That caught the eye of New Zealand’s Automobile Association (AA), which is calling on Auckland Transport (AT) to urgently address traffic management issues in the shopping district.
“There was a similar incident – not quite as bad – at Westfield just over a year ago,” AA Auckland issues spokesperson Martin Glynn told Checkpoint on Monday. “It’s really hard to tell whether this was a one-off or not.”
He said the traffic lights did not leave enough room for drivers to exit the carpark at a reasonable pace, and the city has been “trying to do several things at once” like install bus lanes in places people want to drive.
“Newmarket is notorious for being congested, and when you get these kinds of numbers which people hadn’t predicted. It’s really hard to deal with. I don’t think it’s a problem we can solve, but it does need a response when it does happen so we can clear the problem.
“When it’s obvious that traffic is building up to such as extent it’s at a complete standstill and is clearly not going to go anywhere, my view is Auckland Transport needs to step up. They’ve got a very sophisticated traffic operation centre where they could just about monitor every traffic light in the city. They should, at a minimum, be able to look to adjust it.”
Newmarket Business Association chief executive Mark Knoff-Thomas said the rest of the city was congested too.
“It was a bit of a perfect storm,” he said. “The motorway was gridlocked, the on-ramps and off-ramps were choked up. There was this ongoing domino effect, so yeah, we didn’t have the best day.”
He said the demand was enormous.
“Newmarket would’ve seen upwards of 70,000 people visit the precinct on Saturday alone,” Knoff-Thomas said. “Historically, from research we’ve done, 60 percent would be coming by car – so therein lies the problem.”
He encouraged shoppers to take advantage of the nearby bus lanes and train station.
With demand driven by Black Friday sales, and poor weather pushing shoppers indoors, Glynn said preventing the carpark chaos would have been difficult.
“There have been some complaints from some of the shoppers about the flow in the park itself and that sort of thing…
“I think Auckland Transport could have been a little bit more responsive to it. Little things like just changing the light phasing to clear the delays so that people weren’t waiting three hours, you know… it just doesn’t seem like there was any kind of planning to respond to this sort of incident because, yeah, it, it’s really difficult to predict when there are that many shoppers here at once.”
Both Westfield and AT could have done more, Glynn said. He hoped Saturday’s mishap would prompt a response.
Knoff-Thomas said the Newmarket Business Association was engaged with AT and Westfield to avoid repeat incidents.
“We’ll be working very closely to see what we can do to increase the flow of traffic; there are things Auckland Transport Operations Centre can do to clear the roads,” he said.
“Westfield themselves have got more staff on for the weekends to make sure they can handle any traffic management issues. We’ll be well prepared going forward.”
Glynn encouraged would-be shoppers to think twice before driving to a mall at peak times, with public transport not a “realistic alternative” for many.
“Auckland’s public transport network isn’t developed to such an extent here that it’s a realistic alternative for a lot of people.
“I suspect a lot of people who went to Westfield on the weekend might be looking at whether that is an option for them. But if you live close enough to the main line, great. But… no, we’re not there yet.”