Dominion Road – A Progression Of Disappointments

Guest blog by James S.

As someone who lives in the wider Dominion Road area, I was asked by CAA if I wanted to do a guest post on the recently announced changes to the road, and what I thought of them.

If you’re completely new to the Dominion Road plans then they might sound quite good. They will include better bus lanes, more amenities for pedestrians and some back-road cycleways. What’s not to like? But what makes the Dominion Road decision depressing is that if you look closely, in many ways it represents a real loss for cycling and cyclists in Auckland. To explain why I have to delve into the history of the project a bit.

Most of the council’s own documents have been taken down so I’ve linked several times to the Auckland Transport Blog as it commented a lot on the plans as they were being developed.

The History of Dominion Road

In 2004 Dominion Road was designated for a 24 hour passenger (i.e., public) transport route. This designation meant that the council had the legal right to reclaim 1-2 metres of store frontage from shops alongside Dominion Road to create a bus or light rail corridor. It also designated some land around Valley and Balmoral Roads for bus stations that were behind Dominion Road.

In June, 2010 Auckland City Council put forward a plan to use some (though not much) of the designation to upgrade Dominion Road and the three main shopping centres along it. The basic aim of this upgrade was to try and create a high quality bus route that would support intensified development.

Old Dom Road ProposalIncidentally, however, Auckland City Council also proposed continuous cycle lanes along the route, which would have been physically separated (probably by slightly raising the road) from the bus lanes. As you can see in the diagram at the right, to create space for both a high quality bus route and cycle way, Auckland City Council proposed to remove the on-street carparking on Dominion Road.

This proposal instantly became very controversial because local shop owners felt strongly that removing the on-street carparking would damage their businesses. They were probably wrong about this because studies from overseas and in Auckland NZ have shown that removing parking in exchange for better walking and cycling facilities can actually lead to an increased spend for adjacent shops.

Sadly, locals were supported in their opposition to the proposal by all of the local councilors who were vying for re-election at the time (Cathy Casey and Glenda Fryer, Christine Fletcher) and so Auckland City Council officials were told to rethink. Some time later, the project then got handed over to the newly formed Auckland Transport.

In July, 2011 Auckland Transport came back with a scaled down proposal which retained on-street parking but looked to extend bus lanes around key villages on the route during peak hours only. It also aimed to provide cycle lanes where “room allows.”  In fact, these wouldn’t really have been “cycle lanes” in the sense of being physically separated from the buses, but they would at least have provided a 4.5 metre wide lane for buses and cycles to share.

Unfortunately, however, this proposal was expensive because it could not be done without widening the road. Widening roads cost heaps because you have to relocate services sideways, away from the traffic lane under the footpath (e.g., water pipes, stormwater, electricity cables).

Updated Dom Road ProposalSo, in October 2012 Auckland Transport’s Board announced that they had approved an even more scaled-down version of the project which would extend the bus lanes slightly at peak time, retain on-street car parking (off-peak in the bus lanes) and involving some small upgrades for cyclists on side streets, but not on Dominion Road.

So in just two years we went from a proposal for the first high quality, on-road cycle lanes on a major regional arterial in Auckland, to a plan for some very small improvements to current cycling facilities. This is pretty much the same story that has been repeated in Auckland over the last 10 years many times. A major roading project is proposed and carried out which creates some improvements to public transport, some upgrades for pedestrians, and almost nothing for cyclists.

My next blog post is about why I think the upgrades to cycle lanes that are being proposed are of dubious value and why this whole project represents a major lost opportunity.

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