As Patrick wonderfully pointed out on Monday, Auckland is in a period of considerable change. We’re growing into a real city and with that comes city sized problems. We no longer just have the ability to just add a lane here or build another road there, and so addressing our problems requires us to change how we design our city.
Change isn’t easy though, and for many it’s downright scary. This applies to both the public as well as many of the staff within organisations like Auckland Transport. In both cases, often a lack of understanding about what the city is attempting to achieve. While opposition to change in high profile cases like Westmere, Karangahape Rd and Mt Eden has dominated the news coverage recently, there are plenty more cases where AT have picked up bruises along the way.
For some time now I’ve felt that a large part of the problem we’re experiencing stems from there being no explicit policy about how Auckland is changing. For example, while plans like ATAP talk about the need “make better use of existing networks”, it’s not explicitly explained what that means – that in most cases we will need to actively encourage a reduction in car use and corresponding growth the use of public transport and active modes. As a result of this, we’ve often been getting compromised solutions.
This has been very apparent recently the draft 30-year strategy for Auckland where there aren’t even targets for how the city will change, a stark contrast to cities like London who are explicitly aiming to reduce vehicle trips.
So hot on the heels of Patrick calling for AT to be a change agent, we get this op-ed from AT Chairman Lester Levy confirming that they are.
As we modernise Auckland’s out-of-date and constrained transport system, the dream of a transformed system with increased capacity and scope for faster and safer journeys can slowly but surely be dulled by the reality of constantly living with disruptions and squabbles.
Whether it is the vast City Rail Link or smaller but important projects like cycleways, walking paths or neighbourhood intersection safety work, there will always be contestable opinions and unavoidable levels of disruption. It is not unlike a major house renovation where tensions arise, flashpoints transpire and you question why you ever started.
Despite this, in recent years there have been many good things achieved on the transport front in Auckland. Public transport patronage is growing at never-seen-before rates, the Waterview tunnel’s impact has been significant, the long-awaited City Rail Link is being built and new facilities are commissioned or opened on an almost fortnightly basis.
However, these significant gains are reasonably quickly neutralised by the scale of Auckland’s population growth.
Critical to effectively tackling congestion in Auckland is a highly emotive issue, the “elephant in the room” if you will, which is a shift in the allocation of street space.
The board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of re-allocating street space for a wider variety of users, particularly to accommodate more spatially (and environmentally) efficient modes of transport.
Our streets will increasingly change through the addition of light rail, bus and bike lanes, wider and better footpaths and bus stops as well as the addition of proven safety enhancements like raised pedestrian crossings and calmed intersections.
At the heart of this policy is a firm commitment to reconceptualise our approach to safety so everyone can more confidently use their streets without fear of tragic outcomes. In particular this means improving the conditions for the more vulnerable people on our streets, older people, children and all those walking and riding bikes or similar.
It will also often mean changes to the street environment that encourages drivers to slow down to safer speeds through town centres, near schools and other areas where people and vehicles mix.
These changes are gradually rolling out across our city to promote modal changes towards public and active transport (cycling and walking) and involve a shift from a generally vehicle-user first state to a more equitable balance. This approach is consistent with the Auckland Council’s and the Government’s aims for our city and furthermore is well supported by evidence.
Overcoming this car-dependent culture will require thoughtful and effective behavioural change, but if a sizeable percentage of car dependent drivers do not make the modal switch, congestion will simply worsen, adversely impacting economic growth, jobs, housing and quality of life.
It is fair to say that re-allocating street space can be challenging, but these changes are necessary to deal with congestion and to promote safety. The aim is clear: the enhancement of our city’s streets as safer and more productive places to be in and to move through every day.
Overall this is a very welcome, and timely piece from Lester. It makes it clear that AT should be reallocating road space and improving modal choice. For AT, they need to come up with a way of strategically communicating this policy, including making sure it’s included right up front in their communication and consultation. It also needs to be backed up by both Mayor Phil Goff and the rest of the council, both in the various council documents but with set targets in their plans.