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The past week has been turbulent. There were protests, local business leaders have spoken out, politicians set ultimatums, and online arguments. Our inbox is full of suggestions and gripes. As Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
The trial restricting State Highway 1 and Hill Street traffic into Elizabeth Street hasn’t just divided the community physically but has also exposed divisions in other areas.
MILLSTREAM vs. TORRENT
The trial is now into its second week and we have been contacted by many locals who have noticed significant changes in traffic patterns. Millstream Place residents have noticed a lot of Hill Street residents entering Elizabeth Street via Millstream Place. On the other hand, Walton Avenue, Palmer Street, Church Hill and Mill Lane users have noticed an increase in traffic along Whitaker Road. Waiting times and queues at these intersections have increased markedly.
Intersections not controlled by traffic lights rely on gaps in flow. What we are now seeing is more traffic using the left-hand slipway turn into Whitaker Road which, combined with right-turning traffic, forms a steady flow that makes it more difficult for traffic on adjoining roads to enter the flow.
At Millstream Place, what we have observed is the effect of right-turning traffic queuing to enter Millstream Place and then wanting to turn left onto Sandspit Road so to enter the sliplane into Elizabeth Street. That right-turning traffic has to give way to Sandspit and Matakana Road traffic, which is often a steady stream. The queue that forms blocks traffic heading towards Matakana and wanting to turn right into Sandspit Road.
So, the theory that restricting turning options will encourage more efficient flow may not necessarily hold water at the Hill Street intersection.
MAJORITY vs. MINORITY
So far, the NZTA and Auckland Transport have trialed turn restrictions into Hill and Elizabeth Streets. Of the 56 turning combinations at the intersection, they have stopped four, which equates to between 5-10 percent of the 37,000 daily traffic.
One thing might benefit the majority in a minor way but affect a minority in a major way. Many who use Matakana and Sandspit Roads to get into town (4,500 daily traffic) and other roads (15,500) tell us that it is easier to use the intersection. Business owners on Elizabeth Street and beyond have already noticed a considerable drop in business.
While politics might rely on majority rule, the law protects everyone, including minorities. The Resource Management Act, for instance, sets the bar at a level where the adverse effects must be “less than minor” on everyone and everything.
If the problem is an overwhelming growth in one stream of traffic, the solution shouldn’t be to restrict minor streams of traffic. Civilized societies just don’t work that way. Alternatives need to be practical and not leave any party worse off.
THROUGH TRAFFIC vs. LOCAL TRAFFIC
The nature of traffic flows at the Hill Street intersection has changed dramatically over the years. Once the northern gateway to a service town, it now also serves as a major thoroughfare between a metropolis and its hinterland. Lifestyle blocks, lifestyle villages, coastal retreats, cottage industries, motorhomers, and urban sprawl have all contributed to increased traffic volumes on a road network that hasn’t adapted quick enough.
Hill Street deals with two patterns of traffic – through traffic and local traffic. Even after other roading projects, that pattern will remain.
We have already seen what happens when traffic is obstructed into the middle of town. We have already seen what happens to visitor numbers when the NZTA warns motorists of congestion at Warkworth. They stay away.
If the Tollway is completed before Hill Street is fixed, what will that do to tourist numbers? Warkworth won’t be on the main road, like Tirau, Greytown or Waiouru. Not only will Warkworth be on a side road, but it will still have a busy Hill St intersection between it and the main road.
Warkworth needs to be a destination. It needs to be easy to get to. It needs to maintain its quaintness.
Hill Street will return to being a gateway to a fast-growing service town. To grow, there will be a lot of heavy vehicles using Hill Street between the Woodcocks industrial estate and construction sites. A lot of people will commute.
Any reconfiguration of the intersection must cater for heavy vehicles passing through and distribute local traffic visiting the shops, schools, parks, the beach, and other local destinations.
Whatever happens at Hill Street determines the future direction of the town.
NZTA vs. AT
The NZTA is primarily focussed on state highway through traffic whereas Auckland Transport is responsible for local roads. The turning restrictions at the intersection is NZTA defending their turf. The rarely-used footpath along the state highway north of the intersection shows how out-of-touch NZTA is. Auckland Transport hasn’t advocated for Warkworth locals, focussing instead on the Matakana Link.
Like us, Councillor Greg Sayers has had enough of the silliness between NZTA and AT. Talking about the trials, he said,
“This emphasises the need for Hill Street to have a proper permanent solution. I have asked, and expect, Auckland Transport to get solutions to the Hill Street problem to me, and thus to the public, within the next four weeks. No excuses.”
We’ll keep you posted on Auckland Transport’s response.
CONVERTED vs. CYNICS
We know that we are getting somewhere. We have done the research and we want to move beyond delivering ominous news and instead focus on a solution.
We know that politicians and officials have got the message. With our petition, it will drive home how important fixing Hill Street is.
On Wednesday 30 November, we will be launching our petition at the Bridgehouse. We will also be revealing our different billboards that will be erected the following day.
Starting at 5:30 at the bar, we will mingle, show what we have been up to, what progress we have made, and what to look forward to. Our engineers will give a brief presentation about the problems and what can be done.
Pencil in that date and time. We’ll be circulating flyers to shopowners during the week to promote the meeting.
Thank you for subscribing. You’ve heard our research, our analysis, and our opinions. We appreciate that there is a lot to absorb. We've even heard our research being discussed at pubs and restaurants, which is encouraging.
We reckon that, with the festive season around the corner, it’s best that our campaign enters a new phase: action.
Please contact us if you would like to donate, volunteer, or have any suggestions.