This is a guest post from Bridget Burdett. She is a principal researcher at TDG (now part of Stantec). She has a Bachelor of Engineering and Masters of Engineering in Transportation, and is in the final stages of a PhD in the psychology of everyday driving. Here she writes about one of her current passions, which is demonstrating links between transport, wellbeing, and inclusiveness. [email protected] @bridget_burdett

I was in a meeting a couple of years ago about planning for cycling in Waikato Region. We were discussing cycling connections to Hamilton Gardens. A senior representative from local government (an engineer) made an off-hand comment that it would be useful to connect the cycleway to the Hamilton Gardens because “that would complete the network”. The idea that access to the Gardens had merit all by itself was dismissed as an arbitrary bonus. My heart sank.

I don’t think that many transportation engineers pause to consider what they are here for. They’re creatures of action, engineers, born and then conditioned at Engineering School to churn through a problem by rote. I know this because I’m an Engineer. I spent four years at Engineering School at the University of Canterbury, learning how to design bridges and beams and columns and foundations and roads and dams and pipes and landfills and water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants. The design process was explicitly and implicitly drummed into our minds: define your scope, declare your constraints, make assumptions where the data isn’t clear, pick the best material to solve the problem, look up that material’s properties, work out how much of that material you need, stop.

The problem with the engineer’s design method is that it doesn’t work well when your material is a bunch of humans. Civil engineering is useful but only for designing materials with predictable, measurable, consistent properties, like concrete and water.

Transportation is about people. Too often what transportation engineers actually focus on is traffic, and cars. We pretend that it’s about people and community, but decisions are based almost exclusively on analysis of traffic volumes, because that’s all the data that we’ve got. What about the trips people don’t make because they don’t have a car, or it’s too expensive, or they get halfway and the footpath is blocked, or because they’re blind and the taxi drivers charge them more than they are supposed to?

Transportation engineers speak volumes about traffic volumes. We know how to find out how many cars and trucks use almost any road in the country. A lot of traffic volume data is publicly accessible, and updated every year. Traffic volume data is only going to get more accessible – google will even tell you how busy roads are, and how busy they typically are at different times of the day and week.

It might seem that we’re also collecting more data about people and their movement. We have a household travel survey every year, which is shifting to GPS-based mapping from this year. Statistics NZ collect information in the Census about household access to a car, which can be used to map disparity between Census Area Units. But transport engineers don’t use much of this data at all. You can search most reports written by transport engineers and not find the word ‘people’.

When I stop to think about what I’m here for, I think about wellbeing. We measure travel times, but for what? An assumed link with economic productivity, but what’s the use of that, if not to improve wellbeing? Advice from our Treasury insists that we should consider wellbeing at every level of policy, but who does that, and how?

So to get better at linking transport and wellbeing, I think we need to change the way we analyse policy, and we need to change the data we use to advocate for better decision-making. Advocates and professionals alike can use better data now. We can include community demographic statistics in transport reports to highlight to decision-makers that there are real people in the community where works are proposed. We already include a site summary and map (and of course, traffic volumes on local streets) in every report we produce, so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to also describe the community in terms of who the people are. We can count people, and use data about who is not participating to highlight access problems.

Intersection of Mary and Queen Streets in Thames, showing the proportion of people with mobility aids crossing the road at different facilities

At policy level, we should make much more use of statistics about car ownership. In dense areas like the Auckland CBD it can highlight ‘car-freedom’, and in poorer places like Huntly West and Tokoroa, where over 20% of households have no access to a car, it can be used to advocate for safer, more accessible walking infrastructure, for a start.

We should also start to get serious cross-sector conversations going, so that ultimately we can define mutually beneficial objectives, with teams of people who speak both languages. There is merit to linking hospital admissions data with crash reports. There is value in linking public transport planning with District Health Boards, to make sure people get to appointments but also to everyday activities that are determinants of good health.
I was in another meeting a couple of years ago, discussing the location of the public bus stop at Waikato Hospital. After an hour of robust debate, one of the DHB staff who worked in facilities management threw his hands in the air and decreed “but transport is not our core business!”.

Therein lies the problem. Transport is involved in everyone’s business, but connecting it to wellbeing is nobody’s job. It’s up to the public to demand that connections between transport and wellbeing are stronger, and it’s up to professionals to recognise opportunities to bridge these very important gaps. It’s okay, engineers are good at bridges.

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  1. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

    Old quote. Ever true.

  2. I think engineers are useful tools when someone is setting the right objectives in the right way – they think and were trained a certain way (as I was) but that can be harnessed for good. That’s where strategy and good management needs to step up and set priorities, define real objectives and measure them accurately. New Zealand is very, very bad at this from what I encounter in the private sector and the limited but growing encounters with local government agencies and AT.

    The other challenge is getting people and engineers passionate about ‘boring’ problems, such as accessibility. That all needs to be abstracted away from them and back to decision makers to trick them with (socially valuable) metrics and delivery targets. Any good engineer will do a good job if they are given a problem to solve – make their problem maximising the pedestrian flow through a traffic light controlled intersection and they will do that, as long as they aren’t also told to limit delays to cars. Someone just needs to make that decision and enforce the delivery.

    It all percolates up to setting goals (GPS, AT’s recent statements) and then actually making people accountable for failing to deliver to them. Too often they are created and added to the pile of good ideas that are ignored. I asked once at AT (regarding public feedback and submissions) why projects were not being publicised in how they were achieving Auckland Plan/City Centre Master plan objectives and ATs other delivery goals, but of course for them to present that they would actually have to have those objectives as the core tenets of every project, which obviously they were not as otherwise they would be advertising as such.

    A good example that I recently came across was that no one owns the ‘accessibility’ portfolio in Auckland Transport. Nothing gets addressed unless there is an existing project, no one has an audit of accessibility in the city center (or anywhere else) with a programme of works to address the shortcomings. Because its not a core objective and no one working there either cares or has budget to address the problem.

    1. A good article and a good reply. We engineers are trained to solve problems, but we do not always ask the right question first i.e. what is the problem?

      We have some good transport strategies, but no systematic ways to implement them, until recently. We have a big program to fund road projects, so we “solve” road “problems”. We have a tiny program to fund cycle projects, and none to fund footpath or public transport projects, except on an ad hoc basis. So not many of those problems get solved.

      Finally, as an engineer, while I would agree we need to evolve our thinking, I also do not think we should take all the blame for this. And I do not think New Zealand is worse than other (english speaking) jurisdictions. There is a problem in all democracies of increasing corporate influence over public decision making. This affects transport as much as any policy area – witness the corporate cheer squad for the motorway program. How do we counter this? We need to continually engage with the public to understand what are their real concerns, and explain in return what solutions are really feasible. Hopefully with a better informed public we get better public policy. The efforts of this blog deserve praise in that regard, as the adoption of the RTN demonstrated.

  3. Exactly. It’s up to the public.

    It is not the engineer’s role to determine what people value. The engineers role is to do what the client asks to the best of their ability within the constraints given.

    AT only takes action if there is a bunch of dead people, or if some rich old white dude is good friends with people on the board or if a huge number of people complain about the same issue and highlight what they value.

    I would think it is a safe bet that most of the people who complain to AT are car drivers complaining about roads and congestion. So you would expect most AT actions to be based on responding to the most vocal groups.

    AT talks about all that other nice stuff, but it’s just talk. Look where AT spends it’s money and staff time and you see where it’s priorities are. Roads and cars.

    I hope that the new CEO will change that, we will just have to wait and see. AT leadership need to send a clear message that the age of the car is over and all AT is to focus on moving people, not metal boxes.

    1. “AT only takes action if there is a bunch of dead people”

      I seriously doubt that. If it were true why would AT be tolerating the current up-turn in the Road Toll and Deaths and Serious Injuries (DSI) as was so clearly documented by Pippa Coomb’s post yesterday?

      It if were so, they should be up in arms about the problem and have been taking steps to fix the problem for years now.

      AT is run by a bunch of NZTA wannabe’s, who so want to be NZTA that they completely ignore the true facts of their situation and who they are working for and who they report to.

      They take it as a god given mantra that above all else “vehicle traffic must flow” or they have failed.

      That belief taints everything a lot of folk at AT, [and MoT, NZTA et al] think,see and do.
      NZTA even has a chief scientist, who hopefully provides some scientific rigour to their thinking process, AT it seems doesn’t have one, they obviously believe that their mission and the goals needed to get there are so blindingly obvious they don’t need any such frippery or self-analysis.

      As for Engineers [whether traffic or otherwise], they aren’t soldiers answering only to a chain of command, or robots, that can only do what they’re programmed to do [although it may seem that way a lot of the time – as per above]. No matter how much their managers might wish it to be so.

      They are real people with emotions and feelings and who can and must be able to stand up for “what is right” – when its needed and accept the collective good may often override the needs of a few especially the rich and powerful [or their managers].

      it is also a fact that a true “Engineer” as per the official definition of the term is bound by a code of ethics, which means that they can’t take just off their cloak of social responsibility, like they might their jacket when they arrive and work, then put it back on as they leave for the day. Completely ignoring it for the rest of the time. No they have to wear it all the time, thats part of the conditions you agree to by calling yourself an Engineer.

      And very lastly as I quoted above, just because there is no convenient measure or “KPI” defined for something doesn’t mean in any way shape or form it ipso facto has no value to society, [because if it did we’d have a measure or KPI for it].

      Quite the opposite, very often the things you can’t or don’t [individually and as a society] “put a value on” are those exact same things that are actually the ones valued most.
      Sadly that is often only realised once they’ve been lost for good.

      But we aren’t living in a deterministic universe where things have to follow a strictly ordained path to a pre-set conclusion with no deviations permitted.
      We all can change direction or re-prioritise competing goals if we so choose.

      Heck we can even make extreme choices such as to prioritise active modes over cars and trucks in our cities.

      1. “The engineers role is to do what the client asks to the best of their ability within the constraints”

        Serious question – do engineers offer value-add or insight?

        I am in consulting, mainly accounting and finance. Plenty of projects the client comes with a brief and an RFP with the detail of what they want. I quote. But at implementation I also offer insight into what the rest of the market is doing and what is deemed best-practice.

        Sometimes they will modify the scope (which always means more cost) and sometimes they won’t. That’s up to them. But I don’t feel I have done my job unless I bring them that insight and give them those options.

        I mean, where would McDonalds be without the offer of an upsize???

        1. In any project I work on, I suggest improvements for walking, cycling and safety. In any project where I see serious deficiencies, I actively fight for them.

          And in so many cases, I am told that the changes aren’t acceptable because they cost money, make car capacity worse, or cost car parks. That applies to both private and govt clients.

          So yes, we (well, many of us) do try to do better. But we work in a society which has cars in their eyes. Time to wake up (and I hope the current govt’s push will be part of it).

        2. Max, have you worn out any brick walls at AT towers from banging your head on them? Sod the car parks. Time for some demand management!

      2. Deaths and accidents are factors for prioritising work – in a world of heavily restricted budget, this generally results in projects not getting priority until an accident occurs, and other projects being deprioritised as a result due to budget constraints. So effectively nothing ever happens until someone is hurt or dies, though that is not the intent.

      1. IPENZ Engineers and Ethical Obligations

        1. Take reasonable steps to safeguard health and safety
        2. Have regard to effects on environment
        3. Report adverse consequences (including “If, after these steps, the Member still has concerns that the matter will not be addressed in an appropriate manner, the Member must report it to the appropriate regulatory body.”)


        1. Glad someone pointed out we have a code of ethics. I have to say I’ve often wondered how traffic engineers reconcile their actions with them. Most other disciplines are very cautious when it comes to life safety.

        2. I submit that that difference might come from professional foundations. Any discipline which carries responsibility for life and safety typically has a dual Institute + Regulator model which separates the ‘club’ and the formal certification and accountability structure in order to maintain standards.

          Not having an independent registration body for engineering in NZ is a serious omission in my view. At its worst it leads to engineers walking away from their responsibilities (extremely rare, but witness the CTV collapse), but I suggest it also informs some of the deliberate as well as casual ignorance of the kind of considerations Bridget is highlighting here.

          More explicit ethical scrutiny would help shift the profession away from these behaviours more quickly I suggest. And as other professions have independent regulators that are usually defined by a basic function of protecting the public, it could be a powerful way to formalise Bridget’s suggestion of better articulating the expectations the public has of the profession.

          While it’s a heavy duty approach that should be complemented with tools such as policy and guidance rather than being treated as a silver bullet for better transport design, it would draw a more definitive bottom line. Without it there is a significant risk that the dialogue and process of change around road design is painfully, unacceptably slow.

          The profession has had many years to evolve an approach which better resolves the tensions between protecting the safety of multiple transport system users, but we do seem generally to be either stuck or getting worse with many outcomes, with notable improvements relatively rare. There are clearly great people securing great outcomes in the profession; just not enough it seems.

          We can talk about reducing road deaths, but without some form of mandatory directives do we expect to see significant change? We don’t expect to have to engage in repeated advocacy towards the medical professions to promote life safety for all users in their work, so why should we have to do so with engineering?

        3. Fair points TimR. I was actually making a distinction between traffic engineers and other engineers rather than other professions. For example in my exoerience structural and dam engineers take their responsibilities for safety very seriously and would not just leave safety judgements to the client. Your example of the CTV engineers goes against this, but I would suggest that is more an exception than a rule.

        4. The CTV case was also a loophole (engineer could resign from professional body and then not be censured by it) that has since been rectified.

      2. You don’t get paid to do something entirely different to what the client wants. I assumed people here were intelligent enough to understand the implication that engineers won’t do what anything illegal and adhere to all available safety standards and raise all safety issues for the client to decide what they want to do and if the safety breach were significant and being ignored, to raise it with the appropriate parties and to cease involvement in the project. I guess I was wrong with that assumption.

        No engineer can account for every stupid person making stupid mistakes and then getting killed for it. This article is less about safety and more about what segments of society value. Not everyone values accessibility or walking around or riding a bike. How is the engineer supposed to make that decision fairly? They can’t. That’s the obvious problem. The public and those elected need to define the values and give the engineers direction.

        1. Yes there’s a lot to that, Ari. And engineers could be tasked with ensuring targets for transport emissions, public health, active mode share are met, and providing systems with feedback mechanisms to achieve exactly that.

        2. The key point is people make mistakes. The designers should have to consider that this will happen. The goal is Vision Zero so that if a mistake is made, someone has a good chance to live. If every design decision considers Vision Zero as its basic tenet- we are then considering all people in the transportation network.

        3. Stan Ford, you can engineer a design to take out the majority of stupidity, not all of it.
          People come up with all sorts of stupid that engineers haven’t even thought of yet!

        4. “You don’t get paid to do something entirely different to what the client wants. ”

          If what the client wants is unethical then you shouldn’t take money to do it. You’re welcome to call me an idealist, but I actually work in the industry and frequently highlight this to clients. Several of my colleagues have refused requests for their services because they believe that to take on the work as proposed would be unethical.

  4. Hi Bridget, another great post, I agree with you. The work I am doing at the moment involves looking at the “views of the silent majority”. We can make some good assumptions on what people actually need but I believe we also have to know more about what people will actually support if we are to get individuals and communities engaged with the transport solutions we are promoting. Like you I trained as a civil engineer but I also have a half finished sociology degree which was definitely useful in understanding transport but wasn’t going to get me a job in transportation at the time!

    1. HI Mark, yes to all of that. There is a lot of sociology and politics in transport and land use planning (or, there should be). I still think engineering is a fantastic first degree, because I see the students in the psychology department wondering what they might do with their degrees, whereas I’m paid to be there… what’s exciting is that there’s increasing acknowledgement of this need for cross-sector thinking, so we can be the translators between research, good policy, and practical changes to improve peoples’ lives. Engineering is awesome.

  5. AT takes his own data based on cars and congestion and solves his own problem.

    What may be better a better outcome is Urban designers is involved in the scoping process, with his own set of data such as pedestrian movements, surrounding effects and wellbeing outcomes.

  6. Great post thank you Bridget.

    I think changing the focus away from vehicle movement to people movement, and by extension accessibility, is crucial to reminding decision-makers and engineers what it is that their transport projects are trying to achieve. I wonder if one way to do this may be to include estimates of people movement based on traffic volume and vehicle occupancy in transport reports, or is this already done? And if it is are vehicle types taken into account?

    I’ve been thinking about this during my morning cycle commute in Wellington recently when I regularly cycle past long queues of slow moving traffic consisting of many cars and a few buses stuck in the same single-lane of traffic on a key route into the city. I’ve done a few, fairly unscientific, head-counts as I cycle along and I consistently come up with car occupancy rates of approximately 1.2 to 1.5 people per car (which is slightly less than the latest MOT figure from the travel survey for 2010-2014 of 1.58, Buses on the other hand are usually full at that time of the morning. One recent day I passed 5 buses and 80 cars before I had to turn off – so even at a rate of 30 people per bus that roughly equates to 5 * 30 + 80 * 1.4 = 150 + 112 = 262 people. If those buses were cars the vehicle volume would remain the same but only 85 * 1.4 = 119 people would be in that queue.

    I guess my point is that vehicle volumes alone don’t tell the full story of how many people are using that road for access. Looking at vehicle occupancy and type in conjunction with traffic volumes may help this and may even change some analysis of which routes are the most important arterial roads used by people at key times of the day. Or is this analysis already done? From what I’ve seen, analysis of public transport volumes seems to be done independently of general traffic rather than combined. But I’d be very happy to be told I’m wrong by all the experts out there!

    1. And as an extension to this, I am concerned by the lack of information or consideration regarding the purpose and value of motor vehicle journeys.

      If an expensive increase in road-capacity is ‘justified’ by the number of vehicles using it, but a proportion of those vehicles are making unimportant or non-time-critical journeys, then removal of those vehicles from the traffic count could radically alter the justification.

      At the moment a vehicle on a trivial errand is counted equally with one on a life-or-death mission. No distinction is made or considered, and no mechanism exists (apart from congestion) to dissuade low-value journeys from being made at high-value times and on high-cost roads.

      Road tolls or congestion-charging would certainly prompt vehicle users to reconsider whether a particular journey is worth making or not, but in the absence of this some weighting should be applied to the raw traffic numbers to allow for the proportion of journeys that would simply disappear if confronted with the actual cost of being made at that time and on the improved road needed to accommodate it.

      As far as I know this has never been done, so we have potentially been subsidising, building-for, and encouraging journeys that are not worth the cost of being made.

      1. MoT Household Travel Survey has data on trip purpose by modes. Not broken down by routes but gives you a general idea. Similar proportion of recreational trips by all modes BTW.

  7. I think as transport engineers we need to move to the model the doctors use with the idea of “informed consent”. Doctors may be the experts on medicine, but they have to explain your condition and options to you, and gain your informed consent, before operating.

    So to with building stuff. If the city is the patient, and inaccessibility or congestion is the disease, we need to explain the problem and causes to the community and make sure we have their informed consent before making an incision. This is not just a road thing. The recent fiasco with construction impacts from the Sydney Light Rail project show the dangers of a rushed planning process with inadequate consultation. If our projects are worth building, then we should be able to explain to the community why we need to build them.

    1. Great point, I like that concept of ‘informed consent”. One difference though is that medical decisions can be made in an individual’s self-interest, whereas transport decisions often may conflict with self-interest?

      1. Also, one of the greatest issues *doctors* face when advising patients is the short term versus long term. I.e. “don’t eat these foods, exercise more, sleep more – then you will be healthier and live longer in the long term”. However, people ignore the advice because in the short term, it’s easier to just keep up the status quo.

        Similarly with cities. Some of the long term change we want (need!) comes with massive disruption of the status quo, and, for the decisionmakers, every change decision comes with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people complaining about it and, potentially, even turfing you out of a job. So the analogy holds up – but it also carries the same problems doctors have with their patients…

  8. What is with the distortion in the health board’s car ownership map? Is it based on their view that the further you live from Greenlane Hospital the less they give a shit?

    1. It’s almost like the DHB focuses on people rather than land area when they consider their service provision, aye miffy.

      1. Hold on – I’m confused. Is miffy actually mfwic, the person you used to call miffy? Or is miffy actually a new person, called miffy?

        I’m confused. Back in a jiffy.

        1. mfwic (now part of miffy not part of Stantec). Sorry using a different device. Maybe I should use one brand.

        1. I remember medical students taking all sorts to minimise the thumping headaches the next day. That map makes me think they’re still experimenting.

        2. Nonsense One Tree Hill only has about 8000, Whangaparaoa and surrounds is way bigger. If it is by population then it is not working properly. Check out Windy Ridge on the North Shore it is a similar size to CBD West. Yet windy Ridge has about 3500 while CBD west is more like 15000. This is based on something but not population size.

        3. The diagram came from, with a caption, “cartograms present a range of indicators outlining 2006 census inequalities around housing and transport. In this presentation
          all census area units have been ‘stretched’ so that the size of each area is equivalent to the resident population.”

      1. Thank you for that reminder, though still not a poll. Safety’s very low on that list, but public transport is safer, so maybe that explains that.

        Up to now most authorities have been spending less of their budgets on non-road items than the percentages of those without a car. Generations of those decisions by the wealthier have got us to where we are now with only 3% of trip legs by public transport, far lower than most other countries.

  9. This post reminds me of Jane Jacobs’ comment on traffic engineers:

    ‘Here they are, another generation of nice, miseducated young men, about to waste their careers in a fake science that cares nothing about evidence; that doesn’t ask a fruitful question in the first place and that, when unexpected evidence turns up anyway, doesn’t pursue it.’

    Dark Age Head, 2004.

    1. Jane Jacob also has a bunch of other comments to say about traffic engineers, in another book published some decades earlier. Not quite so complimentary.

  10. What’s interesting and concerning about the map showing the proportion of carless households is not the expected high proportion of carless in the central area, but the 6-20 per cent carless households over a wide area of the transport-poor middle and outer suburbs.

    These are the people who are routinely ignored by car-centred transport policies. In the modern car-dependent city the carless poor are not only seriously deprived relative to the majority; many of them, transport-wise, are worse off in absolute terms than their own grandparents, who lived close to frequent tram services with good access to the city’s facilities.

    1. Sometimes when I present this information (usually to other transport professionals) I ask the people in the room how many of them come from a household with no access to a car. Hardly anyone ever raises their hand.
      The people making decisions about transport have no real concept of their privilege, and therefore, of their bias. And of course, the people of greatest need are too busy trying to make good lives for themselves and their families to have any energy left to advocate for change. So privilged neighbourhoods accrue more and better infrastructure, because they know how to ask for it.

      1. Which brings us back to the diversity question. “The people making decisions about transport have no real concept of their privilege, and therefore, of their bias.”

        Many on this site say that having diversity in transport planners and engineers makes no difference. That well-educated engineers can design for others. I don’t believe it’s happening much.

        I believe we need to have amongst the engineers and transport planners some people who did not grow up in a household with access to a car. And people with disabilities. And people who arrived in the country as refugees with no driving skills or potential for getting a car. Their insights will provide diversity. And in the meantime, engineers who demonstrate an ability to think about others’ needs should be valued.

        I’m most concerned about the entry requirements to engineering at the moment. There are students quite capable of deep analysis and cross-sector conversations. But the engineering schools are requiring triple external examinations in both physics and maths. This allows an intake of only a limited type of thinker. Unfortunately, I believe we’ll pay the price for it in the decision-making of engineers over the next few decades.

        1. I guess I’m less concerned about the entry requirements for engineering (they also require a pass in L3 English if I recall too BTW), so long as the programme covers a good range of relevant topics. Interestingly I’ve just been in a course today about accreditation of tertiary eng’nrg programmes by EngineeringNZ (something they do about every 6 years for each programme); for more info about the process see There are a set of 12 graduate outcomes expected in a programme; while a lot of teaching time is spent on the “technical” ones (engineering knowledge, design/development of solutions, etc) there is an expectation that programmes also address the “softer skills” e.g. engineer & society, environment & sustainability, ethics, communication.

          That means in theory that they can’t ignore the ‘people’ element of engineering systems. Of course, it all depends on how well each programme captures and emphasises this, and that can vary considerably between institutions. When I was teaching undergrad transport at Canterbury, lesson no.1 was that *people* are the ‘material’ that you are mostly working with, and we had projects that looked at multi-modal options or featured public consultation exercises, but I can’t speak for how the teaching might look like right now.

          It’s interesting too that a lot of the vitriol seems to end up at the feet of the humble ‘traffic engineer’ – the transportation sector is considerably broader than engineers (to say nothing of their managers and other key decision makers). EVERYONE can be part of the problem or solution…

        2. The engineering entry requirements exclude people who do better in internal assessments. They also exclude people who demonstrate deep and thorough understanding of physics and maths material but who take a more balanced approach to their teen years and don’t accept the pressure-cooker schooling approach which is the only way to be able to achieve well in three external exams in three hours for each of physics and maths.

          Apart from swank there’s no excuse for specifying external credits for physics and maths. And no, you don’t need L3 English; you need UE and a high rank score; none of the rest of it is specified as having to be external credits.

          Broad content of the course is all very well, but to produce diverse engineers you need a diverse intake to start with.

        3. And actually, the engineering school’s entry requirements have a far further negative reach than that. Schools need to provide classes to cater to the three external examination model in order to prepare students for the entry requirement. Few schools have the capacity to provide a parallel strand in physics for students who want to continue in physics but don’t need to do the three external examinations because they have no interest in doing engineering.

          This is where the real failure lies. Society needs the majority of students leaving school to have continued in physics, supported by maths. We need this so the majority of voters have abilities in critical thinking in physics, and can understand concepts of energy, climate, damage due to axle loading, the geometry of cities, the list goes on… If we want a voting public to be able to resist fake news and to see through populist corporate-friendly politics we need them to have continued with science throughout their schooling, ideally physics and maths.

          The engineering school’s entry requirements are preventing this education of our populace.

        4. The problem occurred at Auckland when a new Dean decided to select students out of high school rather than at the end of first year. Basically he wanted to fill the degree up with more specialised bollocks taught by staff that he was responsible for rather than have the first year taught by the physics chemistry and maths departments. The old system meant you could attend a school that didn’t have a scholarship programme and you could get selected based on university work. It also meant you got to experience university and figure out what you wanted to do. Because the universities don’t trust NCEA they require the external credits and quite frankly who does?.
          The move was exactly the opposite of medicine who started selecting at the end of first year because thy didn’t trust NCEA either.
          The other problem with this is that schools only offer some credits like calculus as an external because they need some externals and calculus is easy to examine. So one of my daughters who was interested in calculus didn’t take it as she didn’t want to sit an exam. So she missed out on one of the few bits of maths that is both interesting and useful just because it suits their selection requirements for other people.

        5. Sounds like you’re referring to Auckland Uni where entry into the eng’nrg programmes is determined from the very start; contrast with (say) Canterbury where you only need UE to get into the 1st (Intermediate) year and your results there determine you ability to get accepted into the various eng’nrg programmes after that.

          My understanding is that NCEA features a fair bit of internal assessment these days (certainly, my kids have had that), so your ability to do external assessments only partly affects your school results. Can’t speak for all uni’s/programmes, but when I went to Canterbury I had to have at least 50% in UE English to get into the Eng’nrg programme.

        6. Auckland had the same intermediate year and selection at the end when I went through. The big disadvantage of selection from high school is that the schools are all different. Big city schools and private schools offer scholarship classes. Country schools and schools in poorer areas don’t. You can try for scholarship but without the teaching you are pretty well screwed. The intermediate year evens that out. But the big advantage Auckland had was the General Studies I and General Studies II papers in 2nd and fourth year. They were probably the best two papers offered anywhere in the university. Every lecturer was a guest including Lloyd Geering, Janette Fitzsimons, Ranginui Walker, Margeret Wilson and best of all Sebastian Black who stood on a table with a copy of Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament in one hand bellowing lines from the play at us. It was university as it should be.
          The same Dean that changed the selection system also got rid of General Studies.

        7. Glen, yes I hadn’t realised the two schools weren’t doing the same thing. Thanks. If you look further into the entry requirements issue at some time, you’ll find that the grade creep that has been happening has affected the diversity of engineering intake at Auckland. The noble intentions of NCEA have been warped by competition-driven pre-prepared-answer teaching styles in the pressure cooker schools, in a way that is undermining true education.

          Summed up by the principal’s speech at a scholars’ assembly last term, at a Grammar-wannabe school. “THIS is what school is about. THIS is what we want you all striving for, boys. THIS is the most important thing for you to be spending your efforts and your time on.” As the whole school ‘celebrated’ quite outstanding academic success.

          No mention of whether those boys were developing sensitive awareness of others, or becoming good citizens. Indeed, the culture of the school encourages fossil fuel wastage extraordinaire. No mention that they had just been spoon-fed the right way to parrot the answers. How it must have hurt and belittled the boys whose family situations had them caring for others, learning the skills that a full, difficult life brings, and who as a result could never achieve academically like that. It made me feel sick, even though I was there to celebrate the success of an extended family member.

          But engineering will get those fantastic achievers, and none of the ones who have a different perspective to offer society. And society will be the worse for it.

        8. Miffy, some of those General Studies lectures have stuck in my mind to this day. I can’t believe they’ve been dropped. How miserable. And it was the only time in the whole degree when we really had to write essays.

      2. The problem is that quite often – sometimes even here, more often in the broader media – you will have anti-PT types telling you that using PT or cycling is a sign of being “privileged”, and that all “normal working” people have cars by definition. I’m pretty sure that’s often used in bad faith (in order to press liberals’ “don’t be privileged” button), but it deserves rebutting.

        1. There’s two variants of this point:

          (1) normal working people by definition have cars.

          (2) normal working people cannot afford to live in an area with good PT / good cycling infrastructure.

          Variant 1 doesn’t make sense by itself, but I don’t think people are stating that in bad faith, but rather as a simplified phrasing for variant 2. Making (perhaps subconsciously) the connection between public transport, hyper-expensive inner suburbs and PT.

        2. Yeah and I have a real problem with people using the word “normal” … people with disabilities indeed often don’t have cars, those in dire poverty often don’t, including refugees for example; women in poverty-level jobs often can’t manage a car even if there’s one in the wider family, and of course there’s the teenagers whose parents are unavailable as taxidrivers… Maybe it’s not bad faith but it is a sweeping generalisation that ignores the needs of many vulnerable people.

        3. Well it’s one of these terms being used, which actually means different things to different groups of people. Jarret Walker mentioned that in an interview a while ago → see

          What I meant was people on an average or median income.

          The privilege in question is not owning a car, it’s being able to afford a house in an area where a car isn’t necessary for daily life.

  11. All very interesting post and comments thanks Bridget. Yes, I can see getting good data on other non vehicles modes is important & I’m sure can improve with new technology & direction. Of course top level direction is needed to make use of it all.

  12. This is fantastic stuff! I do love that analogy of the dark street, with one streetlamp (under which we all focus all our attention and get ever more microscopic about measuring and managing what we see under there).

    Am trying to figure out ways for officers / officials to help their organisations use data about the rest of the street – and often fill gaps where there’s no local data (cos we dont’ measure that stuff) but they need to feel comfortable extrapolating from elsewhere.

    It’s a very uncomfortable space for those folks to be in, not least because many councillors often like to just say “where’s your data?” as a way to Look Thorough And Rigorous (or appear awake). And to say “we dont’ have (m)any but we know this stuff matters and we’re extrapolating from [other place]” makes one feel a bit exposed.

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