Waka Kotahi’s leadership have been defending the need for investment in cycling. Good on them.

At the Waka Kotahi Annual Review, MPs asked about the high per km cost that Auckland Transport uses for cycling infrastructure. In reply, General Manager Transport Services, Brett Gliddon, gave an excellent explanation of the difference in cost between reallocation of road space and building new infrastructure:

cycleways are delivered in two key strategic ways. You’ve got a key strategic network, which we’ve built quite a lot of in Auckland. And the cost of that is quite expensive, and that’s because the engineering, and the design of that is like building a road. It’s up to 4m wide, sometimes it’s got structures like bridges that you have to build, and that does come at a cost. In addition to that where people and councils are converting road space, or re-utilising existing assets, the cost per km is a lot smaller.

Board Chair Sir Brian Roche explained the importance of building a network:

And there’s equally an argument that until we’ve completed all components of the network, the existing capital expenditure is sub optimal. Until it’s complete, it’s like a road network – it doesn’t; it’s not optimal… Sorry, it is a factor that we consider, because we don’t want to have stranded assets.

He’s spot on. Having a complete network is critical. Matt illustrated the network effect at work with this gif, in the post Double is Nothing.

And Aotearoa has a lot of cycle network to build: Fresh research into children’s activity levels in Tāmaki Makaurau confirms the importance of safe cycling infrastructure, and shows that children need dense cycling networks.

Image Credit: NACTO

Most streets in Aotearoa aren’t safe for biking, and there’s been no watershed in the National Land Transport Programme 21-24 to change this – despite overall transport expenditure being at an all-time high.

What is the next step to getting cycling improvements actually happening, and rapidly?

An Active Travel Commissioner

In the UK, a new agency was established late last year, called Active Travel England, led by Interim Active Travel Commissioner, Chris Boardman. The agency is intended to:

create safer streets for cycling and walking to boost air quality and help improve the health and wellbeing of the nation

Active Travel England has sharp regulatory teeth, in line with the principles set out in Gear Change. For example, these are just two of the agency’s tasks:

  • inspect finished schemes and ask for funds to be returned for any that have not been completed as promised
  • inspect, and publish reports on, highway authorities for their performance on active travel, and identify particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians

Does New Zealand need an Active Travel Agency, too? Let’s look at some ways an active travel agency could deliver benefits for New Zealand.

Ensuring cycling is counted

Roche described Waka Kotahi’s “completing the National Land Transport Programme 2018 to 2021” as “a significant milestone in itself.”

However, a critical component of the programme – the Auckland Urban Cycleways Programme – wasn’t completed. It was supposed to be completed in 2018, but instead it has “featured” in three different National Land Transport Programmes: 2015-2018, 2018-2021 and now 2021-2024. Further, the problem wasn’t mentioned when discussing “areas for improvement”.

An active travel commissioner would consider the programme completed only when the cycling elements are finished.


Clarity about how much we should be spending on active modes

The United Nations recommends spending a minimum of 20% of the transport budget – at national level as well as in each region – on walking and cycling. For New Zealand, which is lagging further and further behind other countries as years with minimal investment rack up, the number should probably be much higher.

Yet according to an OIA response I received in November last year, neither Waka Kotahi nor the Ministry of Transport have provided the Minister with this critical information.

An active travel commissioner would be advising the Minister about the level of funding recommended by the UN and other international bodies.

Clarity about how much we are spending on active modes

At the Annual Review, Act MP Simon Court asked directly:

Just remind me of your % spend on cycleways.

The Chief Executive of Waka Kotahi, Nicole Rosie replied:

We’d have to come back. In the new NLTP it’s about 10%, 11%.

Rosie could have been out by an order of magnitude. Matt estimated cycling and walking will receive “under 4%” of the funding, but this figure included:

  • walking investment,
  • state highway improvements in the Hutt which are really about repairing a seawall for a highway,
  • the Urban Cycleway Programme – which has already been counted in two NLTP’s in the past, so for the purposes of discussing new cycling spend, shouldn’t be included a third time.

Once the figure is adjusted for these changes, the figure could be well under 1.5%. Gliddon tried to clarify:

Sorry, the reason is – now, whenever we build a new highway, we add a cycleway on as standard practice, so we’d have to pull those costs out of the state highways we’ve built.

I doubt this would bring the figure up to anything like what the Chief Executive estimated, but I’m keen to see what they calculate.

Waka Kotahi were also asked about cost benefits of investment. Gliddon replied:

I don’t have a cost benefit in my head…

An active travel commissioner would be using these figures about cycling expenditure and the cost benefits regularly – in meetings with partners and stakeholders, and in furthering the cause of cycling – and would be able to answer the MP’s directly.

Side by side in a Bike Bus, on a Slow Street. Source: Eillie Anzilotti via twitter

Providing answers in a timely fashion

I asked a member of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee about the December Annual Review of Waka Kotahi:

There were a number of questions asked by MP’s that the Waka Kotahi people said they would follow up with. Are you able to send me a copy of whatever they have provided as follow up?

On the 16th February, a full two months after the review, no answers had yet been provided by Waka Kotahi.

A bright spot in New Zealand. Cycleway progress around Christchurch – up until July 2021. Credit: Cycling in Christchurch.
Christchurch cycle counts rising as the network is built. MCR = Major Cycleway Routes. Credit: Talking Transport

Actively working to lower the per km cycling costs

Auckland Transport’s per km costs are too high. There are reasons for this.

An active travel agency could offer economies of scale (eg standardised cycling and walking bridge designs, standardised road and intersection diet designs). They could actively shift the sector away from designing streets to “accommodate” predicted traffic volumes, to planning to keep everyone on the road safe. They could find all the process barriers to rapid cycleway implementation and overcome them.

Waka Kotahi is probably doing some of this work, but while its leaders defended the need for cycling investment, what was lacking in their replies at the Annual Review, was some substance about what is being done to lower the per km cycling costs.

Project WAVE’s costs were significantly lower than the standard cost per km AT is using.

Clarity that road reallocation lowers transport costs

Last year, Rosie started a really good initiative called Future NZ, Better Together, in which she interviews people about important transport topics. So far there have been two videos, on decarbonisation and safety.

The first interview was with Dr Paul Winton, of the 1Point5 Project. Here is an exchange about reducing vehicle travel in cities (at 4:35):

Winton: Roughly speaking we need to give about a quarter to a third of our existing streets – not fancy new streets – across to the active modes of transport and dedicated busways.

Rosie: But in general the cost of building dedicated lanes for one mode of transport is really hard, and we as New Zealand are probably unlikely to be able to afford that.

An active travel commissioner would probably have jumped in with enthusiastic agreement, and been clear that these lanes serve more than “one mode of transport”. Footpaths and bike lanes between them cater to people on foot, wheelchairs, mobility devices, push-scooters, bikes and trikes for wee tots, skateboards, ripsticks, prams, hand trucks, drivers accessing their cars, hoverboards, bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, e-scooters, bicycle buses, roller skates, roller blades, and hand-pulled trolleys. Similarly, bus lanes in New Zealand serve bikes, mopeds and motorcycles as well as any passenger service in a vehicle with seats for 8 or more passengers including: metropolitan bus services, intercity coaches, private tour buses, school bus outings, hop-on hop-off tourist buses, and accessibility service vans.

Most importantly, a commissioner would understand that reallocating road space is a way to vastly improve the affordability of the transport system. It’s a way to speed up the shift from too many people driving – which makes the whole transport system less efficient and more expensive. Indeed, recent research from Germany – scaled to NZ’s vehicle fleet size and converted into NZ dollars – would put the lifetime cost of all of New Zealand’s current light vehicles at over $4 trillion. Cycling, on the other hand, offers an excellent return on investment, improves public health, and doesn’t “cost the earth”.

Dismantling myths about parking removal

Rosie also responded to a comment by Winton about the task of removing parking in order to free up the space in our cities for active and public transport:

So, it sounds good, but those parks are usually outside a small business, or some sort of retail outlet. And those businesses are doing it really hard with Covid. So how do you balance the desire for a longer term beneficial outcome with quite a potentially significant negative impact? What things can be done to mitigate the harm to the few to get the benefits to the many over time?

Rosie was possibly playing devil’s advocate – although she did go on to defend Waka Kotahi’s investment choices – but I think the Chief Executive of an organisation tasked with substantial transport reform, in a public-facing PR video, has a responsibility to speak from an evidence-base.

An active travel commissioner would:

  • use an opportunity like this to increase the public’s understanding, by challenging the myths instead of promulgating them,
  • convey the evidence about the benefits to retailers of converting parking to bike lanes
  • understand that the agency’s responsibility lies in fulfilling the basic right to freedom and mobility for children and other non-drivers, by creating accessible transport networks, regardless of retailers’ misconceptions.

So, how do we fix this?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that Waka Kotahi’s leaders are clever people, skilled at what they do. But people running the current system are unlikely to be the best candidates to deliver a paradigm shift away from this system, or to provide the networks that the current systems are continuing to neglect.

Secondly, this is urgent.

Sydney’s summer streets programme. Credit: Sydney Morning Herald.

During the pandemic alone, insufficient focus on active modes means we’ve missed out on widespread improvements that other cities have seen:

What do you think? Is there merit in the idea of an active travel agency for Aotearoa, led by a commissioner?

“This will be a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children and for future generations. It’s time to make it a reality – it’s time for a quiet revolution.” – Chris Boardman, Interim Active Travel Commissioner for Active Travel England.

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  1. Yes something radical like this is required to make the necessary transformation to the NZ transport system.

    I have worked in various transport agencies across NZ for more than a decade and their culture is so fundamentally broken, and leadership so fundamentally poor, that massive structural change is essential.

  2. +1;
    We need a paradigm shift in various transport agencies to actually cut down km of vehicles travelled (emission reduction) and to actually Vision Zero (Safetly), rather than talking about visions and plans, good TV ads ain’t enough.
    We also need to change how we build our urban environment… and learn from good and bad examples overseas.

  3. The Ministry of Transport is organsing an online conference with the title “Decarbonising the Transport System”. First set of keynote speakers include a car manufacturer, a trucking lobbyist, a car share person, someone from chargenet and Federated farmers. Later in the conference we do have a cycling researcher. But no one from rail. We need strong advocates for cycling, walking, trains and buses at the top table. The Ministry of Transport seems captured by the wrong lobby groups.

  4. No, no, no. If a bureaucrat has failed to deliver on society’s objectives creating a semi parallel agency to do what said bureaucrat should be doing is not solving the problem and will create inter-necrine budget allocation wars further reducing the money spent at the coal face. Change the bureaucrat! It’s as silly as suggesting we now need a “commissioner of public protests” because the MPs, the Speaker and the Police have failed to effectively deal with the Wellington protest.

    1. You could be right indeed, Mr Plod. The UK commissioner was appointed after the Gear Change policy had already provided the teeth, after all. We don’t have that.

      What we do need is a solution. So let’s find one.

      1. I,m with Mr Plod on this,how about WK appoint a CEO,that understands the current requirements, and “drives” change through the whole organization. There are plenty of examples where smaller councils have adapted to the current issues, and are reaping the rewards of their endeavors.
        Christchurch City Council have bravely, “stuck to their guns”, in trying to implement a cycling network ,despite efforts to “water down”, what they have put forward. A recent visit there,highlighted how badly captured by the car,the city has become,the bike offers a glimmer of hope.
        The way forward is by leaders ,leading,rather than creating, separate division’s. W K shouldn’t have to differentiate were the money went,as long as they deliver a network, that benefits all participants .

      2. No UK Government initiative has ever resulted in getting anything done faster. They are British and very much opposed to getting stuff done. They only do slower or omnishambles.

        1. Agree with Mr Plod. The answer is moving on CEOs and Chairmen who talk the talk on transformation, but who dont put that into action and meet the KPIs.

          We just need to ask them about those KPIs and had they ticked them off. Simple conversation. Tell the next ones they will be asked the same questions. Answers and resulting actions will be published (potentially impacted future positions elsewhere). Accountability.

          If the NLTP was not completed because the cycleway was not finished, they failed. Worst still, the lied about completion.

    2. Yes, another bureaucrat/ agency is not the answer. However the UK haven’t appointed another bureaucrat.

      Chris Boardman:

      – is a former Olympic cycling gold medallist
      – had a close family member killed when she was knocked off her bike by a van
      – is a successful businessman who started his own manufacturing company.
      – has been in charge recently of developing/ running the Manchester active travel network

      So he has skin in the game and a track record of achievement. Someone with that level of credibility countering the mediocre narratives highlighted in the post from our transport “leaders” would be very helpful.

  5. That tweet of London doesn’t do that intersection justice. In the evening that Vauxhall Bridge/Millbank intersection the phasing for bikes isn’t long enough and I have had to wait multiple phases before to get across (and then again at Albert embankment on the otherside, which is uncomfortable due to the volume of bikes and the tight corners in the cycleway).

    That was before the pandemic caused everyone in London to go out an buy a bike to avoid crowds on public transport, once everyone is back in the office I can’t imagine what the traffic will be like.

    My everyone in London buying a bike comment is because in May 2020 bike stores in London were selling bike with a March (21) delivery date.

  6. There’s no one I know in the sector who would estimate cycling spend at 10 or 11%.

    If she was just having a “moment of confusion” and this wasn’t intentionally misleading, wouldn’t Gliddon or Roche have offered a better estimate? Or is it a matter of honour that they never contradict each other? Not very helpful.

    I’m not surprised they still hadn’t corrected the figure two months later.

    1. It is a pretty safe bet that they can get away with that.

      People do not have an intuitive understanding of large numbers. You can immediately tell that, say, 25 million and 5 billion are both large numbers, but not which one is larger, and by how much. Is 25 million more than 10% of 5 billion? You probably have to actually stop and think to answer that question. It is much more obvious if you compare $25 to $5,000.

    2. If senior leadership thinks they are investing “10%, 11%” of their budget in a particular area, and it turns out to be more like 1.5% – 4% at most, that’s well beyond a simple rounding error.

      The public record needs correcting, publicly. It might be a slip, but it’s concerning. All the more so as nobody else at the table seems to have caught it.

  7. Mayoral candidate Efeso Collins wants free public transport in Auckland.
    This would give the busses and trains a good boost and have many benefits. We must get more people out of their cars and reduce emissions.

    1. As always,the politics of this will be interesting, announcing free PT,before Labour endorsement is clever,kind of forces political wing’s hand,so to speak.

    2. If we are going to spend $250m a year on public transport, we should just be running twice as much public transport or even using it to build minor upgrades (especially local transfer ‘stations’). Universal free fares would be so far down the priority list.

  8. Vote for Mr Collins for mayor. Not only is he talking about change, but is prepared to take action. His proposal for free PT could be a game changer.

    1. Our PT is under utilised. Congestion is costing Auckland up to $2billion a year. Too many Aucklanders need a gentle nudge to get them out of their cars. If an extra 20 000 a day can save on transport costs that is a win for those people, the economy and the city. The current high costs of ticketing, gating, policing is too high and would be greatlty reduced .

    2. The biggest barrier to public transport is not the cost. Note how many people drive cars, and driving is often more expensive than taking the bus.

      It is that for most trips, it is that when you want to go somewhere, you usually already had to leave an hour ago to still make it in time. Or that you can’t make it there and back anymore before dinner time.

      Spend the money on more bus services.

    3. Where is the evidence that free public transport is a game changer?
      Do those with a gold card take most of their trips by PT? Is PT the predominant mode of transport for kids on the weekend?

  9. Seems like a plan. The first step for a commissioner would be to develop some policy and strategy documents and then all the agencies would need to modify their own policies to be consistent with those. That should only take 3-4 years. Then of course there will be the appeals. But just think, once the system is up and running in say 8 years, each project could be sent to the commissioners office for review of say 6-10 months, then project teams could review their comments and redesign (a year maybe?). But just think how good it would be.

      1. The Commissioner for Active Travel will need a company car. It isn’t his or her money so they will probably choose a Tesla. (There is no way they are going to walk.)

    1. It would be great to have a good mayor if they can over ride the bureaucracy / red tape of Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi and the government. If the AC, AT and WK are still in the way then we have a problem.

  10. The first job will be to design a logo and consult with Maori to come up with a Te Reo name.
    However if gold plating could stopped then maybe however gendered a commisioner could be useful. I see in cities other than Auckland they build cycleways outs of fine crushed gravels this much more climate friendly than concrete and smells better than alphalt. Napier or Timaru are good examples.

  11. I like the example given in the video about a worker being able to cycle through Penrose safety. I think when we see that done we will know the world is a better place.

  12. I know his is not Auckland, but Tasman District Council is spending 56% of its capital budget on cycling infrastructure.

  13. Around parking, sometimes compromised is needed.

    If one side want to remove all parking to build cycleway, while the other side want to retain parking. There is no compromise, nether party will give way and nothing gets built.

    To get the ball rolling and actually delivers something, ideologies should give way.

    1. On street parking can be removed and somewhat replaced with off-street parking as a compromise. Once we get a full cycle network, the spend per customer at the local shops should increase if it’s a more realistic option to use in place of the car.

    2. It’s not such a useful approach, Kelvin. When evidence and rational thought fails, the NIMBY’s resort to demanding “compromise”, having compromised nothing themselves.

      1. True.

        Either things not built – nimby win.

        Or things built with no negative effect of them – win again

        Why would the nimby compromise?

        1. It’s not helpful to simply accept this is how things should be. If there’s space for either parking or cycle lanes, providing parking is choosing to sacrifice someone. “Just the little one, today…”

          The way to change it is to attend to issues of democracy and rights, while also encouraging better discussion. It’s undemocratic to give people the right of veto. It’s undemocratic to listen to just those people who shout the loudest. And the rights of children to healthy lives are higher than the rights of adults to almost anything – and most certainly to not having to learn, or to change what they do.

          The problem arises because there’s an (often unchallenged) assumption that if something is changing, local people should be able to stop that change if they so wish. The assumption is not based in either law or in ethics, and in fact we have the law clearly established that implementing city-wide plans does not require local consent.

          I don’t know about Waka Kotahi, but Auckland Transport are drenched in the mythology that they cannot attempt to make the changes needed to improve the lives of children until they’ve had the “difficult conversations” about what business needs are.

          It’s four years since the safety review. Staff members should recognise by now that this need to consult and reconsult until everyone’s happy hands the power of veto to NIMBYs, and is actually preventing cycling and safety improvements. This means it is causing actual death. If they don’t choose to recognise this, they are choosing not to look, or not to think. The approach is simply a cowardly delaying tactic that plays to their management’s business-as-usual policy.

          I’ve actually had it up to my neck with so-called progressive staff members who keep trotting out this crap. It’s unethical. They’d be better to resign than to be part of this.

  14. Melbourne did it tough with all the lockdowns but I’m finding new onroad protected bike paths all over the place now. On top of the pre existing trails it’s slowly turning into a bikers paradise.

  15. It feels like NZ has a problem of social goals. Our transport system is stuck with an outdated social goal which is for any business owner or person with sufficient wealth to afford a vehicle of any kind to travel unimpeded by road wherever they choose. Green and safe public and active transport is not the agreed social goal. If it were we could redesign every street allocating space for public/active transport first then only put in space for private cars if available. But that would require a social revolution, which is also required to change the goals that damage people economically and are destroying our environment.

  16. This sums it up:
    “these lanes serve more than “one mode of transport”. Footpaths and bike lanes between them cater to people on foot, wheelchairs, mobility devices, push-scooters, bikes and trikes for wee tots, skateboards, ripsticks, prams, hand trucks, drivers accessing their cars, hoverboards, bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, e-scooters, bicycle buses, roller skates, roller blades, and hand-pulled trolleys.”

    Its another lane, necessary for the completion of transit corridor. The whole approach to what a road serves needs to be defined for our changing future needs. It’s only been a primary motorcar carrier for the less than 100 years. Of Human History.
    We’re ready for the next iteration where some space is for the horseless carriage, some for the pedestrian of the foot and some for the wheeled pedestrian. The corridors already exist, it’s divvying them up in an equitable and climate prepared way that’s missing from the conversation.

    Heck, chuck a few trees in there while reallocating space, why not make these space nice to be in while we’re at it!

    I think this is where we circle back to everyone knowing this, but for a diversity of reasons, just not wanting to do it.

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