As I explained in this previous post, the 1955 Master Transportation Plan for Auckland was a turning point in this city’s approach to transport policy. It pulled us away from the balanced approach of earlier transport plans and towards an exclusive focus on building roads. Of course as we know, it was this exclusive focus on building roads that dominated transport thinking in Auckland from 1955 right through until the last few years (and still does in some corners).
However, at the time the plan was published Auckland had extremely high levels of public transport use: around 100 million PT trips a year for a city with a population of under 400,000. This is clearly illustrated below:So it is something of an interesting mystery why the authors of the Master Transportation Plan decided to push so strongly for a road-focused transport plan – and also interesting to see how they justified such an approach.
The first thing I noticed reading through the plan that helps explain the issue above is a matter that we still see hugely around Auckland today: the panic over traffic congestion. Clever photographs are included in the plan to show how congested Auckland’s streets are (and how, it seems, the cause of the congestion is actually buses and trams): The “congestion panic” is outlined in the Plan as a major reason why it’s necessary to proceed with its recommendations as soon as possible:You see rather similar cries coming out of groups like the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development today. Or from NZTA for that matter.
Public transport was given some consideration – because of its ‘economy of road space’ – but was then largely written off as something of a dying breed. Of course PT patronage at the time had actually held steady for much of the 1950s – but soon after this plan was released (and the tram tracks were ripped up) we certainly did see a precipitous fall in patronage levels. Here’s what’s said about PT in the Plan:This is another tactic that we see used today quite a lot: “oh we should try to get more people on public transport but really hardly anyone uses it so let’s focus on the important stuff of building roads”.
Another major justification for the roads-focus of the Plan is once again something that we hear trotted out over and over again by opponents to better public transport in Auckland – that we’re too low density for PT to work.Paul Mees (amongst others) has criticised the data used to form this assumption (particularly as the book the figures are sourced from actually used the numbers to highlight the difficulties of calculating density based on arbitrary boundaries).
To round things off, the Plan produced photos of a number of free-flowing freeways in the USA – to contrast with the earlier pictures of highly congested streets in Auckland:Now of course some level of road development in Auckland was essential and we have benefitted significantly from aspects of the motorway system Auckland developed. Personally I think we would have been smarter to persist with the balanced approach suggested in earlier transport plans – with the motorway system focusing on trips around the city centre (for example, by building the Western Ring Route rather than spaghetti junction) while leaving an upgraded rail system to focus on the inner areas. Thereby avoiding the need for huge urban destruction to build spaghetti junction and avoiding the need to give over so much of our inner city to the car.
Of course 55 years later it’s easy to pontificate ‘what might have been’ outcomes for Auckland – if this plan had been different – and for all we know things could have turned out very differently regardless of the plan. But the fact that there are so many similarities between much of the wording in the 1955 Master Transportation Plan and what we hear today from roading advocates shows, I think, that the plan has left a lasting impact. Unfortunately for Auckland, it wasn’t a particularly balanced one and transport continues to be one of the city’s biggest problems.