ATAP is pretty fresh. But I think even now, what we now know today, compared to a year ago, even just one year ago, on ATAP, is vastly different. If we were doing ATAP today we’d be doing it even with more transit focus and more PT focus and more active focus… I think we need to be more dynamic with our planning documents – Chris Darby, speaking at the Auckland Climate Conference on 18 March 2019
How we plan for our future in the face of climate change was the subject of several climate conferences and symposiums last week. Chris Darby’s comment above was about the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan (ATAP), which – although a recent document – fails to address the problems of climate change. He made similar remarks about needing to address shortcomings in the Auckland Unitary Plan. And these documents are not alone – business-as-usual practice continues due to business-as-usual documents throughout the planning and transport fields.
Unless we make a big effort now, our children will be working a big part of their day to cover the costs of our inaction. They’ll be paying for:
- carbon credits, and other carbon abatement schemes,
- modifying and maintaining inappropriate infrastructure,
- importing fossil fuel in excessive quantities, as well as
- coping with climate change itself, with all its social, ecological and political ramifications.
Carbon abatement alone will cost New Zealanders $14 to $36 billion over 2021 – 2030, and will rise rapidly after that as countries – including NZ – act to meet their commitments, putting the carbon credit price closer to a point that reflects the damage these emissions are causing.
To achieve substantial movement on lowering our carbon emissions, we’ll have to modify our infrastructure to allow low-carbon living. As with most endeavours, this comes down to spending on the right things.
The value of a vision is in its budget, not in its aspirations. So you really need to look at the budget… This is radical change. Is this a radical budget? Is it radically different than what happened ten years ago? – Prof Iain White Environmental Planning University of Waikato, speaking at the Auckland Climate Conference on 18 March 2019
In NZ we’re spending $5.5 billion of public money on transport each year. An appropriate response to the climate emergency and our road safety crisis must put the bulk of this money to developing a safe, low-carbon transport network. It’s tempting to dream that when NZTA emerges from its current disarray, it will be newly focused on the huge responsibilities it has to prepare for the future.
I believe we need to reduce our vehicle km travelled (vkt) from 49 to 28 billion km per year by 2030. The carbon reduction commitments on which I based this are probably not ambitious enough, but since I’ve also disregarded the level of uptake of electric vehicles, they provide a good starting point. EV-uptake can be considered a buffer for urgent tightening of commitments, civil disasters that get us off track for a while, or sectors that find emissions harder to reduce than expected.
The main mechanisms to reduce vkt are:
- reallocating road corridor space for active and sustainable modes,
- improving public transport including its affordability,
- Keeping road building to a minimum,
- re-organising our road layout, and reallocating other space (such as carparks),
- planning for a compact city, stopping sprawl and accommodating growth within existing urban areas,
- pricing mechanisms.
Some mindset barriers to reducing vkt include:
- a reluctance on the part of our traffic modellers to include how widening or narrowing roads changes land use and induces traffic or creates traffic evaporation,
- too much reliance on travel time savings in the evaluation of projects – which is hopeless, given they’re not including the travel time savings of the trips that we’re trying to encourage – the active trips that stopped happening when priority was given to cars – and when the travel time savings for drivers they do count are incorrect, and based on ignoring new ‘person-trips’, or induced traffic,
- ignoring the power of a comprehensive education programme for the public so that change isn’t so hard.
The Government Policy Statement on Transport (GPS) was a major step forward in transport planning. Whereas the earlier GPS addressed climate change by relying on “a greater diversity of fuels and alternative energy technologies”, the current one takes a comprehensive view (my emphasis):
Transport has an important role to play in New Zealand’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… GPS 2018 will support this result through encouraging:
- a whole-of-system approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport, including considering the cumulative effects over time
- investment in lower emission modes of transport or transport systems
- ongoing and clear reporting on the investment in environmental harm mitigation across GPS investment activities.
The GPS also has an excellent section on access, making it clear that better use of the road corridor is to be addressed before any road capacity increases should be considered:
greater mobility is a means to achieve better access, but not an end goal in itself… Providing better access means making the best use of the existing transport network before considering investment in new infrastructure or services.
Table 3 of the GPS gives the budget range of each activity class, and this is where it is disappointing. Perhaps a year ago, the shift in budget was about as much as the establishment could cope with. One year on, it’s hard to see how this much focus on state highway improvements can do anything but set our children up for more car dependency and carbon abatement costs:
To meet our children’s needs on a budget like this,
- ‘road improvements’ will need to be actual improvements. Improvements for safety, for access, for the climate and the environment. Those activity classes will need to cover busways and cyclelanes, wider footpaths and fewer traffic lanes, pedestrian crossings and good amenity near bus stops.
- ‘road maintenance’ will have to move away from ‘like for like’ type contracts towards maintenance that refits the road for the needs of the day – including multiple modes, just as maintenance on a house is often a modernising process, too.
But I’m hoping someone is taking a long, hard look, so that next time, we’ll see a budget that is really looking to the future.
Other countries are suffering from this same problem of road building inertia when the world desperately needs a different approach to tackle climate change. Wouldn’t it be great if New Zealand could help show them the way?