Brian Rudman: Dedicated followers of visions - but not for bus lanes it seems

Add a comment

Visions fly so thick and fast around Auckland City Council, it's amazing it has taken this long for the idea of dedicated bus lanes for Queen St to get an airing. Indeed, I thought they were already part of the grand plan to make Queen St a world-class, people-friendly destination.

But it seems not. It's only now, when the bureaucrats are dashing about trying to solve another problem, that bus lanes have become part of the picture. Such a vital part, it seems, that the boffins have persuaded the politicians to fast-track the approval process.

The trigger was the installation of extra pedestrian crossings across the golden mile. But the bureaucrats then realised that they'd scored an own goal and that such vehicular slow-points "would likely have a negative impact on traffic and notably vehicle travel times". In other words, buses would take an extra three to five minutes to get through town.

Slowing buses by five minutes a trip rather went against one of the key priorities of the upgrade which was to support passenger transport on Queen St.

So the boffins mulled it over for a while and came up with an antidote.

Their solution was to hijack two of Queen Street's four vehicle lanes for buses only. This, they calculated, would speed bus passage between the new crossings by five minutes, thus cancelling out the delays caused by the new crossings.

The CBD lobby group Heart of the City are rather put out by this sort of ad hoc decision-making and it's hard not to sympathise. Particularly when it coincides with revelations in yesterday's Herald of a $17.4 million blow-out in various CBD improvement projects because of "urban design" improvements.

Surely, in a well-ordered system, Queen St bus lanes should have been part of an integrated transport plan for the CBD, not a compensatory last-minute solution to a good idea that went a little awry. Now it's only a matter of time before critics emerge, complaining that this quick fix will cause unexpected problems further down the line.

Already a colleague, whose bus uses Queen St, is sceptical of any improvement in travel time unless buses can pull into dedicated parking bays to take on passengers and let following buses pass. It seems a reasonable point. Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney's criticism is on a broader scale, saying a "transport" solution that doesn't address issues such as diesel buses spewing pollution at shoppers "runs counter to our ambition for Queen St being a high-quality, urban pedestrian environment".

He wants diesel buses restricted to the Symonds St and Albert St ridges and Britomart transport centre and Queen St as the home of modern electric buses that link together the CBD and perhaps Karangahape Rd with a 10-minute free service. You have to admit that such a service would complement the $100 million-plus Auckland City is devoting to upgrading various parts of the CBD rather better than just providing a couple of last-minute bus lanes.

Mr Swney wants an enhanced version of the existing free City Circuit electric bus service which carries 1.25m passengers a year at a cost of $600,000, of which $180,000 comes from his organisation. For twice that cost, he proposes a six bus service running up and down Queen St and out to the Britomart redevelopment to the east and to the Viaduct Basin to the west. With another two buses, you could include Karangahape Rd and keep to a 10-minute frequency service.

He says it could easily be funded from the $10 million annual profit from council-owned CBD carparks.

With such a service, you'd not only have a chance of wooing shoppers back to Auckland's one-time premier shopping strip, you'd also be tempting car drivers to the pleasures - and convenience - of public transport. For many, one suspects, a first-time experience.

This is the sort of transport package that should have been an integral part of the Queen St upgrade.

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 24 Sep 2014 13:52:54 Processing Time: 2344ms