Editorial: City in for headaches on traffic front

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People working in the central business districts are accustomed to negotiating road cones and detour warnings. Photo / Chris Skelton
People working in the central business districts are accustomed to negotiating road cones and detour warnings. Photo / Chris Skelton

Every big and booming city in the world is partly a construction site.

People working in the central business districts are accustomed to negotiating road cones and detour warnings. Auckland has been no exception, but now the central city is entering years of greater upheaval than it has probably previously endured.

Preliminary work has started on the underground rail link that will require Albert St to be dug up as far as Wyndham St, and a tunnel drilled beneath it to Aotea Square and beyond.

Already traffic is beginning to feel the squeeze. Besides the rail link, work is getting under way on SkyCity's international convention centre and is due to start this year on a 52-storey tower of hotel rooms and apartments planned for the long-vacant site at the southeast corner of Albert and Victoria Streets.

The Downtown shopping centre is to be demolished and redeveloped and at the Herald's former location at Albert and Wyndham Sts, a 30-storey hotel and office tower is planned.

The city is going to be a navigational challenge for the next several years.

The rail link alone will be disruptive enough. The practical difficulties of digging an underground railway in the confines of a commercial valley have not featured in public debate over the merits of the link.

It is to be hoped traffic planners have given the challenges enough thought. Confidence on that score is not encouraged by the plan to reduce Queen St to one lane of traffic each way to accommodate exclusive bus lanes.

Already the congestion in Albert St is forcing some northbound evening commuters to loop into Queen St to get out of the city. No date has been set for the reduction of traffic lanes in Queen St and it would be wise to suspend that idea for a few years.

If the rail link fulfils expectations, it should reduce the number of buses terminating in the central city. In the interim, bus passengers also have to get used to changes, as stops around Britomart and Lower Queen St have to be moved.

Auckland Transport expects a boost to bus patronage and more use of cycleways as motorists face increasingly disrupted roads.

An AT spokesman told the Weekend Herald an extra 35,000 seats had been provided on public transport since April last year, and another 18,000 were planned over the next four months. The cycleway through Spaghetti Junction, which opened in December, is said to be carrying close to 900 cycle trips a day.

Cycling may take some cars off the roads in summer, just as walking to a bus stop is more attractive in fine weather. But the city's traffic managers need to be prepared for the number of cars that will come into the central area on wet or wintry days.

Congestion points need to be well signposted or controlled. It is going to be more important than ever that traffic lights are synchronised better than they appear to be in Auckland.

It could take three years or more for the rail link and all today's planned projects to be completed. The city can look forward to better transport services when that day arrives, but until then it is going to be trying.

- NZ Herald

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