I’ve blogged on many occasions over the past couple of years about how important the Auckland Spatial Plan will be to Auckland’s future. Yesterday the government released its initial thinking on the Spatial Plan and what it thinks Auckland Council should focus on when putting it together. The full set of documents is available to read here – and I have only had the opportunity to read through the transport document so far.
But that is enough to have me extremely concerned.
The document is entitled “Transport trends in Auckland”, and generally seeks to give a bit of a background to the Auckland transport “situation” and then suggest areas that should be prioritised for investment based on the needs of the situation. Overall, it reinforces my worry that central government is particularly antagonistic to the former Auckland Regional Council’s thinking on land-use and transport matters, and doesn’t have much belief in the balanced direction of the Regional Land Transport Strategy.
It starts by outlining the government’s interests in the Auckland transport situation: These interests are fair enough at a broad level. Of course we want our transport policy to support economic growth and productivity. Of course we want to try to have central and local government reach common positions on future land use and transport matters. I hope the second one doesn’t actually translate to “we want Auckland to do what it’s told”. I have my suspicions.
After hammering the RLTS for wanting to spend far too much money on public transport, the paper goes on to justify why we apparently need many more roads: supposedly never-ending traffic increases: So public transport use declines and private transport use increases dramatically when you build yourself a motorway network while spending nothing on improving PT. What news is that? The more worrying thing is using very out of date data (what were petrol prices back in 2006?) to justify how Auckland should develop over the next 20-30 years. It seems a very backward way of approaching the matter.
When looking forward, once again there’s a mismatch between where the region sees things going (a far greater use of public transport) and where NZTA see things going (a much more modest use of PT). Given recent board papers by NZTA seeking to pave most of Auckland in motorways, I do wonder whether they have a vested interest in over-estimating future traffic growth:
A further graph in the document, that is quite interesting, shows the level of investment in Auckland transport infrastructure by government over the past 10 years. You can see for state highways, the amount of money has skyrocketed: The most obvious thing to read into the graph above is how enormously screwed over Auckland was 10 years ago – getting almost no transport investment dollars. With Auckland experiencing around 60% of the country’s population growth over the next 30 years it’s likely that significant investment will need to continue – the question is mainly what to invest in and how cost-effective the investments we make are.
The government’s current position on all these matters is laid out below. It’s worth taking the time to read this all very carefully as I can see some enormous battles brewing between Auckland Council and Central Government over the spatial plan in the next few months:
To be fair, some of this makes sense. We do need to make better use of our existing transport resource – to use it more efficiently and effectively. For arterial roads this means getting greater numbers of people through them – in my opinion through more bus lanes, in the government’s opinion through more higher-occupancy vehicle lanes. However, I worry about other aspects, like the desire to spread development throughout Auckland rather than concentrating it at various nodal points (I discussed this matter in great detail a couple of weeks back). I also worry about playing off the CBD Rail Tunnel against another Harbour Crossing – it would seem the expectation here is that either would come after the Puhoi-Wellsford road is completed.
But most of all, I just worry about the whole backward thinking nature of the entire approach in this document. Where’s the analysis of how the world is changing in the next 20-30 years? Where’s the analysis of how higher fuel prices may change transport patterns? Where’s the analysis of whether concentrated or dispersed employment makes for a more efficient transport system? It seems, overall, to be a document based on 1960s transport thinking – predict and provide. Assume that car traffic is always going to grow (even though it’s currently not growing) and then work out where all the new and widened roads are going to go. I’m not aware of any other comparable city to Auckland undertaking this approach to transport policy internationally. Most are investing heavily in expanding their public transport networks, most are working out ways to reduce the dependency of their transport system on oil – which is becoming increasingly expensive. Most want to shape their cities in ways that are friendlier to people, not necessarily cars.
Why must we be stuck in the 1960s?