You may have heard of the decision to proceed with an $47 million upgrade of Dominion Road. What may not be obvious – especially when reading about how positively various groups reacted – is that this project is actually a significant cutback from an earlier proposal, which was costed at approximately $100 million.
Auckland Transport’s Board decided that due to the high costs (the extra $53 million) involved in relocating the kerbs and underground services, they will now leave widening of most of the corridor’s bus lanes to an unspecified future time.
This is a major disappointment for cycling, and also a concern for public transport, as buses and cyclists will be forced to coexist in a very tight corridor of 3m wide bus lanes – each hindering the other. Buses will also struggle more to get through congestion spots, around cars turning in and out of driveways etc…
You may remember that Cycle Action has in the past fought hard for dedicated cycle facilities – not just shared bus lanes – on Dominion Road. However, the necessary removal of parking was the lightning rod for a lot of fears about the project, especially by local shopkeers who still believe that most of their customers will drive from far away to park outside their shop, not seeing that a cycle friendly city actually benefits local shops (why drive far away to a big shop when you can cycle to your local cafe or dairy?).
Yet despite losing the fight for dedicated cycle lanes, we thought that at the very least, the 4.5m wide bus lanes would create a significant improvement for cyclists on Dominion Road.
Cycle Action was actively lobbying against the cutback proposal in recent weeks, working together with NZ Bus who shared our concern at moving this part of the upgrade to “maybe sometime in the future”. CAA discussed with the Dominion Road project team, met with NZ Bus, and wrote a position paper to Auckland Transport (some short excerpts below):
[… Research presented to a NZ transport conference has shown that the existing cycle crash record on the narrow Dominion Road bus lanes is twice that which would be expected, based on NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual – which the researchers consider to be likely due to them being the narrowest bus lanes in the study. ..]
[… In urban traffic, buses will often catch up with cyclists riding ahead of them – particularly if the cyclist is riding more casually, or has to negotiate an uphill section. To reduce delays in their often very tight schedules, bus drivers will often seek out any possible opportunity to overtake a cyclist.
In a narrow lane, this leads to unsafe manoeuvres, where cyclists are squeezed against the kerb, or against cars in the adjacent general traffic lane. This particularly affects less confident cyclists who – intimidated by the presence of buses behind them – ride along the edge of the lane, even though it would be safer to claim the lane as long as necessary for their safety. …]
[… The knowledge that their very presence in a narrow bus lane frustrates bus drivers (and their passengers) when they cannot be overtaken is an additional psychological pressure for a cyclist on top of any safety fears. This leads to many people simply choosing not to ride bicycles – not only out of fear for their safety but also out fear of being seen as disruptive and uncaring.
This of course is an outcome that is totally undesirable for Auckland, and will also perpetuate stereotypes about cyclists – as only those few willing to boldly “stand their ground” will continue to cycle on the route, leading to false perceptions about the many Aucklanders who are interested in cycling more. …]
Our hope that this joint effort of the two affected groups, bus companies and cyclists, would make Auckland Transport’s Board reconsider has not come true – except for a short fully new section between SH20 and Mt Albert Road, the bus lanes will stay narrow.
Are there any silver linings to this depressing decision?
Sort of. The proposal retains funding (of approximately $1.5 million) for two alternative routes (map) for cyclists, which will run west and east of Dominion Road through the residential areas (on road mostly, with new traffic calming features, and new cycle-friendly traffic signals to cross Balmoral Road). Cycle Action will fight hard for these routes to be as good as they can be – though from Day 1 we had (and still have) concerns that they will not be suitable for faster commuter cyclists, or people visiting Dominion Road itself. They will still be a great benefit for local cyclists – it’s just that they don’t replace what has been lost in the design.
Another positive out of this process is that we have now forged much closer links with NZ Bus, including with their head office people, who are keen to work more with CAA on issues like driver behaviour and cyclist interaction. If we can’t find the space for cyclists on Dominon Road for another decade or two, we will have to work on sharing as best as we can.