Safety of Dynamic Lanes trial under fire

Auckland Transport operators will keep a sharp eye on the Whangaparaoa Rd Dynamic Lanes from the control room in Takapuna but will that make it safe for local residents?

Questions about the safety of the Whangaparaoa Rd Dynamic Lane trial were fired at Auckland Transport representatives at a public meeting in Red Beach, and many were left unanswered.

Residents are concerned that the trial will worsen safety on the road, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers making right hand turns onto Whangaparaoa Rd.

More than 80 people attended the meeting on July 8 – the majority were residents of the section of the road where the trial will take place, or adjacent side streets.

The trial uses a system of gantries and LED lights to change the road configuration, creating an additional lane in the direction of main traffic flow in peak hours.

Auckland Transport (AT) ops planning and performance team leader Miguel Menezes told the meeting that although similar systems are used on Panmure Bridge, Auckland Harbour Bridge and around the world, what is proposed here, on a residential street, is “a step beyond”.

“Although there are widening projects proposed for this road, they are not expected to happen within the next 10 years,” Mr Menezes said. “This could be a solution in the meantime.” He said regardless of whether Penlink is built, a way of providing better traffic flow in rush hour would always be needed for Whangaparaoa Rd.

One reason that Whangaparaoa Rd, from Red Beach Rd to Hibiscus Coast Highway, is seen as a good option for the trial is that it has a median strip that can be turned into a lane.

While the AT team described the median as “wasted road space”, that is not how it is seen by pedestrians such as Mark Crosby and his children – for them it is a haven that gets them safely across the busy road each day.

The Crosby family lives on Whangaparaoa Rd. Their 13 and 15-year-olds catch the bus to Rosmini College – heading to the bus stop, they have to walk on a section of road with no footpath and on the way home they have to cross the road in rush hour.

Alexandra and Mark Crosby say the trial is making safety worse, as pedestrians will have to cross an additional lane of traffic with no median as a midway point.

“Why not put in a footpath on the southern side, and a safe crossing first?” Alexandra asked. “Safety should be the priority, not an afterthought. We care about our kids.”

“Arguably it could be safer,” Mr Menezes said. “However, AT takes safety very seriously and we will be closely monitoring the road.”

A total of 19 cameras, including some with analytic capacity, will be placed along the route. These feed information to a control centre in Takapuna.

“Where there are safety issues, we can react to address those,” Mr Menezes said.

Many residents who have to turn right onto Whangaparaoa Rd from side streets such as John Dee Crescent at peak times are anticipating an even longer wait, and potential accidents as people chance it through a small gap.

They said it is common to have to wait eight to 10 minutes at these intersections, until traffic is bumper to bumper and someone flashes their lights and lets them in.

While conceding that right hand turns could be more difficult when the lanes are operating, especially for “the less confident motorist”, Mr Menezes said that the aim is to improve traffic flow “but it will not be a speeding environment like a motorway”.

“The speed will be 50kph but we don’t expect cars to achieve that,” he said. “There should still be gaps for merging traffic.”

Another key concern was that in the morning peak the system would simply move the bottleneck further down the road, to where traffic turning left onto the highway will have to merge into a single lane.

Speaking to Hibiscus Matters after the public meeting, Mr Menezes said that the trial could actually speed up the process of widening that merging lane.

“If the trial is successful but shows up that bottleneck onto the highway, we can use that as evidence to justify widening the slip road,” he said.

He said that the team had already identified most of the concerns that were expressed at the meeting and will continue to investigate them further before the trial begins.

Also at the meeting were Hibiscus & Bays Local Board members Janet Fitzgerald, Julia Parfitt, Chris Bettany and Caitlin Watson as well as Councillors Wayne Walker and John Watson.

Mrs Parfitt said that the local board shares the community’s concerns, especially about safety. She said AT representatives will attend this week’s local board meeting, on July 19, to answer further questions and deal with unresolved issues.

Construction of the system, which will take place in stages, is to begin next month. The work will be done at off peak times but cannot be done at night as it involves cutting into the road surface, which is noisy. Construction is expected to take around five months, with the trial itself to start as early as possible next year.

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