At a highly charged public meeting recently, the team at Auckland Transport unveiled its plans to trial ‘dynamic lanes’ on the Whangaparaoa Road. The scheme is being billed by AT as a potential solution to Auckland’s increasing traffic congestion problems.
To those unfamiliar with this area of town, the two-lane road runs along the ridge of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula serving a series of bays and residential suburbs and ending at Gulf Harbour. Like many major arterial roads in Auckland, Whangaparaoa Rd has a huge ‘tidal’ surge of traffic (>20,000 cars) heading in one direction in the morning with a returning surge in early evening.
The dynamic lane trial will see an approximately 1.4km section of the Whangaparaoa Road losing its wide median strip at peak times, to be utilized as a second lane for commuter traffic.
Amongst other concerns raised at the meeting: the proposed trial will make a road that is already challenging for cyclists and pedestrians, more dangerous. However the AT team assured the public that a comprehensive safety analysis had been undertaken; similar assurances were also voiced at the Local Board meeting a week later.
For those unfamiliar with this process, the authors of the safety audit explain: ‘A road safety audit is a formal examination of a road project, or any type of project which affects road users (including cyclists, pedestrians, mobility impaired etc.), carried out by an independent competent team who identify and document road safety concerns.’
The report makes interesting reading for those of us who have a vested interest in the project, as it has a fundamental bias that is seriously dated. Whilst the auditors have diligently identified and assessed the risks of a car-on-car crash, they have conspicuously failed to identify and thus discuss risks to other road users.
Those of us brave (or foolish!) enough to cycle along – or attempt to cross – this stretch of road know that one does at some personal risk. Indeed, the AT team themselves admitted at the public meeting that in their view only a madman would cycle on this road!
Since these concerns were raised, AT have conceded that IF, after the 18 months the trial runs, the dynamic lanes trial is successful – then they MAY address issues for other road users.
In their defence, AT state that they see little need to address this issue at present since they expect the traffic pattern on the road to change, leading to gaps opening up in the traffic flow which would then allow pedestrians to cross and cyclists to be overtaken safely.
Whilst not unsympathetic to AT’s desire to make the most out of what is valuable road space, I am concerned that AT’s action will make a road that is already dangerous for non-car users more dangerous. In effect, this proposal to improve congestion may ironically force yet more cars onto the road.
Furthermore, AT has elected at the initial stage of the trial not to look at other approaches such as a dedicated T3/ bus lane, a cycle way, or improved pedestrian crossing (to use the bus stops) – measures which could lead to significant numbers of cars being taken off the road.
What many on the Whangaparaoa peninsula (and indeed, I suspect many in this increasingly congested city of ours) want is a safe, reliable alternative to the car.
The Hibiscus Coast extension to the NEX express bus has proven to be hugely popular with commuters on the Hibiscus Coast. What then could be more sensible than for AT to provide, alongside this dynamic lights trial, a safe cycleway for commuters that will enable them to get to the bus station without having to get in their car?
Surely this would be win-win: fewer cars on the road, increased safety for ‘other’ road users who are no longer having to share the tarmac with cars, less demand on car parks at the bus and train hubs_ and to top it all, a healthier, more active Auckland.
Imagine Auckland’s commuter routes transformed with dynamic lanes, dedicated T3/ bus lanes, maximizing road space, alongside which run safe cycle corridors leading to important transport infrastructure hubs.
Perhaps if the proposed dynamic lanes trial on the Whangaparaoa Road works for motorists, AT will quickly commission a second phase of the trial (and not after waiting 18 long months) – to look at making the road corridor a truly integrated commuter corridor that is efficiently utilized and is a safe place for all road users. Now that’s what I would call a truly ‘liveable city’.
— David Squirrell