Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”

We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.

Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.

Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.

But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.

Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.

If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.

In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.

The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.

If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.

This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.

In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.

If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.

We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this


to this


The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.

One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.

Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.

Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.

Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.

That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.

I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.

So yes let’s start focusing on people.

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  1. It’s great that the Herald ran Dr Hosking’s comment as it is a clear summary of the whole problem in Auckland; sixty years of loosening the belt and the results are obvious. If we build for cars and traffic, we get cars and traffic. More cars and traffic is congestion. I tweeted a link to this piece yesterday and it already has 60 retweets and favourites, people get this. The people are way ahead of many of the technocrats and certainly the government on what is needed now.

    The Herald also ran an excellent earlier piece of Dr Hosking’s on urban form:

  2. That’s a very smart piece. And I strongly agree with the concluding comment about freight.
    Another problem with how our transport system is being designed is that it is being designed by and for old people whose concept of good transportation is the limited access, high speed motorway, i.e, the 60s. Younger folk don’t think that way so when you build a facility with a 50 year life it only makes sense to build what will work in the future, not what worked (or didn’t) in the past. The whole architecture of the region needs to change. And that “induced demand” is simply making it easier for people to drive when previously they were finding other ways. So make those other ways better and they will have no need to drive.
    A couple of things that stick in my mind when thinking of congestion. San Francisco Bay Area spent $11 billion on roads, then had to admit defeat. They found they couldn’t build their way out of congestion. And by the way, look at what has happened since the Embarcadero freeway was torn down. Much like the photo above.
    Further, I believe that low density development causes so many short trips that it is impossible to build enough capacity to relieve congestion. It’s the land use, stupid.

  3. Having visited Cheonggyecheon (The daylighted creek in the pictures above), I can attest to the fact that it’s a lovely part of Seoul, and down at the creek bed you barely notice the traffic on the two streets running parallel. It’s also much, much cooler than the rest of the city, and there are fish, insects, and frogs making their homes down there.

  4. The reader comments are so pathetic. So many of them are pure talkback nonsense, showing just how uninformed they are. “YouKnowItsTheTruth” comments negatively on every PT story, and just can’t accept that living in Te Atatu and working in Albany is out of the ordinary, and that it was his choice to be car dependent.

    1. Yes – it is great when someone gives an example of a trip (or a series of trips) that about 0.000001% of Aucklanders would make and then says “see public transport is a waste of time”. To call that evidence of anything shows where the debate is at for many people in NZ. It is just blind ideology (PT = Communism = bad) without any critical thinking.

      Frankly, I think it is all part of the anti-intellectualism that is so rampant in NZ. The fact that someone who studies something every day, reads all the literature and is au fait with all the facts is irrelevant. But if someone is a “real person” and uses “common sense” (up there with “Kiwi lifestyle” as the most nebulous concept ever) they must know all the answers – regardless of their lack of knowledge on the subject.

      Academics/scientists are there for a reason and we should listen to them – especially when they come with actual evidence for their conclusions..

  5. Dr. Jamie Hosking’s article was entitled ” Why smaller roads free us from traffic”. i emphasise “smaller”. Back on 25 August Transport Blog published a guest post I had written about my experiences with public transport in and around Gothenburg. In that city and out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have had them but I didn’t see any.
    By contrast, in the thirty years I have lived in Campbells Bay the northern motorway has increased from two lanes each way to 5 lanes each way in part and the continued extension northward means that it is increasingly difficult for vehicle entry to the motorway from Constellation south at peak times. Cars from further out have preference aided and abetted by AT’s signalling system.
    And a 10 lane motorway is ” O so ugly!’ . I also worry about the ugliness of “Spaghetti 2” when I see those flyovers in the sky around Pt Chevalier and Waterview but most people just don’t seem to care.

  6. Hey heres an idea. Lets fund cheaper taxis ( mini vans ) from a congestion charge and then people can have the benefit of convenient and cheap PT, People can sell their cars and share vehicles with others. Instant reduction in congestion and virtually no capital input required. Once the taxi companies have worked out their systems for pickups then no excuses left for commuters to take their car and tie up valuable land for daytime storage of cars. All the carparks could be converted to apartments..

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