Auckland is congested and unless something disastrous happens, physically or economically, it always will be. Unfortunately, congestion is something that comes part and parcel with an attractive, successful and growing city. There is no silver bullet that will suddenly make our roads the free flowing drivers paradise like we see in the car commercials. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to alleviate it.
A large part of our problem stems from there simply being too many cars with a single occupant in them. It’s not that Aucklanders are any more addicted to their cars than people in other cities around the world but that in most cases, they lack viable alternatives but to drive. For example, bikes are often the fastest option available but most people don’t feel safe riding on our roads while public transport is often slower than driving on congested roads. As a result, when the roads are congested, most people are affected.
One thing we can do is to provide better alternatives to make them a more viable choice for everyday Aucklanders. The roads might still be congested but fewer people overall will be affected. In some cases, like the City Rail Link, that will require large, expensive infrastructure projects, but in most cases the best value opportunities come from getting more out of our existing road network. Bike and bus lanes help to achieve that. This is the essence behind the what many of our strategy documents call “Make better use of existing networks”. But that’s easier said than done and it can be very hard to make progress on providing better alternatives. People often say they want things to change, as long as that change doesn’t impact them in any way – this applies to both positive and negative changes. This has been evident most recently with the increasing levels of animosity towards new bike and bus lanes, especially when that animosity is stoked by our media outlets.
Last Friday, Simon Wilson wrote a superb piece in the herald talking about the positive value of cycleways. Among the many good points he made, he noted:
Auckland is rebuilding itself, reinventing itself in the process, and our local politicians and their officials are displaying too little of the boldness, vision and political skill, and too much of the fear.
Almost as if on cue, unable to let Wilson’s piece go unanswered, other writers at the paper have responded to try and ratchet up the rhetoric. First up we Bernard Orsman who claims that anger against cycleways is growing – the headline was later updated to include bus lanes too.
The main thrust of his piece is focused on ‘bikelash’ against bike lanes on Karangahape Rd. He focuses on owners of a bakery in St Kevins Arcade and writes:
“It’s almost as if they have gone insane with this idea of cycleways and forgotten it’s thousands of little businesses like this who pay rent, pay tax, pay rates,” says Philippa Stephenson, whose Tart vegan bakery has a pop up shop in St Kevins Arcade.
Philippa and husband Paul Stephenson are what Waitemata councillor Mike Lee refers to as not reactionary or anti-cycling and part of probably the most progressive, avant garde set in the country.
The couple are up at 3am baking bread and their customers’ favourite pies – “meat pies with no meat in them” – for delivery from their main business in Grey Lynn to St Kevins Arcade.
Since AT removed three of the five loading zone parking spaces and on-street car parks near the arcade between Christmas and New Year, it takes the Stephensons several drives around the block to find parking to make the delivery. “It’s just insanity,” says Philippa.
“Consultation has been lip service,” says Chris Fowlie, who manages the Hemp Store on K Rd.
The end goal is fantastic, says Fowlie, who is worried that years of disruption from the cycleway, City Rail Link and light rail will bankrupt independent stores, lure mainstream brands and change the character of K Rd.
Michael Richardson, manager of the Karangahape Road Business Association, says AT are looking to mitigate the loss of parking but the association is sticking with the stance of withdrawing support for the project.
He says K Rd is a progressive community that supports cycle lanes, but not if it means the loss of parking that retailers depend on. An action group with the slogan ‘Don’t Kill K Rd’ has argued for alternative routes for the cycleway and circulated a petition signed by about 130 businesses.
There are couple of interesting things to break down here, starting with the last point.
Prior to the consultation last year, AT studied the issue of parking and found that just 17% of people arrived at K Rd by car and only 2% parked on K Rd with all saying they’d still visit if they couldn’t park on the street. That’s not surprising. I wonder how many actually drive to the area expecting to get a park. Orsman made no mention of this even though Leroy Beckett from Generation Zero mentioned it.
Yesterday the owners of the bakery have now claimed that they weren’t complaining about cycleways at all but the issue of loading zones. Although that doesn’t fit with the first quote about AT going insane with cycleways. What is also not clear is why, in their particular case, they’re not using Poynton Tce,
A couple of other things, the removal of some of the existing loading zones isn’t due to the cycleway work but other works to allow double deckers to use the road double deckers but prevent them from hitting shop awnings. Just yesterday AT launched a consultation to see how they can maximise parking in options for the area as part of the upgrade, including loading zones.
But Orsman didn’t stop there, including complaints about bike and bus lanes from business owners from Dominion Rd, Mt Albert, Mt Eden, Northcote and West Lynn / Westmere. Many of those complaints are not new and a common claim is that AT aren’t listening or that consultations are a sham. AT are far from perfect but I think the opposite is happening in most of these situations. I think in many cases, local businesses (and residents associations) have become used to complaining and getting their way. What we’re actually seeing now though is more people getting involved and responding to consultation. For example in the case of Mt Eden, AT are saying that early indications are that 70% of people support their proposal.
By omitting facts and only really telling one side of the story I think all we end up with is more resentment on all sides. Business owners/associations feel more resentment towards AT and the process, cyclists resent that their right to health and safety is not considered by others and bus users resent that one person wanting to park their car is considered more important than multiple full buses. All up this is pretty typical of what we’ve seen from Orsman in recent years, especially during the Unitary Plan discussion
Not content with letting Orsman have it all, Mike Hosking jumped in on the action, claiming that debates about a sugar tax are proof that bikes and PT will never work. What is perhaps the most ironic is him saying that the debate needs to be fact-based while not presenting a single fact in the piece.
What’s gone wrong in these debates is the dishonesty. Nothing wrong in new ideas, different approaches, nothing even wrong in the passionate preaching their particular form of wisdom.
But it has to be fact-based and honest and too often these days and the New Zealand initiative work on the sugar tax shows it.
If you can’t win on fact, you start to gild the lily, twist the stats and bend the truth. And if you’re not busted, we then run the risk of implementing things that cost a fortune for no return – all because a small clique got obsessed and lost sight of reality and the truth.
Here are a couple of quick facts Mike. There are plenty more we can provide and they can be easily verified.
- PT use continues to grow strongly, above population growth.
- Use of trains has doubled in just 4 years to over 20 million trips annually.
- Now, fewer than 50% of people entering the city centre every morning peak do so in a car
- Bike use has continued to grow strongly. Now over 9.4% of inbound traffic on Upper Queen St is people on bikes.
- Cycle counters recorded a 6.2% increase in cyclists over the last year.
— Alec Tang 鄧振揚 (@AlecTang_) March 5, 2018
Auckland is making progress and we expect will continue to do so but it’s clearly going to be a battle all the way along.