The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was been a significant piece of work, mainly because it finally got the former government and council talking to each other, not over each other, about transport. It resulted in some important outcomes, such as for the first time finally acknowledging: that we can’t build our way out of congestion, that the motorway network is basically complete with only limited scope for more widening, and that major expansion of our Strategic Transit Network is needed.
ATAP is not without some major flaws though. It was overly focused on congestion and very heavily relied on ‘predict and provide’ led transport modelling, something that has traditionally not done well, especially in the face of transformative change that projects like Britomart, rail electrification and the Northern Busway can deliver. The modelling didn’t even last a year before it had to be updated with new population growth figures. That the original version of ATAP came up with a plan that was remotely sensible was more of a reflection of how dire the current situation is.
With a new government now in place, Transport Minister Phil Tywford has asked for a review of ATAP to align better with their priorities around public transport, and especially their goals of building light rail. The newly revised ATAP then going to form a part of the Government Policy Statement for 2018-21. Given the tight timeframes involved, it will be interesting to see just how far officials are willing to change ATAP. While some quick changes are most likely. We would like to see a vision for Auckland play a bigger role in determining what gets built.
Time to Decide and Provide
As mentioned, the existing ‘predict and provide’ approach to transport planning has not served us well and doesn’t cope well with changing behaviour, especially with projects that deliver transformative change. Many cities these days are taking a different approach. They first decide on a vision for what kind of city they want and then prioritise and build projects that go towards achieving that.
Last year, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new transport strategy that is fantastic in its simplicity whilst being very ambitious. It is summarised by this vision.
This is backed up by the following key themes.
1. Healthy Streets and healthy people
Creating streets and street networks that encourage walking, cycling and public transport use will reduce car dependency and the health problems it creates.
2. A good public transport experience
Public transport is the most efficient way for people to travel over distances that are too long to walk or cycle, and a shift from private car to public transport could dramatically reduce the number of vehicles on London’s streets.
3. New homes and jobs
More people than ever want to live and work in London. Planning the city around walking, cycling and public transport use will unlock growth in new areas and ensure that London grows in a way that benefits everyone.
The city of Vancouver, as opposed to the region, set a goal of having 50% “sustainable mode share” by 2020. In other words that half of all trips are by walking, cycling or transit. They achieved that in 2015, five years early.
Copenhagen is known for its amazing bike culture with one of, if not the highest mode share for bikes in the world. With 36% share, use of bikes was higher than any other mode but that wasn’t enough. So, as part of their goals to improve health, livability and to reduce emissions, they set the target of achieving a 50% mode share for bikes. How they’d go about this was highlighted in their cycling strategy for 2011-25.
There are many other cities that we could look at that would come out with similar visions. One thing you may have noticed about these examples is that they’re direct and clear about their intentions. They actively talk about the need to reduce car dependency and shift how people travel. Targets are then set for achieving that.
Auckland’s vague plans
The vision for Auckland is meant to be the Auckland Plan. The original version was fairly good for Auckland at the time but nothing like the clear direction set in the examples above. It was also completely ignored by Auckland Transport and a government who didn’t like the direction.
The draft of the updated version of the plan suggests that this may have gone backwards. It’s full of vague statements that are not backed up by any real targets. For example, below are the stated outcomes of the plan and they’re full of undefined statements.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the new Auckland Plan has the strong feel of ATAP in it. Below is the strategic approach for Auckland that ATAP adopted. The strategy looks like it’s been designed by committee and does nothing to tell you about how the city is going to look and feel in 30 years time. There is definitely no explicit policy around reducing car dependency and also no mention about reducing emissions. A “don’t frighten the horses” approach.
Congestion being worse than now but slightly better than it otherwise would be is hardly an inspiring vision for the future. An ATAP refresh is a chance to change this. It needs to start with the vision for how we actually want our city to be and work backwards from there on how to achieve it. It needs to be something specific to Auckland that is both a challenge and able to be achieved. By doing that we’re likely to end up with quite a different list of priorities. From some the statements made so far by Twyford, I think that’s something he’d be willing to have a discussion about though.
Once that vision is set it needs to be inserted into all relevant plans and strategies. Every project needs to be assessed against how it helps achieve the vision. Without that we’ll continue to prioritise the wrong stuff and we’ll continue to have debacles like the draft RLTP.
The one challenge with setting a vision is that it can be hard to decide on how bold to be and get buy in for that from the wider public. We’ll be better served by having that discussion than hoping a tweak of the current plans will deliver a transport utopia.