The NZ Herald reports:
In a surprise announcement, Auckland Transport has revealed that they will “actually build some cycleways” in the next 12 months, ending their current policy of “doing everything they can to avoid building cycleways”. AT Chief Executive Shane Ellison announced the new policy, after facing much pressure over the past couple of weeks following the release of ATAP 2021, which is projected to spend $31 billion and increase, rather than decrease, emissions.
“Our strategy to not build cycleways has worked well for past few years, we even managed to disband the cycling team and sell it as an improvement…. but unfortunately we can’t put off building cycle lanes anymore,” said Mr Ellison, cutting a forlorn figure as he dodged cars on his bike riding home. “My team finally got around to reading all the Council and Government plans and strategies that have said for years that we should build lots of cycle lanes to make cycling safer and more attractive – so I guess we’d better do that.”
The plan – known as “Building Urban Networks Now” – is based on similar programmes in cities like London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and many others – where hundreds of kilometres of safe cycle lanes have been built a year relatively cheaply, simply through reallocating road space from cars and car parking. These plans have led to dramatic increases in the number of people cycling, because people actually don’t want to die when they get on a bike.
Until this surprising shift, Auckland Transport’s cycleway policy was “dream up every possible excuse to not actually build cycleways”. This has been a very successful policy in recent years, with official targets for cycleway completion being reduced from 10 km a year to 5 km a year, and most recently to just 4km a year. A senior manager in Auckland Transport’s Planning and Investment Team, who dreamed up the policy, appeared crestfallen when interviewed about the radical change in direction.
“It’s just so disappointing that we’re going to actually have to build cycleways,” stated the senior manager, who did not provide his name. “Our previous policy had been working so well. We had come up with an endless list of excuses for not building cycleways, including their cost, public opposition, the fact that they often result in needing to remove parking spaces, their impact on stormwater runoff, you name it!”
The most commonly stated element of Auckland Transport’s previous policy of not building cycleways – that there isn’t funding – was undone last week when an emotional junior staffer discovered a small room absolutely jammed with hundreds of millions of dollars and the word “RENEWALS” on the door. “Apparently this money used to be used to simply rebuild unsafe roads without cycleways,” explained the staffer. “I asked why we couldn’t put it to use in adding hundreds of kilometres of cycleways a year as part of fixing up and rebuilding roads. The engineers with the keys to the room nearly killed me when I said this, but amazingly it seems like this is actually going to happen.”
During an unauthorised tour of Auckland Transport’s headquarters, the junior staffer pointed out a few other rooms crammed with funding that will now be used to actually build some cycleways.
“This is the network optimisation room”, she said, pointing to a medium sized room full of engineers playing with a gigantic hot-wheels set while yelling ‘zoom zoom’ at the top of their lungs, “gosh those guys will be so sad when we replace their toy cars with bikes.”
The next room we passed was absolutely huge, taking up nearly an entire floor of the building and was absolutely crammed with transport planners from nearly every consultancy across the city. “This is the Connected Communities programme,” our unofficial tour guide pointed out, “every day a few more people go into that room, but nothing has ever come out of it – I’m surprised it even complies with the laws of physics to be quite honest.”
We then came to the door to a room that was covered in cobwebs, clearly having not been opened for a few years. “This is the urban cycleways programme room. It got a bunch of cash back when Simon Bridges was transport minister to build some cycleways. Unfortunately a few years back the room got attacked by someone with a cowboy hat and a sledgehammer. Fortunately their sledgehammer technique was terrible and the damage was reasonably minor, but we’ve kept the room locked ever since just in case. I wonder where the key is?”
Reaction to the dramatic policy shift has been mixed. Local residents and ratepayers association president and “very frequent” Facebook user Bruce Armscrossedover, was not pleased with the news. “I know all the plans say Auckland needs safe cycling infrastructure everywhere, but I had faith that Auckland Transport would continue to ignore them,” he said, “I feel betrayed that they’ll actually going to implement the plans which have existed for years.”
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff appeared both pleased and strangely terrified by the announcement. “You’ll recall I campaigned on gauzy memories of overflowing bike sheds at schools, and I was imagining they’d stay just that. Memories. This certainly changes things. I’m pleased that this means cycling advocates will stop hassling me, but I am worried that other groups will hassle me… oh, I mean this is good for making progress on tackling climate change.”
Auckland Councillor Cathy Casey was similarly pleased and surprised by the policy change. “I mean we’ve been telling Auckland Transport to build cycleways for years. It’s in our plans and strategies and every time they come to talk to us we tell them again to hurry up and build cycleways – but I never thought they’d actually do it,” she said. “What are we actually going to do now, if I can’t hassle them for not building cycleways?”
According to reports, the policy change sent shockwaves around Auckland Transport’s headquarters yesterday afternoon. One engineer was overheard asking a younger colleague “what is a cycleway?” while other staff were apparently dancing with joy. “When I joined the organisation I hoped to be part of a dramatic transformation of Auckland to a more safe and sustainable city,” said an enthusiastic young staffer in the transport operations team, “but for the last six months it hasn’t quite been what I expected. My manager seems only able to say the words ‘keep the traffic flowing’ regardless of what I ask him – quite odd when I was requesting annual leave the other day. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to optimising all the traffic lights around the city for people who are walking and cycling.”
Auckland Transport’s communications department seemed perplexed by the announcement, stating that “we’ve carefully made Aucklanders believe that we’re already building hundreds of kilometres of cycleways a year when we aren’t even delivering a fraction of that. It’s quite an amazing achievement really, making the public hate a thing that we’re not even doing. I am worried that this change in policy will undermine our efforts in this space.”
Reaction was similarly mixed from the Government’s transport agency, Waka Kotahi. A spokesperson said that “while it certainly looks like exactly the kind of investment envisaged in the Government’s policy statement, we need to spend 5 years on a business case to decide whether we need to do a business case for a business case before making a decision on whether another business case might be required, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much.”
A Waka Kotahi highways engineer also stated significant concern with the policy change. “But how will we justify our gigantic motorway projects now, if we don’t need to spend 0.1% of the budget on a cycleway and call it a multi-modal project?”
Comment was requested from Auckland Transport’s walking and cycling team, but apparently there is no such team. Presumably this will change immediately.