Great North Road / Bullock Track – a difficult, slow beast

Unsafe conditions on New Zealand roads are often left untreated for long periods, because we do not yet prioritise and fund road safety with Vision Zero-style dedication.

But at some point – like when an intersection is officially listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Intersections in New Zealand” and “Third worst in Auckland” – you have to hope that something will finally get done.

That’s the case for the intersection of Great North Road / Bullock Track, west of Grey Lynn, which has a very long rap sheet: over fifty known crashes (including one fatality) over the last 10 years, among them one of our own close associates, who had a potentially very bad (but ultimately “lucky”) crash with an inattentive driver last year.

Bullock tracks (here a photo from Canterbury) formed many of the first NZ Roads.
Bullock tracks (here in a photo from Canterbury) formed the basis of many of the first New Zealand roads.

At times, the trudge towards improvements here has seemed as slow as the bullock teams that gave the steep street its name.

Now, at last, Auckland Transport is proposing to provide traffic signals at this intersection to increase safety for all road users, which will also help cyclists.

Public feedback is invited until 17 October 2016.

Let’s see what’s proposed, and then what we think about it.

The proposal

Auckland Transport lists the following changes as part of the project:

  • Installing signalised pedestrian crossings, kerb build-outs and pram crossings at the Great North Road, Bullock Track and Turangi Road intersection.
  • Removing the right-turn movement from Turangi Road onto Great North Road (all other traffic movements will remain).
  • Moving the bus stop from the western side of Great North Road and Turangi Road to the eastern side of the intersection. 
  • Redesigning and painting the lane layout on Great North Road
  • Upgrading the footpath to be a shared path (used by pedestrians and cyclists) on both sides of Great North Road – from Stadium Road to Bullock Track. 
  • Installing pedestrian ‘zebra’ crossings on each slip lane of the North-Western Motorway and a raised pedestrian crossing on the slip lane of Stadium Road.

[Auckland Transport has] observed a large number of crashes due to unsafe right turns from Bullock Track onto Great North Road. This proposal aims to improve the safety of all road users by providing:

  • A shared path for cyclists and pedestrians to safely travel away from traffic along this section of Great North Road. 
  • Designated crossing points for pedestrians to cross the road safely.
  • A signalised intersection, making it safer for drivers turning onto Great North Road.

Looking at the plans (click to enlarge), you can see the changes:

Proposed changes for the Bullock Track/ Tuarangi intersection with Great North Road.
Proposed changes for the motorway offramp and Stadium Rd.


What’s good about it…

  • The intersection is signalised, making it less likely for that Bullock Track driver focussed entirely on getting to the other side to suddenly shoot out and ram you as you pass through on your bike, as in the case of our friend who got hit here.
  • A new pedestrian crossing over Great North Road replaces an old pedestrian refuge that obliged you to dash over multiple lanes. Better crossing options are good for a multi-modal city.
  • A longer section of bus lane into town for those taking public transport (which also functions as a small improvement for very confident on-road riders).
  • New zebra crossings around the motorway interchange to make those drivers pay more attention to pedestrians.

And what’s not so good…

  • No cycle facilities. A brand new traffic signal, just a wee ride away from the growing western cycleway network that is coming for Surrey Crescent and GNR (east of Grey Lynn into town). But no facilities for those riders, no protected lanes. And no connections westward, either – even though AT was going to look into this section after the Pohutukawa 6 were saved, and the design of GNR through the St Lukes Interchange was ‘to be rethought’, including improvements for people on bikes.
  • Those shared paths don’t count. Sorry, but they’re really just signs on a wide footpath (which is crowded with pedestrians when events are on). And the paths don’t lead anywhere, because directly west and east of these sections, it isn’t even legal to ride on the footpath. Sure, some people currently do – for example to get to MOTAT, Western Springs Park, or the Stadium, and the Northwestern Cycleway (and there’s a fair amount of school-age bike traffic to be spotted on the footpath morning and afternoon, an expression of how unfriendly the road space is for anyone other than very confident cyclists). But the fact that some 150m of this informal ‘heavy traffic avoidance route’ will now be legal doesn’t really change much.
  • Riding in the new eastbound bus lane may be better than having to claim a general lane, or riding in a narrower painted cycle lane between two lines of cars. But you’ll still have traffic to the left of you (turning into Bullock Track) and to the right of you (heading eastward on GNR) and of course, buses fore and aft. Rider beware. Would it be a better idea to allow cyclists to continue straight from the left turn lane, instead of making them use the bus lane? (NB this would only work if the footpath wasn’t built out on the northeast corner, so that riders could merge more gradually back into the bus lane once past the Bullock Track).
  • Some aspects of the new signal worry us a bit. Will we have motorists doing (illegal) right turns here? For example, will everyone who currently turns right out of Tuarangi obediently take the back way up the hill instead, to join GNR at the town centre? Or will some continue to risk turning right here, as is their habit? And consider the right turn into Tuarangi – it will still be allowed, but there is no dedicated right turn lane. Will people driving towards town suddenly swerve into the bus lane (where on-road cyclists will be) instead of waiting behind right turners? To be fair, we are bringing up some likely quite rare possibilities here – whereas right now, every single driver coming out of Bullock Track at peak hour is a potential hazard. But at minimum, AT will have to closely check whether such risky behaviour will happen.
  • Two of the three new zebra crossings around the interchange have no raised tables. How can people be sure that drivers off and onto a fast motorway will slow down and give way? Sadly, NZTA is very, very resistant to having raised tables on such lanes at their interchanges.

So, overall? A bit… disappointing. We know that AT’s walking and cycling team had no spare money left to throw at this (and the kerb changes needed for protected bike lanes wouldn’t come cheap, especially if the footpaths needed to be kept at current widths – as they really should, given the regular crowds drawn by nearby attractions and the  sports fields).

AT’s road safety team, meanwhile, is also always scrabbling for money, which is why even a ‘Top 10 intersection’ has taken so long to fix! But it seems very short-sighted to do a halfway job, when AT’s own consultation and mid-term plans specifically include cycle facilities on this route in the future.

So here’s our verdict – which is pretty much what we told AT when we saw an early copy of the plans a few weeks ago:

We see this as AT bringing a very dangerous intersection to a minimum safety level for road users, including cyclists – but we can’t see it as AT undertaking a cycleway project worthy of a key arterial such as this.

Do you agree? If so, put your name behind it. Go here to ask AT to step up.


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