There were a couple of news items yesterday that kept popping up that I want to discuss
Four lanes to Whangarei
Last year during the election campaign, National’s transport policy could probably best be summed up by this:
Despite being empty promises, it’s a policy that’s proving to be like a forest fire that’s stubborn to put out, with hot spots unexpectedly flaring back up again from time to time. This is not helped by the media who seem to be on hand to uncritically fan the flames. The latest example of this was yesterday on the issue of National’s promise to extend a four-lane motorway/expressway all the way from Auckland to Whangarei.
On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, they ran a couple of pieces discussing the topic. First was various elected officials from Northland unhappy that they’re not getting a motorway. This was followed by an interview with Transport Minister Phil Twyford who eventually pointed out that an upgrade of that scale simply can’t be justified. A similar scene played out on Newshub last night.
Now there’s obviously an element of politics playing out with this. National want to see their policy implemented and local politicians want to see as much government money as possible spent in their local areas. Politics is what it is so there’s not much point in expecting anything different. Instead, it’s the way the media have been portraying the discussion that I want to cover.
The journalists involved in these pieces have uncritically accepted the narrative that this road, and others, were about to start construction and have just been stopped at the last minute. There was never any money committed to them and therefore, they’re not projects that can be cancelled.
More importantly, a common theme that was pushed, and has been on other projects too, is that motorway scale improvements are the safest roads around and therefore it’s hypocritical that the government aren’t building the Roads of National Party Significance. While the safety aspect is correct, it’s also the case that motorway scale projects are incredibly expensive so we can only afford to build a few of them and many other worthwhile improvements may be delayed as a result. For example, the NZTA have a page on their website dedicated to this project. That page even includes the business case and a summary of the recommended programme on it. What’s more, it was published in July last year, just before the election season really kicked off.
I get that business cases often aren’t the most interesting documents to read but they do contain a lot of important information. In this particular case, the NZTA had already ruled out the 4-lane option the entire distance as to do so would just be far too expensive and the project would return just 30-50c for every $1 spent. The NZTAs preferred option is a series of smaller improvements, some on the existing road and in some cases, new alignments.
If the journalists involved had of looked at this information, they could have asked those wanting the motorway option why the government should spend so much money for such a small return.
Police encouraging Dangerous Driving
Videos of dangerous driving spread fairly quickly and many major news organisations jumped on one example yesterday that I’m very familiar with. The problem is on Triangle Rd in the morning. Traffic approaching Lincoln Rd to get on the motorway backs up and people wanting to head in the other direction down Lincoln Rd or down Central Park Dr get caught in the congestion. Impatient drivers have taken to driving on the wrong side of the road, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic, to get to the empty lanes that will get them to their destination. I’ve personally seen this happening a number of times as when I commute to work by bike I ride in the opposite direction down here.
In the Herald version of the story, they mention police directing traffic. I don’t ride every day but I’ve seen them there multiple times blocking traffic so people can do this manoeuvre. In this (grainy) image, one in the distance is stopping oncoming traffic (and blocking the cycle lane too) while a second officer is holding up a sign. The problem with this is that the police aren’t there every day but having encouraged it a few times, people expect they can do it any day they like and so it’s becoming more common to see happening.
I did notice that it got a mention in the latest update to the local board, saying
Triangle Road Congestion Issues
11. Auckland Transport has investigated the congestion and delays experienced on Triangle Road in the vicinity of Waimumu Road to Lincoln Road.
12. Community concerns are acknowledged by Auckland Transport and Police. Police will continue to monitor the site to assist with traffic flow and ensuring vehicles adhere to road user rules.
13. In addition, Auckland Transport are currently investigating medium and long term solutions for this road, and anticipate that further information on options will be available within the next six months.
We’ve got a road safety crisis right now and encouraging safety this is not.