“How can we accommodate Auckland’s substantial future growth without increasing traffic?”
This is the question that should sit at the heart of every major transport and planning decision that’s made in Auckland. I think it’s also going to increasingly become a way of easily describing the goal of Greater Auckland in helping to shape land-use and transport policy-making.
In a way, growing Auckland without growing traffic is pretty non-controversial – as I pointed out recently, there really is no viable alternative. If you look back at much of the work done in the original version of ATAP (completed under the previous government), the inability to build major new roads or hugely widen existing ones was up there pretty ‘front and centre’ as a key finding of this work. The changes that would really make a difference, especially road pricing, were essentially about limiting the growth in traffic.
I think there is also growing recognition that simply accepting, and then accommodating, traffic growth undermines so much of what we want to achieve with Auckland. Not only do wider and faster roads kill and seriously injure people, but pollution from vehicles is a major factor destroying the planet’s climate and local environment, and the space necessary to accommodate cars when they’re moving and when they’re parked is increasingly valuable for other things (like more efficient modes of transport, public open space, or housing). Growing Auckland without growing traffic means that we get all the benefits of this growth – more and better job choices, increasing diversity and vibrancy, and the money from the rates and taxes from all these new people to use on exciting things that make everyone’s lives better – but without the downside of more congestion, more cars and more of our city being taken over by asphalt to move all those cars around.
Importantly, growing Auckland without growing traffic accepts that accommodating, supporting and enabling Auckland’s growth is a good thing. Lots of people want to live in Auckland and, quite simply, for a long time we have not built nearly enough houses for everyone. But it makes us think about how and where we should accommodate that growth – where can we put new housing that won’t increase traffic, or will increase traffic just a little bit and can be offset elsewhere?
There’s also a critical distinction here between travel and traffic. Auckland’s growth absolutely will mean more people needing to get around the city – and lots of travel is a good sign of a vibrant and successful place. But how do we ensure this growth in travel – what’s happening ‘at the margins’ in economic-speak – is on public transport, walking, cycling, e-scooters or whatever other forms of space-efficient and environmentally sustainable mobility emerge over the coming years.
I know this sounds hard, but “growing without growing traffic” is actually happening in a number of cities around the world. A really good example of this is Seattle, where traffic has decreased over the past decade:
This has happened despite Seattle being one of the fastest growing cities in the entire US (note the data specifically relates to the city of Seattle rather than the wider urban area):
So how has Seattle managed to pull this off? Well mainly through doing over the past decade exactly what Auckland is planning to do over the next decade – aggressively expand high quality public transport and massively grow ridership levels.
There have also been huge increases in pedestrian volumes:
Seattle really has followed in the footsteps of its neighbour, Vancouver, in showing how a strong transport strategy relentlessly implemented over a decade or so, can achieve pretty dramatic change. Of course parts of Auckland have seen similar change over the past decade – especially in the city centre.
Auckland has pretty good plans in place to follow in Seattle’s footsteps over the next decade. Major investment in rapid transit, cycling, bus priority, safety and much more – including a light-rail system that will probably look pretty similar to Seattle’s.
Yet despite these plans, traffic is still expected to increase in the future – although not as fast as the population. This means there’s more to be done, as increased traffic will mean more congestion, more people dying or being serious injured on our roads, more environmental destruction and ultimately less space for everything else.
Working out how to grow Auckland without growing traffic – just like what Seattle has done – is a key project for us in 2019. We hope you help us on the way.