A guest post by David Slack, who has kindly shared with Greater Auckland this subscriber-only piece from his excellent daily newsletter, More Than a Feilding

Washington DC can be a very dangerous place. My life might have ended there one afternoon if Karren hadn’t been there to save me.

We were walking across The Mall, tourists enjoying the nation’s capital. We reached the kerb and in my usual casual way I looked right but not left and went to step out. Karren lunged, grabbed my shirt, pulled me back in. A swooping bus flashed past, inches from my astonished face.

When visiting the lands where they drive on the right, never forget to look to your left.

What might I have looked like a moment later if Karren hadn’t pulled me back in? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but let’s. Or, rather: let’s look at a piece of advertising that makes the point as bluntly as it possibly can.

https://twitter.com/delanightmares/status/1482845798673313792?s=20

Crunch, eh. Just look at those huge vehicles pulverising the hell out of the puny skeletons. Mind your step, skeletons! Ranger coming through!

Many thanks to reader Cam Perkins for putting this on Twitter and giving me just what I was after by way of graphic illustration and argument. What is your city prioritising?asked Cam, with reference to the ad campaign. It’s a bloody good question.

As you come walking down the main road into our quiet seaside village, there is a side street to cross. It lies in just such a way that you could very easily forget to turn to look for a deadly flying vehicle.

Here’s what you see as you’re coming down the hill and reach the corner.

And here’s what could be coming at you, from your right.

You know that momentum you get when you come rolling down a dip and get propelled back up the other side? That’s what you get as you head your vehicle this way towards the rise that takes you up to the maunga and the primary school.

It is a fork less travelled than all the cars bound for the village but a road still much-used and typically at quite some pace. If that’s the side of the fork the car has chosen as you get ready to cross the road, that can spell trouble. They are on a downhill run, they have a mostly clear run ahead.

There’s a pedestrian crossing just up the hill and around the corner a bit and if someone should be crossing it, that will very helpfully slow the momentum of the traffic down. But absent that, those cars can be comin’ round the mountain and barrelling towards you like nobody’s business, upon you all of an instant.

If you’re coming down the hill towards the village, the angle of the crossing is oblique, so you have to look around almost over your shoulder, and as you come to a stop and turn your head it can be genuinely alarming to see how fast a vehicle can suddenly be there on top of you out of nowhere.

One false move by a person on foot and it could be deadly.

Remember I mentioned the school? Little kids come walking, scooting, skipping along here and my blood runs cold thinking about what could happen some wrong fateful morning.

Fortunately there is an AT plan to make this more safe. The full details of of it are here, but the concise version of the design is: bike lanes, raised crossings, raised tables, kerb buildouts, and bright red road markings all aimed at slowing vehicles down.

Unfortunately the plan last saw daylight in 2017.

Once car-having people got wind of it, the fertiliser just completely hit the blade. The irate car-havers got on the phone to councillors and the newspaper and the local Facebook page and demanded to know what the actual fuck the woke traffic nazis had cooked up now I mean look at this thing it might very possibly slow me down ten seconds or even twelve, you can just back way the fuck off, cycle lane Nazis.

And so the time-honoured local kick for touch was made high into the air above Devonport: Referred for Consultation, that place where time and space lose all meaning.  A good plan conceived to protect human beings from having their skeletons pulverised would have to pay due deference to the interests of Audi drivers and Men in Black Utes.

It is altogether too easy to get stuck in a rut of thinking and entirely lose sight of the walls of the rut.

There was a time before everyone had a car; there will be a time again, when they won’t.

Someone put it this way, and it’s very good:

The future of cars is electric, but our future is not cars

That might sound ludicrous, but at the turn of the last century it would have sounded ludicrous to people that inside a decade most of the horses and carts would be gone and motorcars would be in their place.

The way we accept things has a lot to do with the way something new becomes the accepted wisdom: there can be trenchant resistance right up until the crucial pivot is made and then everyone sees it working and declares, how did we ever not do things this way?

We live with so many sacrifices in the name of the car:

  • The death and maiming that we accept as the price we pay for having something so very convenient.
  • All the cost of the land and building and roads given up to accommodate vehicles that can spend 95% of their time sitting immobile
  • All that carbon going up into that atmosphere and cooking the future for our kids.

A fine solution is open to us already: a range of transport options that are accessible, enjoyable, and do none of the harm the cars and utes and SUVs are doing.

What’s holding us back?

We look on aghast, most of us adults – 95% or more according to the vaccination  figures – at the self-styled voices for freedom behaving like thugs, monstering parents and children at vaccination centres. How could someone be so misguided?

But tilt the angle a little and consider how deranged our toxic love affair with the private motor vehicle may look to people a hundred years from now. It might well bowl you over.

–David Slack, More Than a Feilding

Share this

51 comments

  1. People REALLY do not see the cost of motor transport in human and health terms. But I think they are beginning to open their eyes and minds.

      1. It’s almost like there’s a value attached at being able to access jobs or opportunities that are outside of walking and cycling range or don’t require a multi-hour public transit commute – something that our public transport planners seem unable to grasp.

        People are very good at determining the costs of things but there is significant benefit to car ownership that isn’t something many people are able to directly substitute with something else. So, what are we doing to reach that point?

        1. The thing is that a lot of jobs are not actually outside bicycling range, and yet you still have to use cars to reach those jobs for lack of safe bike lanes. Driving cars is useful but it should be seen as a scarce resource that you should only do if it is really necessary. For example when your job is in fact outside bicycling range.

          In this case adding bike lanes and a few speed bumps is not going to take away much capacity for cars. There is almost no compromise for car drivers. You have to pause and think why there is still such an opposition.

          I think it has nothing to do with not being able to drive somewhere. It is a moral judgement. You are not supposed to use the street if you don’t have a car, and the council is not supposed to do any changes to make life easier for people not in a car.

        2. That really depends on where you live. If you’re cross-town commuting, then it’s probably unreasonable to expect most people to ride a bike just because you’re in a position to make that work. They probably aren’t. Cars and bikes are not perfect substitutions for each other, no matter what people here might seem determined to make out, and people don’t sit in traffic wasting time and fuel because they have too much of it and nothing better to do.

          The conversation really, really needs to shift from ‘People shouldn’t drive because I don’t think they should’ to ‘We’ve built enough damn roads and motorways, we need to focus on getting public transport working well enough so that the small number of people it would take switching commutes to PT will free them up from being congested nightmares to freer-flowing, otherwise it’s a race to the bottom’. You do that by making public transport more competitive, not by finger-wagging, or pretending your small use-case for commuting is useful enough in isolation to project it over the entire region.

        3. I agree with that. But that is what we are actually talking about here. We need better public transport and bike lanes. How do you want such improvements to happen? We are so maxed out on giving space to cars that any improvement in any alternatives will involve taking some of that space back.

        4. …by actually doing pretty much that? The Light Rail branch to the North West already has a nice big corridor to go on – it doesn’t need to go underground. We could build it pretty quickly if this transition happening at speed actually mattered, but apparently it doesn’t. We get a lot of lofty speeches about why we need fuel taxes to pay for this or that, or why climate reform or emergencies are important, but when it comes to putting shovels in the ground, we get almost nothing.

          So I’d rather save my scorn for those who are paid incredibly well to preside over an urgent state of nothingness, rather than commuters trying to make ends meet with no real alternatives. They already did their part – voting for the people who promised to build things. The fact they aren’t getting built isn’t their fault, but it’s their problem. What more do you realistically expect people who are already stretched, both in terms of time and money, to be able to do?

          Classic example: We have signed up for more aggressive climate responses than we had previously indicated… so what’s the cost? Where’s the scramble to bring forward large-scale energy saving and carbon reduction projects? What’s the end cost per household? Why is this information that we don’t know yet? Why are we waiting around for…. something to happen with Light Rail, while we’re already past the point where the the first leg should be up and running?

        5. If you look at this intersection in Devonport, the plan was to put in speed bumps or bike lanes. Here there is almost no change for drivers other than you can’t take that turn stupidly fast anymore. Would you oppose such a thing if it happened near where you live?

          Or say, if there was a proposal for a northwestern busway but it involves taking away a lane for cars along some stretches of the motorway, would you oppose it?

          I would fully expect some people opposing those things, especially if they currently drive to work. I can’t blame them for that. But those in charge sometimes need to push on despite some opposition.

        6. Did we ever get that option? As far as the North West goes, we’ve been led around by the short and curlies while CC2M became a political football, and then now we’re getting an interim shoulder-system for a busway. So despite all that time and the extra development in the North West, we’re getting less than what the Shore has had for a decade.

          …whereas if we’d taken Heidi’s preferred option and said “We’ll actually start building something in the here and now, but we’ll need the middle two lanes and/or to narrow the rest of the lanes a little to fit it in” and asked people “Which would you rather have – this, or something that takes forever and we’ll scale back past the point of being of tangible long-term use” – I think most people would have elected for the thing that actually results in something happening.

          We didn’t get that though. We got told we needed it, people voted for it, and then people tried to avoid talking about why nothing was happening with it. Not exactly an appealing process for infrastructure across the rest of the city to generate buy-in, is it?

        7. Did you get that option? The least pessimistic answer on that question is “not yet”.

          What if it were proposed? Would you oppose it because it possibly may take away a lane on the motorway? Or what would you say to people who oppose it?

        8. What would I say? Easy. “Even if you can’t use it in your personal situation, it might get the small fraction of road users we need off the road corridor to speed things up for you. And for those who can use it, you get to skip the queue altogether. Time is the one thing you can’t make more of, so making sure there aren’t huge lifestyle compromises required for alternative commuting is vital for everyone”?

          There has to be a pivot away from the attitude of “it’s theoretically possible so therefore people should, regardless of how many extra hours commuting will take and the fact that for many, that’s family time or rest time that they can never get back”.

  2. Well done to Karren for holding you back. You ask what is holding us back from a future not dominated by cars. We are.

    In almost every community in New Zealand, not just Devonport, most people drive or or driven. Walking, biking or using public transport are modes for a minority.

    Those who govern, or wish to govern, will likely listen to the majority, whether they are car-owners or home-owners. No government will threaten the ‘right’ of home-owners to tax-free capital gains because home-owners vote. Similarly, who will threaten the ‘right’ of car-owners to drive or store their vehicles as or where they do?

    Until walkers, cyclists and public transport users are a serious political consideration, cars – petrol, diesel or electric – will continue to dominate our communities.

  3. AT seem to do what they want, and their faux consultations are not really fair representations of the vast majority in most cases. Trouble with the whole bike lane scenario is that the general public do not embrace them, and banging on about cars is not fair to those who need them. AT is most certainly ageist, mass removal of parking with no consideration for oldies or disabled. And tradies , deliveries et al.
    The saying “use it or lose it” should apply . At the moment, lose it.
    Particularly irksome is the fact that NZs most bought vehicles are SUVs etc. Maybe try to turn the tide on that, and make smaller cars more attractive to the peeps who need transport instead of pissing people off with hardly used bike lanes.

    1. We have so few bike lanes that is why you think numbers are low. The oft used “remember Its hard to justify a bridge by the # of people swimming across a river” could for bike lanes also say ” how many people use the diving board to get across the shark filled pool” . Once they are truly connected more will use them.

    2. There’s been no removal or change to the requirements for disability parking, in the vast majority of instances, theres more than there used to be. If you don’t qualify for disability parking, then…. tough luck sunshine you’re the same as the rest of us.

      I totally agree with your take on the use it or lose it for bike lanes, after the full network is “done”, the infrastructure is close to what it should be, and biking is a viable option for most short trips, then the fair “use it or loose it” trial can begin. Of course then there is no doubt that the same thing that happens overseas, swaths of people using it because its usable will happen. We’re not special snowflakes.

      In terms of the SUV / big truck fetish at the moment. Most of the actions that could be taken are reserved for the national government unfortunately IMO. Charging rego based on weight and volume for example.

      One idea for what AT / council could do to fight this vehicle inflation, is having maximum parking space size rules, and turning radius / turnaround sizes. It’s one of the core advantages to owning a small car in the city, easy turning around, and having breathing room in car parks. Easy manoeuvrability. Lowing the minimum parking space size for developers is something I’m sure they would jump at the chance to do as well.

      The squaring up of side street entries, more liberal use of skinny lane widths, all would make driving big vehicles less pleasant. And reduce the space required and cost of parking.

      1. Sometimes it is. When my grandfather was in his late 80s he used to drive down the driveway in the last photo with his wheelie bin handle over his towbar as he found it easier than trying to walk a heavy bin down the steep slope.

        1. Your Grandfather still had a licence when he was in his late 80s? Hope there was no vulnerable road users in his way.

        2. Quite the inditement that we live in a city designed such that basic sanitation isn’t accessible to the elderly without driving a car.

    3. “Trouble with the whole bike lane scenario is that the general public do not embrace them.” So if they did a survey and say… 80% of respondents wanted more bike lanes and pedestrian friendly roads then they’d just be built? Because that’s the result of almost every survey.

  4. If the intersection used in the illustration (Devonport) was in Melbourne then all vehicles turning into or out of the side street from a main road would need to give way to pedestrians! As a frequent walker around suburban streets in Auckland I see near misses all the time. The Melbourne rule should be enacted here as well if AT and the Ministry were serious about pedestrian safety.

    1. I’m pretty sure the US has a rule like that as well, and the UK is about to adopt such a rule too. In Europe I don’t think there is such a rule but there zebra crossings are a standard treatment on intersections so in practice you almost always give way to pedestrians when turning. New Zealand stands out as an exception.

      1. Yes, zebras are essentially the default in Europe when it comes to crossing roads. I couldn’t understand that it’s different in New Zealand when we moved here as it doesn’t make sense to me that pedestrians would actually have to give way to cars…

      2. Already done:

        The UK rule is that you ‘should watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way’

        Also ‘give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction.’

  5. I think one of the problems is the mentality. People are so used to driving that they don’t see other options. Quite a few of my friends say that public transport is horrible and I disagree with that. Yes, it was probably a bit better in Poland, where I’m from (much cheaper and with trams being the backbone of every larger city), but having frequent bus services every 3-4 minutes on a number of routes is hardly inconvenient. Trains run every 10 minutes in peak hours which is acceptable to me (could be running every 15 minutes off-peak and on the weekends, though…).
    The other thing is that heaps of people don’t actually see the actual cost of a car. One of my friends told me that he doesn’t count the cost of buying the car into the cost of the car because he had the money, so it was bought at no cost to him. I was just speechless.
    One my co-workers told me that he prefers to pay $24 for parking than $12 return for the train ticket (but would have to walk for 10min from Britomart) and another complained that she can’t park in front of the office in the CBD hence Auckland is a horrible place to live.
    Yes, driving is often convenient, not all journeys can be replaced with buses/trains or bikes. But heaps of people won’t even try thinking that it’s too hard. Honestly – how hard is taking a bus or train or reading a timetable?
    Apologies if this became a rant but I just can’t understand certain behaviours.

    1. It becomes easy to understand once you realise that driving a car is seen as the only legitimate way of being in a street. It is us vs. them. If you don’t drive a car you have no business being in “our street”.

      Pedestrians are part of “them”. They get into the way of ‘real’ people who just want to get to work. And cyclists too. The bus is only for homeless or poor people. All these groups (and cyclists in particular) are hated and despised by broad sections of society. I can’t imagine spending decades sharing your disdain for those groups over your barbecue, to then walk or take the bus to work anyway.

      I don’t know how many people have this mindset, but it is what I read between the lines of many comments about cycling or walking.

    2. I have a friend who doesn’t consider the cost of gas mileage, because she’s already spent the money when filling up so there’s no cost of driving. Go figure.

  6. Maybe Devonport could do with a bit of ‘stand up and do something’ come the Local Board elections. 30 km/h speed limit is the first point with some tactical interventions at the intersections that are still horrid. Most car drivers won’t even notice the difference, but everyone else will. Intersections have still got to provide for rubbish trucks, fire trucks and deliveries, so they won’t be too tight for car drivers, but they can be a lot safer for everyone. How much journey time is anyone going to lose by going just a bit slower in the village centre anyway? What difference does driving speed make? Have a look at https://at.govt.nz/media/1985463/5794-urban-street-and-road-design-guide-version-1.pdf . Page 112/113 shows what happens with speed reduction, including a ped crossing in Devonport.

  7. This is obvious on a photo, but in real life that car actually moves so you can only figure this out a fraction of a second before the car turns. You also have to look at the car behind it, do you think it will turn? Because if it does it will reach you before you’ll reach the centre line of this side street.

    Also there are plenty of drivers who drive as if they are driving a semi, they would not go over that repaired patch when turning left.

    You also have to give way to cars coming from the other direction turning right, and to cars coming from the side street. The ones in the side street will still be hidden behind that hill when you start crossing.

    So this idea works when you’re looking at a picture sitting in an armchair, but it doesn’t work if you are actually walking somewhere.

    1. Firstly, the actual danger isn’t the only ill effect, percieved danger is also important because that impacts on quality of life almost as much. People are less likely to let kids out by themselves, people are less inclined to make local trips by walking if they perceive the danger to be higher etc etc. Just reducing perceived danger is a perfectly valid goal.

      This is also the classic reactionary vs proactive debate. Should we wait for intersections to kill someone before changing them? Should what already exists be given great advantage over any kind of change. (no and no)
      This individual intersection might not kill that many people over its lifetime, but averaged over the whole city, with dozens / hundreds of other poorly designed intersections, there is lots of preventable death / injury. This is an example intersection, that should be multiplied over the city.

      Also I think the root point is that we should be taking a safe systems approach. The idea that people should “have to use some common sense” in order to not die using a publicly provided service that is essential to living life is crazy. These systems should be designed to expressly not kill people, any death or injury is express failure. We’ve phased out this person blaming thinking in other industries, we don’t find it acceptable for companies to say “Jim, you shouldn’t have been so incompetent and fallen into that vat of boiling water that we could have easily put a railing around but didn’t”. Those company directors are off to court.

  8. Really good example of a street that could be closed to support safety, cycling and streetscape improvements. Residents could still access via Church St. Yes they’ll complain but they’ll get over it.

  9. Yeh stupid dumb kids walking to school who can’t make that extreme over analysis of whether a car is going to turn or not.

  10. A vehicle comes into the same category as the television and computer – it’s a part of our modern way of life. It might be parked up while you cycle or catch public transport to work, but you aren’t in front of the television or computer 24/7 either – well I’m not. Vehicles will change just like your tv and computer will change – Interesting that the trend towards bigger vehicles is co-inciding with the change to bigger tvs.

    1. It’s part of some people’s way of life. Lots of people don’t have vehicles, either because they can’t afford them or choose not to have them. They exist and it is possible to live a fulfilling life without a car.

  11. It’s interesting you don’t take elderly (slow moving pedestrians) and children into consideration with your analysis, but only able-bodied adult pedestrians.

  12. From ‘streetview’, I am quite surprised the schools mentioned in this article do not have 40km/h variable speed limit signs that are illuminated during to/ from school times. Audi and other car makers have autonomous emergency braking systems (AEB). On a dry road, an AEB system (from some car makes) in euro-ncap test conditions is able to stop a moving car from 40 km/h when a ‘test figure’ moves out from behind a parked roadside car.(given the parameters of the test). Before cars there were trams, horses/ carriages and Penn Farthings as modes of transport that had an associated human death/ injury toll. There are additional safety systems (Collision avoidance, LSS, LKA, LDW etc) being built into vehicles today which which will eventually become more common amongst the 14 year plus average age NZ light vehicle fleet as the fleet has safer vehicles added in the years ahead. Driverless shuttles (like the easy mile ez10) could fill in the connection gaps in larger NZ cities, from homes to larger buses (routes) or trains, if it is ever in the public transport budget to pay for them. Electric bicycles are increasing viable commuting distances where it is appropriate to ride them.

  13. He passed his license and still had it at 90, but he sold his house at 66 Victoria Road a couple of years before that. That is the driveway you see on Kerr Street. He helped me replace my guttering when he was 86 and got up on the roof and checked it was sound for me. The neighbours told me off for letting an old man wander round on my roof. But he was a retired plumber and I couldn’t have stopped him if I tried.

  14. Pretty difficult imagining not having a car, van or truck if you: Deliver goods,
    Have children going to school or any where for after school sports & activities.
    You have a trade & carry tools from job to job plus goods to the job,
    Drive emergency vehicles,
    Bring shopping home for a family,
    There’s a lot of small villages that may not have buses esp in the countryside.
    Pulling a caravan/trailer
    Going to a holiday house.
    etc etc

    1. It’s not particularly difficult imagining at all. How long do you think widespread private automobile ownership has been a thing?

    2. It is a case of the right tool for the right job.

      Going to a holiday house → car.

      Drive emergency vehicles → car, although in congested cities a paramedic on a bicycle or motorbike will probably arrive faster.

      Delivering goods → it depends, many postage companies are figuring out that cargo bikes actually work better in cities.

      Bring shopping home for a family → it depends. You can carry a decent amount on a bicycle. Stopping on your way home from work with a car is actually quite annoying. The “big weekly shop” is a thing only because going more often by car is a chore.

      Have children going [somewhere] → BICYCLE. Seriously.

      Just try to imagine what difference it will make, both for kids and for parents, if kids can grab their bicycle and ride to whatever activity they want, without parents needing to cart them around.

      Now much of this is meaningless in Auckland because we literally don’t have space for riding a bicycle so you’re almost always forced to use a car.

  15. Car dependency is New Zealand’s equivalent to the US right to bear firearms and their attrocious gun death stats. Everyone who looks from the outside thinks that the New Zealand public opinion/ driver attitudes / legal framework / media coverage / political support is bonkers but kiwis struggle to see it. Similar to the Yanks with their gun laws.

    1. I’d say we have a interest around housing too. The major online news outlets are fixated on house sales and prices in every edition, quite different too the rest of the world’s media.

      Eg NZ Herald OneRoof articles as headlines.

      1. Even the whole way the real estate sector operates is now blatantly catering to investors and wealthy buyers, with the occasional bit calling a $500K-$1M suburban house “affordable”, and the portrayal of skyrocketing house prices as a “good thing overall for the NZ economy”.

        1. As a kiwi stuck overseas for the last 2 years looking in due to the terrible MIQ system, I’d have to say the cost of housing is a massive turn off in coming home to live.

          By world standards our houses are of poor quality and hugely overpriced.

        2. Yeah, assuming that the whole COVID situation overseas eases up and that there continues to be no transformational necessary change here, I would seriously consider moving overseas, probably to Japan or Europe (or whichever country offers a UBI to all residents both native born & naturalized first)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.