Road Rage: a vision of another journey

I’ve just come back from a visit to New Zealand’s most transport congested urban area – Auckland.   I avoided contact with Lime and other scooters; didn’t need to get on a bus, a train a bicycle or a taxi of any description. I stayed in a small and relatively unprepossessing hotel off that section of Queen Street between Customs Street and Victoria Street so I could walk everywhere – even up the hill to Ponsonby.  

You don’t need to know the development history of Auckland to see that Queen Street is actually the creek bed of the valley between the hillsides. The side streets at the bottom of the Street are flat because they are either on the old foreshore or reclaimed land. Further up the Street you have to walk up the side roads.   And if you stand in the middle of the road opposite the Civic Theatre and look towards Karangahape Road you’ll see the hill at the top of the creek. I don’t need to catch a bus because everything I want to see is in walking distance of where I am “living”.

The pavements during the day are constantly crowded and there is the incessant noise of traffic – some cars but endless buses (including big blue and green double-deckers) everywhere all the time. I see bicycle couriers but not too many individual bike riders – if they rode to work I’ve missed them.

Most of the people are wearing what my mother would have called “sensible shoes” flat or some form of sports shoe/sneaker ranging from designer expensive to $5. from Te Whare Whero. I see only one pair of skyscraper Louboutin-style black patent leather pumps on a young woman gingerly picking her way past the entrance to Britomart Station – she looks stupid. The pavements in Auckland, like many parts of Europe, are often cobbled or uneven. I’m not telling you that so they fix their surfaces – like Paris they are part of the town and in Paris women wear a lot flat shoes.

Thursday night just before 5pm I position myself at the entrance to Britomart. I’ve been part of a human tide moving with cosmopolitan speed towards the station entrance. It’s not like the days when I caught the train from South Auckland up to University; this is contemporary urban people movement. And the focus on moving individuals from personally driven vehicles to all forms of public transport, cycle-ways, walking, e-scooters is necessary, appropriate and generally succeeding because Auckland has one-third of New Zealand’s population, there is significant population within the traditional Auckland business district, a basic “motorway” system had been developed and there was the skeleton of a functioning rail system in place.

I caught the Intercity bus from Tauranga to Auckland – the first of a new series “Busted” for ARTbop on visits to galleries and events that I can get to on the bus (that’s if you don’t count the first part of getting from my house to the bus stop). But why am I telling you all of this in an article I’ve titled “Road Rage”?  

I live in an urban-fringe/rural area and a what used to be 17 minutes journey from house door to Downtown Tauranga. It’s still 17 minutes if you leave home at 5am or you’re coming back at 11.30pm at night. If you are driving up to Tauranga along SH2 from about 7.10am on a weekday morning or coming home shortly after 3.30pm it takes 30 – 40 minutes on an excellent day (or more if there is one of the increasingly frequent accidents). If there is a public holiday or a major event on in Tauranga during the weekend you can find the traffic tail lingering past the Black Sheep Corner at Whakamarama. That the traffic is worse in Auckland is a fatuous response to the contemporary Tauranga and Western Bay road user issues.

There’s been an inordinate amount of discussion about whose political “fault” it is and how we should have started the “TNL” – which I understand is the fragment of roadway from just before the Te Puna roundabout to Takitimu Drive.  There’s been inordinate discussion, usually following a serious accident, blaming us generally for being useless drivers or that we’re all pissed or drugged or diverted by technology.   I no longer care who’s to blame – I just want to focus on what we can do or “trial” to improve the traffic flow and road user safety on the section of roadway from Katikati-Omokoroa through to Downtown Tauranga.

For me the current issues of State Highway 2-Tauranga West Road are:

The diversity of traffic types/road users

The intermittent volumes of traffic

The lack of real public transport

The road’s actual width-size and construction, including the presence of the narrow “two lane” bridges.

The speed limit

The continued existence of “passing lanes”

The dangerousness of turning right across the roadway at many times of the day

The most important reality that has to be accepted is that much of rural and urban fringe New Zealand is not Auckland or Wellington or Christchurch or Amsterdam or London and the solutions which so neatly fit those urban concentrations need some commonsense modifications.  And, it doesn’t mean waiting till we have our individual, alternative energy, driverless transport units promoted by a jandal-clad, tee-shirt wearing under 18-year-old from Eketahuna.

1.    The diversity of traffic types/road users: We’re told that road traffic to the Port of Tauranga uses SH29 or the single railway line not SH2 and the commercial vehicle users are only those relative to local activity and local uses. I do not accept that. Look at any line of SH2 traffic trying to access Tauranga and you’ll see a significant mix of vehicles and size of vehicle. While I haven’t seen as many logging trucks recently each trip meets huge multi-wheel freight units. It is the ongoing preponderance of heavy vehicle commercial road users that continues to fuel the call for the Katikati bypass.  

This is also a rural region with rural activity vehicles and most probably that’s going to continue if we want economic stability – there’s always going to be harvesters and tractors and crate laden trucks on the road.   (The Bay of Plenty is also a major tourism thoroughfare and again depending on the season there will be significant numbers of obvious tourist vehicles on the roadway).

One way to reduce this diversity is to encourage more commercial users to be on the road outside urban “rush” hours.   The simplest way to see if that can be achieved is to have a variable speed limit.   6am to 8pm an urban speed limit of 70kph and 8pm to 6am 90kph. Why not a 100kph in that time – the real physical condition of the road does not support 100kph as a speed limit.

2.      The intermittent volumes of traffic.   There are observable times when SH2 is crawling with traffic of all kinds.   Without the intervention of accidents there are two three hour congestion windows morning and late afternoon because there are general starting and finishing times for schools and businesses.   And this is when the existing roadway is at its most inadequate relative to road users.   So one of the first solutions is to reduce the number of vehicles using the roads at peak times – we aren’t doing that.  

3.  The lack of real public transport: for me this is the fundamental problem facing current road users – lack of alternatives. The Katikati-Omokoroa-Tauranga route needs a realistic system of mass people movement. The most obvious option at the moment is “the bus”.   On Wednesday morning I asked the driver of a local bus whether I could have caught a bus from Omokoroa to Tauranga in time to catch the 7.50am Intercity bus to Auckland. He gravely told me you couldn’t count on it because of the traffic. I already knew that.

Want us to ride our bicycles “around” Tauranga as distinct from “up to” Tauranga? It can’t be that hard to convert a low-loader to a towable trailer to allow bus users and their bikes to safely get up there. Where are the free all day bike parks in Downtown Tauranga? Where are the park and ride areas around Katikati, Omokoroa and Whakamarama? Where are the regular feeder services to the main bus routes?  Being able to take your bike up to Tauranga is entirely different from being told that you should “ride up to Tauranga” – that’s merely a cause for deserved ridicule.

We need to make a realistic attempt to reduce or remove the need to take a private vehicle from K-O-T. Until this happens the only foreseeable consequence of the ongoing development around Tauranga and Western Bays is more traffic congestion.   If anyone thinks not providing realistic public transport continues to feed the pressure for a four-lane motorway as the single ultimate solution to present and future transport needs – they’re…..

4.        SH2’s actual width and construction, including the presence of the narrow two lane bridges. Safely back in the Kaimais I find Western Bay Mayoral candidate Margaret Murray-Benge in conversation with media luminary Duncan Garner. Murray-Benge refers to the difference between a roadway through Karaka in Franklin, south of Auckland and SH2. She needn’t have gone that far – check out Moffat Road between SH2 and SH29 – it’s a better road than SH2 and has a 60kph speed limit.  

SH2 is essentially a 1950’s rural roadway. While more than a “lane” much of it relative to the size of modern private vehicles, rural vehicles and truck and trailer units is now far too narrow. At the time the roadway was constructed the volume of traffic was significantly less and the number of vehicles regular trying to join the roadway from side roads was miniscule.   SH2 has small sections where the road has a post and wire median – most of the roadway does not. Opposing traffic is separated only by paint. It’s full of patches, crumbling at the edges and much of it is without a sealed verge.   Being passed by a truck and trailer unit on the “two lane bridge” just south of Barrett Road is an experience to be avoided.

That SH2 is designated as a “state highway” is the ultimate red herring – it is no longer of a “state highway” standard.

5.    The speed limits on the K-O-T section of SH2 are therefore no longer appropriate. Most of SH2 is actually designated for 100kph reducing to 90kph from the end of the “passing lane” between Omokoroa and Whakamarama.   Despite the numerous Land Transport signs exhorting us to “slow down, speed kills” and “slow down high crash rate” actually lowering the speed limit hasn’t happened.

The reality of the passing lane between Omokoroa Road and Plummer’s Point Road is vehicles screaming to overtake and coming up to Plummer’s Point Road at significantly more than 100kph. A line of orange sticks was placed to the north of Plummer’s Point Road – that and the fondness of owners of dark and muted coloured vehicles not to drive with their lights on, has added to the difficulty in assessing the safety of turning.     It would make more sense to change the “passing” lane designation to “slow vehicle” lane designation and lower the speed limit.

Would you turn right across traffic on the Auckland motorway or across Takitimu Drive? No, everyone would think you’re bonkers. But that’s what’s expected of SH2 drivers every hour of every day.   The speed limit on SH2 from Katitkati to Omokoroa and to Tauranga needs to be lowered during the hours of 7am to 8pm to 70kph and during this time there needs to be two of those phased mobile traffic light units controlling the traffic on SH2 allowing vehicles to turn right out of Omokoroa Road.

Can’t do that? But years ago we sent men to the Moon and machinery to Mars – of course we can do it. But please, don’t try and build another Te Puna-style roundabout. If you’re going to put in a roundabout go and check out Paeroa and Te Puke and see how they’ve put in totally effective roundabouts there without digging up the road for years.

There are two levels of need for users of the current State Highway 2 Tauranga West Road.   The first is maximizing the use and safety of what is already there but ultimately accepting that the increased and increasing urbanisation of the Western Bay of Plenty from Tauranga City through to Katikati, the ongoing development of the Port of Tauranga, and the increased horticultural and other product through that port rather than Auckland, necessitate the building of a transport corridor capable of safely carrying the obvious volume of diverse users and potentially diverse modes of transport and I’m not talking about State Highway 29.  

Note: After I had written this article I heard on national radio that there is another roading strategy to be put out for consultation – so I changed its title from just plain Road Rage to Road Rage: a vision of another journey.  From the Ministry of Transport website: “Vision Zero”. … “the development of a more ambitious campaign to improve road safety … the strategy will also include consideration of broader harms to health such as road-related air and noise pollution and physical activity…” The “Vision Zero strategy will replace “Safer Journeys”.  Ironically the vision acknowledges  “our unforgiving road infrastructure” and the need to improve it….

The Vision is apparently the work of the National Road Safety Committee. The Safer Journeys website says the NRSC “includes” and then lists some of the usual suspects.  “The organisations that make up the NRSC work with many organisations (public and private sector) with an interest in road safety”.  And….yes they’re going to consult on their strategy.

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.


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