Councillors were given a fresh burst of freedom last week, allowing them to finally enact their plans for a sustainable future.
For some years now, Auckland Council’s aim has been to reduce transport emissions – yet the business-as-usual transport plans the Councillors are regularly asked to approve do the exact opposite.
On Thursday, the Planning Committee heard from All Aboard, an alliance of advocacy groups (including Greater Auckland) concerned about transport’s contribution to climate change. The alliance made many supportive suggestions about bringing its transport investment into line with its Climate Plan. A key message from Jenny Cooper of Lawyers for Climate Action was that Council has multiple legal obligations to reduce transport emissions.
This got the attention of Council, and in a good way: it provides a vital and overdue counterbalance to the definition of “legal risk” that’s been coming from Council and Auckland Transport’s legal teams.
It’s expensive to bring a legal challenge, and people with the money to challenge Council generally have that money because they’ve benefited from the current system – so, for the most part, they don’t want it to change. By contrast, those who will suffer the most under climate change and who have the greatest investment in Council taking swift action on climate – including future generations and Auckland’s poorer communities – rarely have the resources to make a legal challenge.
This means the “legal risk” that Councillors and Council officers are warned about by in-house legal teams has been highly skewed towards
stick with business as usual, or you’ll face challenges
care for people and plan for the future, or you’ll face challenges
Thankfully, Lawyers for Climate Action have rebalanced the scales of this discussion, so Councillors can now concentrate on making quality decisions based on their responsibilities to our residents and to future generations.
One of those imminent decisions is around the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) which goes out to consultation soon.
If you’re new to this, the RLTP is a 10-year investment programme for transport in Auckland, developed by Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi and KiwiRail, to respond to the challenges facing Auckland over the next decade. The RLTP gets reviewed every 3 years, and locks in the direction of transport. So it’s very important. The public gets exactly one chance to have a say before it’s adopted. And, to reiterate All Aboard’s point: transport is Auckland’s biggest source of emissions, at 44%, it’s the fastest rising source of emissions, and it also has an outsize effect on our daily lives. We’re at the point now where “Auckland” has become synonymous with “sitting in traffic or being scared of it, or both.” So you can see why there’s a lot resting on this particular plan!
The plan must reduce emissions, and Councillors will need to ensure this can be achieved equitably, without (for example) needing everyone to buy EVs by 2030. Otherwise Councillors will be knowingly leaving poorer people to struggle with a shrinking number of petrol stations and rising petrol prices. Nor can they attempt to avoid this inequity by requiring an exceptional level of public subsidy for EV’s – that too would be incredibly inequitable. It would be a level of “investment” that should be made available to improve the more inherently sustainable, safe and healthy modes of travel instead. And, notably, money that wasn’t made available to resolve our safety crisis.
To avoid both severe reputational and legal risk, the Councillors cannot bring a draft RLTP to the public that doesn’t meet their own Climate Plan’s emissions reduction target and wider goals for society. So, this RLTP must aim to reduce transport emissions by at least 64% by the end of the decade, in a healthy and equitable way.
If the transport experts at Council, Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi have produced a draft RLTP that doesn’t meet the target, Councillors will need to halt the process and delve more deeply into solutions using land use and transport planning.
And that’s going to be interesting. Council’s own plans for development aren’t climate-suitable, and this will have limited the options available to the transport planners. Indeed, the Auckland Climate Plan calls for a review of the Auckland Development Strategy, which needs an immediate overhaul to remove all plans for greenfields sprawl development. Council also needs to stop some of its workstreams that are focused on reducing intensification. Both need to be done urgently for the sake of this RLTP.
This post offers ways the Councillors can find their way to a climate-ready, reduced-risk RLTP.
First, here’s a draft video about how to approach decarbonising transport. (We’re planning a cartoon version but you get to see the draft, as time is of the essence).
The remainder of the post is a list of what the Regional Land Transport Plan should, and shouldn’t, have in it.
Here’s hoping the RLTP is on track to meet our climate challenge!
——– The Details ——–
Here’s the inspiring stuff, some of which has been started, some of which hasn’t, and all of which needs to be cracked on with, ASAP:
- Rail network improvements. Auckland’s rail network needs significantly more investment.
- A complete low traffic neighbourhood plan. This is needed throughout the entire city, including industrial areas, within the decade.
- The safety programme. This should no longer be a “programme” but instead the overarching principle that shapes strategy and decides whether projects and programmes are even included. Safety is the backbone of both modeshift, and of creating liveable places to complement intensification.
- A safe cycling network. This is needed throughout the entire city, including industrial areas, within the decade. Tactical methods, in the style of Seville, should be used to enable quick progress.
- Parking strategy. Parking is undoubtedly a headache for Councillors, but the issue needs tackling head on, with consistent, evidence-backed action and communications. Council land vested in parking is a significant public asset, and there’s too much of it. To achieve Council’s goals of modeshift, equity and a liveable city, parking needs to be reduced and the land put to better uses. All remaining parking needs to be properly priced (public) or levied (private) to encourage modeshift and provide an equitable revenue stream. Much of the good stuff in the existing Parking Strategy has been ignored – by both Council and Auckland Transport.
- Major road reallocation. The arterial roads need lane reallocation (rather than expensive property purchase) to create space for safe cycling, buses, wider footpaths and trees.
- A world class public transport network. Within the decade. This means both the Congestion Free Network and improvements to every bus route, by making best use of the infrastructure we already have. This does not mean more traffic lane -saturated projects like Ameti, but it does mean bus priority, reducing traffic volumes and a rapid increase in frequent services throughout the day, across the whole urban area. No more spreadsheet-driven decisions about minor changes.
- Rolling stock and electric buses.
- Removal of “level crossings” – where roads cross railways at the same level.
- Healing severance programme. To provide cycling and walking bridges over rail lines and motorways, to restore access wherever needed.
- Facilities programme. Drinking fountains, toilet facilities, bike storage, seating, HOP vending and top up machines and other facilities along all arterial roads, bus routes and at train stations.
- Intersection repair programme. To remove slip lanes and retrofit intersections with safe cycling infrastructure, easily accessed bus stops, wider footpaths and better crossings.
- Default Safer Speeds. Auckland needs 30 km/hr speed limits or lower by default, except where evidence exists that higher speed limits are safe – such as on motorways. The government has signed an international commitment to do this. Instead of continuing to dismiss this concept, it is time for the Councillors to get their heads around the rapid and wonderful modeshift, freedom and liveability this default speed change will bring. And around the economic stimulus it will give to businesses with sustainable business models – instead of to those who expect us to sacrifice safety for their profits.
- Access for Everyone. And all of the City Centre Master Plan.
Here are the items that need to be nipped in the bud immediately:
- Mill Rd and Penlink. Their business cases are based on flawed planning, modelling and evaluation methods.
- Unsafe practices. These include intersection widening. Building intersections with missing pedestrian legs or with slip lanes. Any arterial road streetscape designs without safe cycling and good walking infrastructure.
- Drury West, Drury Central, Paerata train stations. With the sprawl halted, if one of these rail stations is required for the smaller existing population, it needn’t be as elaborate.
- New Park and Ride Facilities. The evidence shows these offer poor value for money, confirm and encourage car-dependent mindsets, and waste prime land at transport hubs that should be used for high density mixed-used development.
- An Additional Waitemata Harbour Bridge (or tunnel). Any project that means the city has more traffic lanes across the harbour than we do currently should be dropped. Demand for traffic lanes across the harbour will drop remarkably if radical modeshift and the halt of sprawl are both achieved. Any modelling should wait until we’ve progressed these concepts.
Here is the opportunity to overhaul some out-of-date programmes and practices:
- The road network optimisation programme. Despite its modeshift-friendly narrative, this programme pushes more vehicles through the corridors, worsening congestion, safety and emissions outcomes throughout the network. The programme needs to shift focus so it optimises Council’s various goals, including modeshift and healthy streets indicators. If led well technically, this is something the engineers can succeed at.
- The “Connected Communities” programme. This programme, which ostensibly aims to enhance key arterials for active and public transport, should be combined with a Low Traffic Neighbourhood Programme. To achieve value-for-money, it needs a tactical approach across the whole city first, with road reallocation to cycling and buses between existing kerblines. Property purchase is too expensive to be part of the initial tranche of arterial roads. Later, after the entire network has been improved tactically, and the city-wide Low Traffic Neighbourhood Plan and Cycling Network have been implemented, traffic volumes may have been reduced to the point that corridor widening may not be required at all.
- Maintenance and Renewals. All road renewals should be focused on adding safe space for cycling, on making walking safer and easier, and on giving buses priority over general traffic. The citywide and ongoing maintenance and renewals plans offer a massive untapped opportunity for radical modeshift through bold and steady change. Specifically, the ”Level Of Service” concept needs to be replaced with clear goals for traffic reduction and improved Healthy Streets indicators.
- Major and Minor Capex and Local Board Initiatives. Again, the focus should be on radical modeshift through bold change. Many Local Boards are sitting on overdue and well-informed plans that will help decrease emissions by improving active and public transport locally (including greenways plans). It’s mad these are awaiting funding.
- The operations centre. Currently focused on minimising impacts on the traffic network, the centre needs a Vision Zero overhaul. For example, the operations centre is currently:
- failing to audit temporary traffic management plans, putting people on foot or on bike in danger.
- prioritising vehicle flow on the motorways by putting broken vehicles (that are part and parcel of the modes that causes emissions and congestion) onto the bus shoulders, interfering with what should be a congestion free bus network.
- leaving people on foot stranded, including children and elderly people, at malfunctioning traffic signals. The evidence suggests that malfunctions that present a safety concern for vehicle occupants receive officers to direct traffic until the system is fixed, but when only people on foot are affected, they are left to fend for themselves, even if the dangerous situation remains for weeks or months.
- Customer Experience. There needs to be a better culture of listening to the public. Of harnessing the feedback from Aucklanders who are walking, biking and using buses and trains, to help with making the detailed changes needed to encourage modeshift. This will involve physical wayfinding, a facilities programme (see above), safety fixes, universal accessibility, and a focus on children’s safety as they display normal, playful behaviour in the public realm. The customer experience team needs to depart from their focus on digital technology. People often don’t have working phones with them – for many reasons – so it’s wrong to assume everyone uses online navigation and feedback tools on the go.
- Consultation and Engagement. The current system seems set up to seek opposition to progress, and has been allowing that opposition to shape our city counter to the official plans and targets. Democracy is better served by discussing the issues and harnessing people’s support for solutions at a city level. Local consultation should be used to find local improvements to the plans without overruling the city level decisions. This is possible even within our consultation legislation, but requires tackling the big issues – like intensification, parking, the requirement for safe bike journeys – head on, and in advance.
- Parking Enforcement. The city needs Auckland Transport to use proactive enforcement, in which all vehicles in an area are ticketed at once. This would tackle the explosion of illegal parking in a way that provides far better value for money, allowing far more enforcement and public safety to be provided per dollar.
- Other staff costs within the Operations Budget. Senior managers seem to be focused on avoiding “legal risk” and on “minimising impacts on the network”. Within this poor and narrow emphasis:
- Design teams are frequently thwarted in their attempts to provide good designs.
- Legal staff too often waste effort finding legal reasons a change in direction would be a risk, instead of using the law to enable progressive change and to achieve the outcomes that are mandated by updated legal obligations and design standards.
- Engagement teams are even directed to waste money and risk poor outcomes by engaging with the public for projects that run counter to the city’s goals, to prevent management needing to simply say “no” to Local Boards.
- Lack of a consistent approach to safety and modeshift, and a lack of leadership when faced with vocal minority opposition, has resulted in an enormous waste of budget as projects are halted and redesigned over and over, resulting in what increasingly looks and feels like predatory delay.
- Route Protection. With new road building and widening brought to a halt, and public transport improvements concentrating on road reallocation instead of corridor widening, route protection work should be minimal.
- Cycling on the Harbour Bridge. Cycling should be provided immediately on the existing bridge through lane reallocation. To ensure buses aren’t held up in congestion, this will probably require lane reallocation for buses too, and quality protected space on key bicycle feeder routes at each end. Examples readily exist from Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge (North America’s busiest bike route since protected lanes were created) and New York City’s Bridges for People plan
- Spatial Priorities. There are many areas within the existing urban area that need concentrated planning attention, but the transport plans for Dairy Flat, Silverdale, Warkworth, Drury, Paerata and the other sprawl areas need to be shifted away from transport plans that “support growth”, towards developing a functioning public transport network and walk-bike routes for the existing population.
And here are a few things of a type that should never be included again:
- The Matakana Link Rd. This road will induce a lot of traffic and emissions, and should be canned mid construction. If that’s impossible, it should be reduced down to two lanes, retaining full cycling and walking provision, and accompanied by safety work at the Hill St intersection including a closure of the old road to Matakana and some of the turning directions.
- Motorway widening, such as the Northern and Southern Corridor “Improvements”. The extra capacity these projects provide will induce traffic and emissions. If possible the new lanes would be converted to bus priority lanes, but lane alignments might make that tricky. A complete ban on future motorway widening is required.