‘Dynamic lanes’ latest solution for Whangaparaoa Road gridlock

‘Dynamic lanes’ latest solution for Whangaparaoa Road gridlock

Peak hour traffic clogs Whangaparaoa Rd, particularly at the Red Beach intersection. Auckland Transport is to trial a Dynamic Lane Control system, utilising LED lighting, in an attempt to release this gridlock.
A system that uses LED lights to improve the flow of traffic at peak times is to be trialled on Whangaparaoa Road.

A date is not yet confirmed for the start of the trial, but Auckland Transport (AT) says it will be in the second half of this year – possibly as early as next month.

The idea is to use a lighting system and signs to create more space, via a central lane, for traffic heading in the direction of the peak flow. LED lights show road markings that can change configuration quickly and safely, creating an extra lane during peak hour traffic. Traffic control gantries display which lanes motorists are to use.

A report by staff from AT’s operational planning and performance travel demand unit says that there is a drive from the NZ Transport Agency and AT boards to employ innovative travel demand solutions to make better use of existing road space, accommodate peak period movement and reduce the need to widen roads and build new roads at significant cost.

“The Dynamic Lane concept is one such initiative that is currently being explored to use the existing network more efficiently for the movement of people and goods,” the report says. There are existing similar arrangements currently in operation in Auckland including Panmure Bridge and Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The portion of Whangaparaoa Road between Red Beach Road and Hibiscus Coast Highway was chosen for the trial as it has two lanes with a wide central flush median equivalent to a third lane. In addition, it has pronounced traffic movements during weekday peak periods.

Figures contained in AT’s travel demand unit’s report show that 80 percent of vehicles on this stretch of road are travelling west (off the peninsula) during the morning peak and 65 percent are travelling east in the evening peak.

AT also says that the installation of dynamic lane controls on this section would require relatively low use of surrounding land, which will minimise disruption to residents.

Local board chair Julia Parfitt says the board has not discussed the matter as yet, but she has some concerns about the way that the trial may affect things such as waiting bays for pedestrians and parking. She is also worried about people living on Whangaparaoa Road. “I’ve seen people almost reduced to tears when we’ve consulted on Whangaparaoa Road issues, because it’s so hard to get out of their properties at peak times,” Mrs Parfitt says. “As the reason for this trial is to speed up the traffic flow, it will surely make it worse for them.”

She says the board needs more information. “I’m not personally against a trial, but we need to be more satisfied about all the likely impacts.”

The issue of pedestrians crossing the road is also raised in the AT staff’s report – other potential risks it notes are: right turns from side roads and the main road, and head-on collisions in the middle lane.

It also notes potential issues at the highway intersection. “The Hibiscus Coast Highway intersection is restricted by the left-turn slip lane and other alignment issues, limiting the exit capacity in the westbound direction to one lane,” the report says. “A compromise has been allowed, for the morning peak capacity improvements will be minimal.
However the evening peak will have a significant capacity increase in the eastbound direction. If the trial is found to be successful, investment is recommended to increase the Hibiscus Coast Highway intersection capacity to accommodate the additional vehicle volume.”

Dynamic lanes are described by AT as a cost effective solution compared to road widening (although as yet it has not provided indicative costs for the trial or implementation); the widening of this part of Whangaparaoa Road, estimated to cost between $20–$30 million, is not currently funded in Auckland Transport’s budget.

The widening of Whangaparaoa Road from Red Beach Road to the highway was first mooted in 2011. At the time, AT said widening this section of road to four lanes was a priority because Penlink was on hold and Whangaparaoa Road was nearing capacity, particularly at peak times.

Cr John Watson says if the dynamic lane trial is successful it will provide some immediate relief to this busy section of road. “It’s important to grasp whatever improvements we can for the Hibiscus Coast, including the park and ride, the ferry service and now Whangaparaoa Road,” Cr Watson says. “This is a pragmatic response while waiting for bigger projects like Penlink to materialise. Doing nothing is not an option.”

AT has been investigating dynamic lanes on road corridors since 2014 and a driver behaviour study was conducted with the University of Waikato early this year.

AT’s transport services general manager, Andrew Allen, says the investigation and design of an appropriate system to be tested on Whangaparaoa Road are in the final stages. “Rest assured that the safety and convenience of the local community will be a key priority for this trial and affected members of the public will be engaged with by AT prior to its commencement,” Mr Allen says.

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