What is this, Groundhog Day?? Auckland Transport is suddenly backpedalling on a plan for new bike lanes that were meant to form part of a long-awaited town centre upgrade and a key link in the planned cycle network.
Worse: this U-turn uses a new ‘preferred option’ from AT that runs contrary to the original public response, the preferences of the Local Board and the local MP, and AT’s own plans for the cycling network. Not to mention the goal of a 30% increase in urban cycling numbers after 2018.
Plus, it’s being rushed through quickly, in the weeks just before Christmas!
The quick version:
- AT is proposing to remove the new cycle lanes from Mt Albert town centre in the most dangerous part!
- AT is doing so just before construction was to start – and in order to keep five traffic lanes in the narrowest part of the centre!
- Please help us rescue Mt Albert Town Centre from this schemozzle by supporting Option 3 ASAP.
FEEDBACK IS OPEN UNTIL FRIDAY 16 DECEMBER 2016, so get your skates on!
The longer version, laid out below, is a Shakespearean 5-act drama (or maybe a tragedy, if we can’t stop it):
ACT I – Will you walk with me about the town?
The background: the Albert-Eden Local Board has been working towards a Town Centre upgrade for some time.
The problem: Mt Albert’s main shopping street, New North Road, lacks a sense of place and finds it hard to attract shoppers. It’s a thriving transport hub, thanks to the train and bus frequency – but the charming shops perch on the banks of wide rivers of traffic, most of it going anywhere-but-there.
The brief: to revitalize the heart of the village and make this a great 21st C place for people, not just a greased chute for cars sailing past faded shops en route to somewhere else.
ACT II – A most majestic vision!
The project first came up for public feedback a year ago. We applauded the improvements for pedestrians and street life, and the future upgrades for bike travel. But the design was missing one key element: there was nothing for people on bikes on New North Road.
Fortunately, the general public feedback came back wildly in favour (94%!) – and the most popular request was: please add proper bike lanes! This was in line with the Mt Albert Town Centre stakeholder meeting in 2015, where better bike access was requested; and it chimed with AT’s own plans for the widening cycle network (from the February 2016 report):
During November 2015, Auckland Transport (AT) Walking and Cycling department independently identified a need to provide cycle lanes on New North Road (in both directions) through the Mt Albert Town Centre. This was in response to their transport priorities, which include installing cycle lanes along the length of New North Road, from the CBD to Mt Albert.
So the concept plan was updated to include proper Copenhagen-style parking protected bike lanes on New North Road, and the Local Board was good to go. So far, so great!
Note: The project is primarily funded by the Local Board, and has been topped up with support from Auckland Council, AT Walking and Cycling (to the tune of $300,000).
ACT III – Exit, stage right?
Closer inspection of the new proposed design revealed one potential sacrifice: it seemed the dedicated right turn lane from New North Road into Mt Albert Road might need be removed in order to make room for the widened footpaths and new bike lanes. Understandably, people had concerns (see this article), which we’ve boiled down:
1. Can you just take away a turn, just like that?
You can. In particular, there are plenty of intersections around the city where right turns have been removed or foreclosed for reasons of safety and flow. You can’t turn from New North Rd into Khyber Pass. You can’t turn right into Wellesley St West from Queen Street. You can’t turn right into St Lukes Rd from the side streets between New North Rd and the mall.
And AT has just announced you won’t be able to turn right from Tuarangi Rd into Great North Rd opposite the Bullock Track – again, for reasons of safety and flow. And yet the sky hasn’t fallen.
2. What happens to Mt Albert traffic if you do?
Turns out, what happens if you remove this particular dedicated right turn lane is, as well as making space for wider pavements and dedicated bike lanes… everyone else moves more smoothly. In fact, AT’s own traffic analysis shows that removing the right turn would reduce delays for all other traffic movements by 10-30%.
3. But won’t the loss of that right-turn inconvenience people?
Not as many as you might think. There are alternative routes via Richardson Rd and Owairaka Rd. And, as noted in the Stuff article, even at rush hour, the right-turn option is rarely used: ‘at peak time around 1300 cars travel through Mt Albert towards the city every hour with about 75 cars turning right.’ That’s 6% of peak citybound traffic.
Across the whole day, AT says some 1200 cars per day make this turn – which is a tiny fraction of overall use: about 3% of total daily movements through the whole intersection. And not all of these will be short local journeys, either – many could be made on alternative routes.
4. Could you keep the right-turn as an option, with a combined straight through and right-turn lane plus a green arrow?
AT looked into this (see Options 1 & 2 on the project page), and their own traffic modeling suggests that whichever way you do it, the traffic gets badly gummed up. With 94% of people traveling straight through at peak time, the 6% of right turners would cause a 50% rise in delays in the morning peak, and a whopping 300% in the evening (considering that the intersection is already quite congested, that would be dire – and lead to lots of rat-running too, we would think).
And even allowing right turns during off-peak times isn’t a full solution, because AT says you’d probably need to ban right turns for most of the day (up to 12 hours) to achieve adequate flow, plus (in their own words) there’s “risk of unsafe manoeuvres when ban is active” and it would be confusing for drivers.
5. Okay. So, if a tiny fraction of traffic is asked to find a different route, you can achieve the town centre upgrade while also improving general traffic flow for everyone else who drives?
Yes. And you not only improve traffic, you make life better for pedestrians: NZTA’s ‘Pedestrian Planning and Design Guide’ notes that cycle lanes create a 30% crash reduction (at mid-block) for pedestrians crossing the road. Plus, retailers win, too: international experience tells us that decent bike lanes improve sales on streets where they’re installed. Also, installing proper bike lanes adds breathing space to footpaths – which is good for the sort of vibrant street life the project aims to foster, including outdoor dining.
So the trade-off isn’t just about swapping a right-turn lane to improve things for people on bikes. It’s more like exchanging the right-turn lane for a better result for everything and (pretty much) everyone.
Bike lanes aren't just for cyclists, they're anchors for a different kind of street, one that's safer, better for mobility & for the economy pic.twitter.com/ZsIdCO8dl8
— Janette Sadik-Khan (@JSadikKhan) December 1, 2016
And the benefits extend well beyond the town centre – for example:
- creating network connections to the Northwestern cycleway (via Carrington Rd), the existing Mt Albert Road bike lanes (due for eventual improvement), and the protected bike lanes coming on St Lukes Rd, plus the Waterview Shared Path to be completed in 2017
- making ‘bike and ride’ and ‘walk and ride’ a more meaningful option for many more people, especially given the increased frequency and reliability of trains and buses, and the large catchment within walking and biking distance of Mt Albert train station.
- appealing to nearby large and diverse populations of people who might bike rather than drive to their educational institutions and big employers – Unitec, the Auckland Institute of Studies, MAGS, Marist College – thus taking more cars off the road at peak times.
So, with a Local Board in support, the local MP standing behind the right-turn removal, and a new mayor and council keen to support better public transport and more biking to school…
… it’s a no-brainer, right? A small trade-off, which on balance works out better for everyone! No wonder Auckland Council has been promoting the heck out of this project.
ACT IV – Alarum. Retreat. Excursions.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the construction scheduled for January 2017. After a series of consultation meetings with the residents’ association and the business association, AT discovered a new option, which:
- keeps the dedicated right turn lane, and
- effectively eliminates the bike lanes through the intersection – i.e. where they’re most valuable.
And this is now AT’s official preferred option. Why? Because… ‘adverse network effects’: a few drivers might rat-run or U-turn if you take away the right-turn, so the right turn must stay.
This is mind-boggling when you remember how few movements we’re talking about, and that removing the right turn actually improves things by up to 30% for every other driver! It’s hard to credit the intersection being designed around the potential behaviour of a minority of motorists, instead of the demonstrable needs of the majority of people.
In fact, if you want to talk ‘adverse network effects’, we’d make the case that removing the proposed bike lanes through the intersection would have far worse adverse effects on the cycling network. These lanes aren’t just for those who currently take the lane and brave the door-zone. They’re also for all the people who currently don’t ride, but wish they could – those the Urban Cycling Fund is aiming to get on bikes, a goal that AT is supposedly behind. And if they’re not installed this time, when will they be? (NB On the subject of safety and all-ages biking: we understand AT has commissioned a safety audit of the implications of not including continuous bike lanes – but has not received the report yet.)
There are also significant ‘adverse effects’ on foot traffic – shoppers, school-kids and train & bus commuters who currently spill off the footpaths near the train station at peak times – and the would-be footpath diners in a freshened up town centre footpaths. Not only does Option 4 narrow the footpath more than other options, but it puts pedestrians in closer proximity to passing traffic.
As we said – this is the tightest part of the town centre. And it’s exactly here that AT suddenly wants to keep the dreary layout they already have.
And there are adverse effects on retail, including one that we understand has come as an unwelcome surprise to some in the business association: AT’s preferred Option 4 removes more parking than all the other options!
It should also be noted that as far as we know, the residents’ and retailers’ intention was never to remove the bike lanes, but simply to raise the question of preserving the right turn. Their overriding vision, as with the Local Board and indeed with us, is of bringing this town centre to life again.
ACT V – All’s well that ends well?
The good news is the consultation is now open, and there is a decent option we recommend you support. Help us give AT the courage of their convictions that they were on track the first time. Enough backpedalling!
We support OPTION 3: a plan with continuous Copenhagen-style bike lanes on New North Road, and no right turn into Mt Albert Rd – because, on balance, this option provides the greatest benefit for everyone.
As Transportblog puts it in their coverage of the issue, bike lanes aside, ‘Given Option 3 also improves traffic at the intersection by 10-30% and other options for regional trips already exist via Richardson Rd/Owairaka Ave, it appears Option 3 is probably the best of what has been suggested.’
Send your feedback before Friday 16 December: here’s the link again!