Changes made to Dynamic Lanes

With construction due to begin this month for the trial of Dynamic Lanes on Whangaparaoa Road, Auckland Transport has made some last minute changes to address some of the community’s concerns.

The project, which is a first in a residential area, uses gantries and LED lights to change the road configuration, turning the flush median into an additional lane in the direction of main traffic flow at peak times.

People living along the affected stretch of road, from Red Beach Rd to Hibiscus Coast Highway, as well as those who access it from side roads, pedestrians and cyclists, raised a number of safety issues about the proposal.

In response, Auckland Transport (AT) has said that, for the first three months of the trial, the lanes will operate only in the afternoon peak, from 4pm–6pm.

AT’s network management and safety group manager, Randhir Karma, says that the afternoon peak is when the system will operate at its most efficient and road users will see the most obvious improvement in travel time.

“The purpose of this trial is to determine whether the system will work as expected,” he says. “The Dynamic Lanes will be closely monitored and changes can and will be made if needed.”

He says if no critical issues emerge in the first three months, AT will look at testing the system during the morning peak (6.30am–9am). If a noticeable improvement is detected AT will continue to operate dynamic lanes during the morning peak for the remainder of the trial. However, he says AT reserves the right to make changes to the operating times of the Dynamic Lanes.

AT is also investigating a potential solution to the issue of traffic needing to merge into a single lane in order to turn left from the peninsula onto the highway.

The option being considered is allowing left turns from the kerbside west bound through lane to Silverdale at the Hibiscus Coast Highway intersection. This would create two left turn lanes onto the highway.

“Allowing left turns from the through lane would be a novel solution but if our investigation shows it can be done safely, we’ll consider it,” Mr Karma says.

He says that widening the left turn slip lane at the intersection was investigated during the design phase of this project but it was found that an extra lane could not be provided without significant road widening work.

Mr Karma also acknowledges that pedestrians crossing Whangaparaoa Rd could experience difficulty due to the consistent stream of traffic. “As part of the trial we encourage pedestrians to make their way to either the Red Beach Rd or Hibiscus Coast Highway intersections to cross. While there is not a footpath for the entire section, there is a berm which pedestrians can use.”

He says the installation of new pedestrian facilities is not part of the trial, but AT will consider it as a separate project should the trial prove successful.

Pedestrians and cyclists who use the road at peak times say that because AT’s studies show they are few in number, they have been ignored.

They say that the reason for the low numbers is because the road is dangerous, and they fear it will become more so when the Dynamic Lanes are operating.

David Squirrel cycles along Whangaparaoa Rd regularly, but not in the rush hour as he says “one would be mad to try and do so”.

He currently drives to and from the park and ride and would prefer to cycle. He says Dynamic Lanes will make safety worse. “Those lanes are already very narrow, but at least the median strip allows a car to overtake a cyclist,” Mr Squirrel says. “With the Dynamic Lanes, the car won’t have space to overtake, so you’d be a very unpopular cyclist, holding up traffic. Eventually drivers get impatient and will risk a crash to get past.”

Mr Squirrel says it makes sense to optimize the road space but that it is a “car-centric” project. “AT said at the end of the trial they will consider solutions for other road users, which is short sighted and dangerous,” he says. “Providing a footpath where there is currently only a berm, and a cycle path would cost more, but then the idea could be used as a proper solution for congested areas of Auckland,” he says.

He is a member of Bike Auckland, which has also raised concerns about the project with AT. They obtained a copy of a Concept Design Road Safety Audit, written by Opus for AT last September.

The report highlights several safety issues and made recommendations, some of which were not taken up by AT. They include a 30kph speed limit at the start of the trial – AT said because of likely driver non-compliance, the speed would be 50kph. The report also noted that the flush median should be completely removed, along with right-turn bays and AT agreed to do so.

“AT acknowledges that the use of Dynamic Lanes on Whangaparaoa Road may be an inconvenience or force changes in travel behaviour for some members of the public,” Mr Karma says. “However, we are confident that Dynamic Lanes can prove to be an efficient, cost effective and relatively quick means of addressing congestion. The system is highly adaptive, allowing us to fine tune measures to meet the specific characteristics of the road. Even to the point of potentially adapting the system to one day serve as a special vehicle lane which would further encourage public transport use and car-pooling.”

Construction related activity will begin this month, but the more noticeable construction work will occur September/October. Further notices will be provided to residents prior to the start of physical works.
The system will be ready to go by December this year and the trial itself will commence in the first quarter of 2018.

The Opus safety report is linked here.


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