Unsung heroes keep Auckland on the move

By Paul Charman

Paul Charman says stop your complaining and celebrate the people who get us through the Queen City's roading maze

Rush hour in downtown Auckland puts pressure on key routes, but it could be a lot worse. Picture / Brett Phibbs
Rush hour in downtown Auckland puts pressure on key routes, but it could be a lot worse. Picture / Brett Phibbs

If quantum physics allowed it, somebody should journey back to 1840 and shoot Governor Hobson.

Ideally this would be after he organises the Treaty but before he names a town after the Earl of Auckland, and sites it between Waitemata and Manukau Harbours.

The location was great for the 200 or so "sailing-ships-are-us" brigade here 170 years ago but it's a tough legacy for the 1.5 million people who live in Auckland today.

Thanks to the Queen City's hourglass shape and the inability of our forefathers to build roads to suit it, massive gaps exist in our modern roading network. There's no motorway detour around the Central Motorway Junction south of the CBD, forcing all motorway traffic in the isthmus to pass through it. Big rigs travelling from port to port compete with old family Nissans headed across town.

True, the situation will be eased by State Highway 20 extensions through southern and western Auckland (the harbour bridge is a similar choke-point but nobody knows how we'll fix that one).

Proper alternative routes were planned 50 years ago but stymied for decades by small-vision councils and screaming nimby landowners.

Well, boo hoo and get over it. It's hard to drive in Auckland, tough.

But - thanks to those two beautiful harbours - Auckland is also a great place to live.

So forget your driving discontent and celebrate the people who get us across the city safely and as quickly as possible every day.

For despite the difficult lay of the land and the wasted opportunities of yesteryear, without the unseen and unthanked efforts of some guardian angels, commuting in Auckland would be much worse.

Angels 1 - the boffins

Know about the Joint Transport Operations Centre at Smales Farm? That's okay, not a lot of people do. This place has a video wall 13.5m long and 2m high, connected to 500 cameras around the city. It resembles a cross between Tracy Island and Dr Evil's bunker - but the place is vital to keep our country's most complicated traffic system on the move. Camera views change every four to five seconds.

The control room at the Joint Transport Operations Centre at Smales Farm on Auckland's North Shore. Picture / Ted Baghurst
The control room at the Joint Transport Operations Centre at Smales Farm on Auckland's North Shore. Picture / Ted Baghurst

The team here have the city covered, and can help to sort out traffic problems fast. They can take over traffic lights, alter motorway and harbour bridge signs, adjust routes and assist the passage of emergency services. The Radio Network have two reporters here at peak times - phone in a problem on *555 and they can check it out immediately and advise the police if necessary. There are similar facilities in the CBD, one of them operated by a team dedicated to ironing out any traffic issues associated with big events.

Angels 2 - the engineers

"Traffic optimisation" may not sound sexy to you, but it gets you to work faster, saves you gas money and the country millions a year. Traffic optimisers control traffic flows. Last year better co-ordination of traffic lights in Symonds St shaved two minutes off the journey of 20,000 vehicles a day. This amounts to 667 hours (1150 litres less fuel) saved between Anzac Ave and Grafton Bridge - despite complaints from some drivers about loss of road space to bus lanes.

Commuters heading north to work along Symonds St saved a modest average of one minute and 12 seconds each morning, but when driving home in the opposite direction they cut seven minutes and 42 seconds off their trips.

Angels 3 - the planners

We can thank the planners for designing Auckland's "Think Big" projects, like the long-awaited completion of the Western Ring Route through Waterview and the upgrades to SH16.

This will deliver 48km of continuous motorway. It will provide an alternative major route to SH1 between Manukau and Albany via SH20, SH16 and SH18. It will bypass Auckland's CBD and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore districts. That all adds up to less severe congestion and improved journey times.

But Auckland's transport planners can think small, too. Among the many improvements, they encourage Aucklanders to bus, cycle and walk. This is a very hard concept for petrol heads to grasp, but if more Aucklanders left their cars in the garage for the day, we'd all enjoy clearer roads. A case in point: the Northern Busway, which opened five years ago, has removed 8000 cars from the bridge each morning.

Angels 4 - bus drivers

Every Auckland bus driver takes up to 50 cars off the road every run. And contrary to what you see in the media, most of them do an excellent job. In my experience busing is a hugely efficient and cost-effective way to get around and avoid parking fees. If you have a timetable inquiry you just call Auckland Transport.

The drivers, in my experience, make it a pleasant ride. Every day mine deal with cars cutting them off, not letting them into bus stops, or preventing them from rejoining the traffic. Auckland bus drivers have steely nerves and endless patience. Lost souls are always holding them up, asking for route advice, or to change large bank notes. There are exceptions, and "bad days", but most remain cheery and patient.

Angels 5 - the police

Where would we be without them? Every game needs a ref and the standard of play on Auckland roads is rough.

Aucklanders' aggression and poor road manners can tip over into driving that frightens other road users, or breaks the law. We need the coppers to keep things sane.

They censure the careless, infirm, drunk, drugged and speeding. They work long hours in all weathers and if they issue any one of us with a ticket, I say great. Better to learn a lesson than live with the regret of causing a nasty crash.

My position on Auckland traffic is summed up in the immortal words of John Clarke: "We don't know how lucky we are mate."

- NZ Herald

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