This is a hopeful post; change could be on its way.
Auckland Transport has long known that many more Aucklanders would go by bike if they felt safer and didn’t have the stress of driving with fast, heavy traffic. Many cities across the globe have also come to this realisation.
Sixty years of misspent transport funding has left our city full of deficiencies. It is unsafe, which is stifling many people wanting to reduce their carbon emissions by cycling instead of driving. Consequently, we have a high traffic trauma rate, a population with low physical activity levels, and rates of low independent mobility for our children.
The delays to the cycling programme have become embarrassing:
(Credit via Twitter: Pippa Coom and Jessica Rose)
Back in 2014, the Future Funding Strategy Report asked the question:
What should land transport revenues cover and by what mechanism?
And found that funding walking and cycling investment from road user charges was legal and justified because:
Cyclists are legally entitled to be on the road. Motorists have a duty to pay for the facilities needed to keep them safe from motor vehicles.
Pedestrians are legally entitled to be on the road. Motorists have a duty to pay for the facilities needed to keep them safe from motor vehicles.
Ignoring their own strategy, the previous government collected road user charges from motorists but did not use them to make cycling and walking safe.
The current Government Policy Statement (GPS) has:
increased investment in footpaths and cycleways to support access to, and uptake of, active travel modes.
What’s required to fix our deficient street environment, however, is an order of magnitude bigger than what was allocated by the bureaucrats. The UN recommends 20% of the transport budget, both nationally and locally, is spent on walking and cycling.
But there are many changes afoot that give hope.
(Credit: The Guardian. Check out these cool cycling designs.)
1 Consultation is Clarified
The recent Island Bay Cycleway decision has confirmed:
The Local Government Act does not impose on the Council an obligation to accede to the views of a majority of a community or the majority of any part of a community.
This decision clarifies that Auckland Transport can concentrate on meeting their legal obligations to provide a safe transport network. Local constructive input to the design is welcome, but AT would be legally remiss to continuing allowing change-averse, misinformed vocal critics to delay or prevent safety improvements for our people.
2 ATAP is being renegotiated
On the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), Councillor Darby said in March:
If we were doing ATAP today we’d be doing it even with more transit focus and more PT focus and more active focus
We have an unexpected chance to refocus ATAP on these better priorities now:
There is now limited funding remaining to commit to new projects, and the priority for this will be projects that deliver the highest safety outcomes, in alignment with the Government Policy Statement (GPS)… According to Auckland Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore, he has been told there are plans by the Government agency to look for savings in the ATAP budget over the next three years. But he remains in the dark over which projects won’t get funding.
The road widening projects currently funded in ATAP should be stopped; they create negative climate and safety outcomes. Since ATAP was written:
- AT have received a Safety Review outlining our Safety Crisis, which laid out many reasons for shifting focus and funding towards the active modes, and
- Council has declared a Climate Emergency and approved the draft Auckland Climate Action Framework for consultation. This highlights the negative outcomes from the greenfields Supporting Growth programme:
greenfield development often results in more car-dependent and carbon-intensive travel patterns, increased social isolation and disconnection. it also affects the ability of natural systems to provide climate resilience. Conversely, evidence demonstrates that quality compact urban development has many benefits. These include better and lower-carbon transport choices, reduced travel times and costs, and fewer impacts on air and water quality.
Building and widening roads to support greenfields growth is incompatible with an appropriate response to climate change. If we are being governed well, ATAP will be renegotiated within the framework of our Climate Emergency and Safety Crisis. We are correct to expect a halt to damaging projects; particularly if this retains funding for the critical safety, active and public transport projects.
3 Major road Capex programmes are cycling funds
The Safety Review said:
AT appears to have been focused on implementing the national cycling action plan and relatively smaller scale (but targeted and important) safety investments on AT’s roads. It has not been targeting the critical bigger direct opportunities: leveraging the annual AT major road Capex programme
Any Capex project that doesn’t include cycling, walking and safety infrastructure is contradicting AT’s commitment to the Safety Review. It’s also a wasted opportunity, and poor value-for money: the street will simply have to be redone later.
In April, Council’s Finance and Planning Committee gave feedback to Auckland Transport on its Statement of Intent, criticising these details:
- the cycling or bus priority programmes have very little detail about how many kilometres of new paths or where they will be delivered in 2019/2020, and no sense of what will be delivered in the second and third years of the SOI
- progress of the Integrated Corridor Delivery programme (such as number of corridors with completed business cases, and outlook for delivering integrated corridors), and note which bus priority measures are to be advanced
This Integrated Corridor programme (now called Connected Communities) is a programme to make better use of the arterial road corridors. This project was supposed to be underway last year. In May, AT admitted:
Due to externalities we have not commenced the project yet.
There’s always a silver lining. The GPS and Safety Review both required cycling and walking designs to feature strongly in this programme. By delaying, the declaration of a Climate Emergency adds extra clarity: our arterials must have protected cyclelanes and walkable streets.
(Credit: Bike Auckland)
4 Maintenance Funds are cycling funds
The Safety Review also pointed out that AT has not been targeting:
the annual AT maintenance programme to deliver important low marginal cost road network safety improvement over time, and actively moving to manage free operating speeds which are in general terms too high for appropriately safe road network operation including for underlying safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
Currently the maintenance programme doesn’t allow “betterment”. Auckland Transport have had this Safety Review since January / February 2018, at which stage they knew that the first maintenance contracts wouldn’t come up for retendering until late in 2020.
Renegotiating these contracts now is an obvious and easy step towards providing more cycling, walking and safety infrastructure. Auckland Transport has taken this safety review seriously, so we should expect to see all contracts renegotiated this year. Waiting out the 2.5 years between review and the first new contracts would be a flawed response.
5 Cycling Funds are for Cycling, not Placemaking
Local communities are asserting that projects targeted at delivering safe and connected cycling infrastructure must also incorporate place-making. Until now, AT has been trying to make the cycling budget stretch to cover placemaking, which works to mislead the public about how much “cycling” costs, and to delay the projects in the programme due to limited funds. I see in the latest AT Board minutes that for the Westhaven to CBD Cycleway:
The design has been on hold while third party funding has been investigated to fund the streetscape elements.
What’s hopeful about this statement is that it signals that AT realise placemaking should not be funded from the cycling budget. Although it’s an unwelcome delay for this one project, sorting it out now will reserve cycling funds for cycling projects and prevent many other delays due to an empty purse.
Where should they look for this placemaking money? Our deficiencies in the street environment were created by over-investment in increasing road capacity for vehicles. They must therefore be fixed by reallocating funds from the misguided projects that are still attempting to do the same.
6 A New Head of Healthy Streets and Active Modes
Last year, AT had a big restructure, which disestablished the walking and cycling team. There was widespread criticism of this decision:
why are walking and cycling the only modes now set to lose their specialist focus and public champion – and see their people and budget dissolved across the wider organisation – while roads and public transport will carry on as usual?
Luckily, Auckland Transport has essentially backtracked on the decision:
While it’s a pity AT haven’t been able to fill the role in nearly 6 months, at least this gives a strong message to the CEO: No-one with the skills needed for this position wants to report directly to an obstructive boss. The position needs to be at the top table. Suitable applicants will know the organisation’s reputation, summed up in the December 2017 report about the cycling programme:
with the exception of the CIO, there was not seen to be widespread support for the programme at the executive levels within the organisation. This is particularly felt with a perceived lack of executive support to project managers when community opposition occurs, and when there are challenging cross-team issues.
I’m very hopeful that we’re about to enter a newly funded, newly directed era of cycling and walking improvements because:
- The time for putting the active mode programmes under review has passed.
- The time for questioning the effectiveness of separated cycling infrastructure has passed.
- The time for finding excuses for delays has passed.
The CEO needs a few things in place:
- He needs a Mayor fronting up to the challenges of bringing safety in the midst of media hostility.
- He needs layers of bureaucracy pared back to allow change.
- And he possibly needs the governing bodies to supply an overt transport strategy.
Auckland Transport’s overarching responsibility is to provide a safe transport network. People are dying while the cycling programme is delayed. If the delays continue, emergency action will be required.