnership with Te Kawerau ā Maki, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and other iwi partners and plans to release a short-list of options later this year so the community can have their say.
Randhir Karma, Regional Manager System Design says that there’s an increasing need to provide better public transport options for people who live in and move around the area.
“We know that the solution is to shift towards a more sustainable, healthier and more equitable land transport network. The transport sector presents huge opportunities to make meaningful contributions to better protect the environment, more rapidly adapt and to support the move to a more resilient world.
“A rapid transit solution along State Highway 16 from Brigham Creek to the city centre would make it easier for people to move around the northwest and beyond while also contributing to a more climate resilient transport future.
“Having choices about how we travel will help make the world a more thriving, better connected and safer place both for ourselves and for our future generations” says Randhir Karma.
Work is underway to investigate options. The findings are planned to be released later this year as part of the community consultation on the short-list of options.
This announcement and the map above is that is only looking at the route from Brigham Creek to the city because the route between Brigham Creek and Kumeu is being designated as part of the Supporting Growth work.
Interestingly the map also highlights well the torturous route that tunnelled light rail is expected to take, both on the North Shore and through the isthmus. And will Kingsland get the zoning needed to justify having three rapid transit lines passing through it?
There’s still a lot we will need to wait to find out, such as where will stations be, what happens when it gets to the city centre, which side of the motorway will the route sit, what impact will it have on the ecologically sensitive areas along the causeway and what happens about previous discussions about having light rail to the Northwest.
I attended a session on Friday where Minister of Transport David Parker expressed some interesting views about a few of these.
- On the issue of the causeway, he was very keen on Waka Kotahi to look at accommodating the busway within the existing motorway corridor rather than further expanding it into the harbour. He even explicitly said that consideration should be given to taking lane space away from cars to be able to provide the busway.
- Any rapid transit solution will obviously be staged and that won’t necessarily be from the city outwards. That can make it difficult for a mode like light rail, however, the minister said he was keen for Waka Kotahi to explore options to make conversion to light rail easier. He even suggested they look at whether tracks could be embedded in the surface as they go so that once all of the sections are connected up it’s much more straightforward to then convert.
Senior Waka Kotahi managers were also present at this session and they also mentioned how as part of their work they’ll be looking closely at what needs to be done to make it easier to get to any potential stations and also to supercharge the NW Cycleway by adding more connections to it.
As for where route will sit, work in the past, including some preliminary designs in 2010 have suggested that at least from Te Atatu to Westgate, the corridor would sit on the southern/western side of the motorway. I believe AT actually purchased some of the land between Royal Rd and Westgate to accommodate this.
It will also be important to ensure that the cycleway isn’t compromised and where possible, enhanced. It would be particularly good for example to get underpasses at Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd
The designs from 2010 were mainly just for stations and included Te Atatu Rd, Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd.
It’s great to finally see something which is more substantive than a line on a map happening for proper rapid transit to the Northwest.