When I first started reading this op-ed in the heralds motoring section the other day I thought “here we go, this is sounding like someone wanting to push some form of petrolhead nirvana”

Paul Charman says stop your complaining and celebrate the people who get us through the Queen City’s roading maze

If quantum physics allowed it, somebody should journey back to 1840 and shoot Governor Hobson.

Ideally this would be after he organises the Treaty but before he names a town after the Earl of Auckland, and sites it between Waitemata and Manukau Harbours.

The location was great for the 200 or so “sailing-ships-are-us” brigade here 170 years ago but it’s a tough legacy for the 1.5 million people who live in Auckland today.

And while there is a bit of the petrolhead desire in the piece, it also makes one very important point.

Thanks to the Queen City’s hourglass shape and the inability of our forefathers to build roads to suit it, massive gaps exist in our modern roading network. There’s no motorway detour around the Central Motorway Junction south of the CBD, forcing all motorway traffic in the isthmus to pass through it. Big rigs travelling from port to port compete with old family Nissans headed across town.

True, the situation will be eased by State Highway 20 extensions through southern and western Auckland (the harbour bridge is a similar choke-point but nobody knows how we’ll fix that one).

Proper alternative routes were planned 50 years ago but stymied for decades by small-vision councils and screaming nimby landowners.

Well, boo hoo and get over it. It’s hard to drive in Auckland, tough.

But – thanks to those two beautiful harbours – Auckland is also a great place to live.

The reality is that Auckland’s geography simply isn’t that suited to an auto dependent transport system. The various waterways combined with our volcanic terrain have created a series of pinch points around the city. A lot of vehicles wanting to cross the urban area get funnelled into one of these points. It means that those roads need to have a lot of capacity to keep traffic flowing and that can very often be extremely expensive to provide. The worst example is probably the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing for which it is expected to cost $5 billion to provide additional road capacity.

However while those same geographic features affect also affect public transport infrastructure, one advantage PT has is that it can move people much more efficiently and so the same number of people can be moved within a much smaller space. For example a double tracked rail line – which could be accommodated in a corridor with a width of ~12m – could easily carry more than 9,000 people in each direction with just 5 minute frequencies. That’s more than an 8 lane motorway which would need at least 40m of width. The narrower corridor also means it is possible to put the corridor underground if we don’t want it impacting on the surface, or interacting with surface streets and we have seen this happen at New Lynn.

What’s more, our geography and existing land use has also created a number of natural corridors that can/could quite easily be served by PT.

Auckland development Corridors

This issue has also been one of our considerations when we designed the Congestion Free Network which allows for most of the city to be served with a really high quality PT network for the same price as what the government and AT are currently planning to spend on a few big roading upgrades.

CFN 2030A

I think it’s also worth noting the key point that Paul makes in the piece that there are a huge number of people behind the scenes that work to keep the whole transport system working. Without many of them it would be much much harder to get around.

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  1. Yes this is clearly the case. I’ve never understood how people can argue that Auckland’s geography doesn’t suit Transit systems; if it is hard to fit a narrow corridor through then it is many times harder to fit a much wider motorway one in. And, of course, we can see this in the result; the elaborate and severely compromised engineering that has swallowed all of Auckland’s gullies: Grafton, Newton, Freemans Bay, yet still isn’t sufficient, and all but strangled the thing it was meant to serve: Auckland City.

    1. Yeah a lot of older Aucklanders say to me that the geography is very unsuitable for PT because of the pinch points. They are really surprised when I say that pinch points are ideal for PT and terrible for large roads.

      The pro-roading and pro-motoring lobbies’ propaganda campaign over the last 60 years have really been incredibly effective. They have convinced the people of Auckland that up is down and black is white.

      I really think the internet has been instrumental in getting the contrary view out there as the mainstream media is mostly terrible on this issue with a few exceptions (Brian Rudman and Campbell Live spring to mind).

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