This is a guest post by accessibility and sustainable transport advocate Tim Adriaansen.
There’s a silver lining to the rail network rebuild which boils down to two things:
- It provides a mandate for bold and decisive transport planning decisions;
- It’s a practical test of Auckland Transport’s Executive Leadership Team and their ability to respond to a crisis
If we were to make the best of a bad thing, here is how I’d like to think it might play out.
We need ambition, not attrition
Auckland Transport (AT) has signed up to deliver continuous safety, accessibility and sustainability improvements across their network. Under Vision Zero, no deaths or serious injuries from our transport system are acceptable, and Auckland Transport is responsible for ensuring it is so.
More recently, the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) spells out an ambitious plan to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, mostly by reducing private motor vehicle use while greatly increasing public transport patronage and cycling mode-share.
The rail network shutdown seriously threatens AT’s ability to accomplish either of these obligations, which have deliverable targets in 2030.
Rail is the safest way there is to move people around a city, per passenger-kilometre travelled. If 10,000 people per day find they can’t catch their usual train and instead hop into a car and start driving, that doesn’t just add to congestion. It immediately makes our streets less safe by creating 10,000 new sources of driver error – with hundreds of thousands of opportunities for conflict – every day.
Any increase in driving will lead to an increase in danger to everybody. And that’s without even considering the added air pollution and sedentary lifestyle related impacts.
If our streets are inundated with even more traffic as a result of this disruption, walking and cycling will become less attractive while carbon emissions will increase (not to mention that drivers won’t be going anywhere in any sort of hurry).
We can’t wait three years into a seven-year plan before substantially reducing motor vehicle use.
Nor can we afford a repeat of AT’s lacklustre response to the challenges of COVID-19: deaths and serious injuries on Auckland’s roads became more common while other cities around the world were swiftly reshaping their streets to create healthier, more sustainable transport opportunities.
AT has been handed a second chance. To stay on-track during the rail network shutdown, they must seize this as an opportunity.
Rouler à côté des taxis la valise à la main, les détesteurs vont détester 😉 pic.twitter.com/8upYYfiJvF
— Emmanuel (@EmmanuelSPV) May 19, 2022
Rail replacement buses ain’t it
A reactive transport planner might dive into the data on where public transport journeys start and finish, and attempt to schedule a rag-tag fleet of buses to fill the busiest routes. This way, most of the passengers who caught a train from A to B can now catch a bus that starts and finishes in the same location.
Job done, right?
Even if we can find the drivers and the buses to ensure a bus actually turns up as intended, this solution is unlikely to sit particularly well with the passengers who relied on our rail network, and even less likely to attract new customers.
Without suitable vehicles and suitable platforms, many disabled passengers will find rail replacement buses unusable. Disability advocates are calling for widespread availability of the Total Mobility scheme, however it suffers some serious limitations, getting stuck in traffic and simply not having enough mobility-assisted vehicles to scale the programme more widely. Auckland Transport is advising that total mobility users may need to book a vehicle hours or even days in advance – hardly the “turn up and go” frequency of a rapid-transit system.
Those travelling with companion animals, wheeled shopping bags, prams, pushchairs or a bicycle may find that the noisy old-school diesel bus which turns up in place of their beloved locomotive completely fails to meet their needs.
Adrienne Young-Cooper – the (now former) AT Board Chair – put it well when the TERP was approved by Auckland Council:
Every single one of these journeys needs to be made easier and needs to be safer and needs to be more accessible. This is what we’re trying to do every day, day in day out and we have got a very big job still to do.
Also: people like trains. Trains are cool.
With a shortage of drivers and Auckland’s existing bus fleet already fully allocated at peak times, simply scheduling rail replacement buses is extremely unlikely to move Auckland Transport towards the targets which have been set for safety and sustainability.
What AT can do, however, is take a few great leaps in the direction of a sustainable transport system.
As Wayne Donnelly – the (currently acting) AT Board Chair – said at the time the TERP was passed:
“If [the] Auckland Transport Board were in any way half-hearted about this we would stall the process… …This was probably the nuclear moment of our administration, and if we didn’t set the tone and set the direction then… this endeavour would slow down because of that.”
Time to embrace the e-bike opportunity
There is a mode of transport which is fast, affordable, sustainable, highly accessible and extremely quick to deploy: E-bikes.
Within the same amount of road space, dedicated cycle infrastructure moves three times as many people as general traffic. That’s not quite the level of geometric efficiency as a train, but it is enough to transport thousands of Aucklanders without clogging our existing roading network.
Over 50 cyclists crossing and clearing an intersection within 25 seconds. Now try that with cars… pic.twitter.com/bRAetmtewI
— De Filmende Fietser (@FilmendeFietser) September 30, 2022
E-bikes are selling like hotcakes, with electrified micromobility imports (e-bikes and e-scooters) predicted to outpace car imports any month now. Which is good, because the TERP calls for nothing short of a bicycle revolution to take place on Auckland’s streets within the next 5 years.
There’s only one reason e-bikes aren’t already taking off as our most popular form of transport in Tāmaki Makaurau: It doesn’t feel safe to ride on our traffic-soaked stroads.
This has never been difficult to fix, from a technical perspective. All it takes to feel safe is a little strip down the side of the road, physically protected from light truck drivers busy snapping their latest BeReal submission.
After years of under-delivery on safe cycleways, Auckland Transport now has to re-make its own bed and quickly roll out a network of key protected cycle routes, ensuring Aucklanders have attractive options for moving across the city.
Cities are increasingly recognizing that rentable bikes can take the place of public transit when necessary https://t.co/BcGeB3HcBs
— Bloomberg CityLab (@CityLab) October 5, 2022
A Great South Road that’s great for people and planet:
Motorways are built with the promise of “relieving congestion on local roads”. And yet, parallel arterials are still choked with traffic, and shaped to prioritise driving. Great South Road is one such example, essentially functioning as a parallel route to the Southern Motorway.
So South Auckland is served by two hunkering great big roads for cars and trucks – but there’s no direct, safe route for people to travel by bicycle to and from Central Auckland.
From Newmarket to Papakura, Auckland Transport needs to pop up a cycle route suitable for riders of all ages and abilities. And they must do it before the rail closure takes place in 2024. Great South Road is the only corridor where this is possible.
The time has come to reap the benefits of billions of dollars and many decades invested in the motorway network. Longer distance movements across the region need to be taken along State Highway 1, so Great South Road can function as a local access street, providing for local trips of all modes and connecting drivers to their nearest motorway interchange.
The south will need improved bus services, too. We’ll need to see dedicated bus lanes wherever possible, bus signal priority at intersections, and frequent services to Middlemore and Papatoetoe.
Great South Road, more than any other corridor, is a golden opportunity for Auckland Transport to demonstrate its readiness for achieving the objectives laid out by the emissions reduction pathway.
A Peopleway for the Eastern Line:
Section 2 of Te Ara ki Uta ki Tai (aka the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive shared path) opened up earlier this year, and it is a stunner of a journey from the ridgeline above Ōrākei down through Purewa Valley and across the basin.
Th future of transport needs 2 b low carbon 2 avoid climate crisis… th opening of Te Ara ki Uta ki Tai this morning shows it’s here right now if we want it. Electric trains, e-scooters & people walking, talking along the beautiful Pourewa Valley… the serenity! @WakaKotahiAkNth pic.twitter.com/2LKMBxEZPB
— Peter McGlashan (@PeterMcGlashan) May 24, 2022
Works are currently underway to provide a safe interim connection on Ngapipi Road to Tamaki Drive, while the final boardwalk section of the pathway is constructed around the water’s edge.
Inner East Auckland is so close to being well connected for cycling and scooting – and so the obvious choice for rail replacement during the eastern line closure is to supercharge the local cycle network.
There are already plans under the GI Links programme to put protected cycleways in as far as Stonefields, which is less than 2km from Panmure Station. With some clever tactical cycleways, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 30 km/h speed limits, the area from Glen Innes to Panmure can become Auckland’s own Mini Holland.
Auckland Transport needs to light a fire under its feet to get these projects delivered ASAP, while telling KiwiRail: There will not be any closure of the Eastern Line until the Glen Innes and Ngapipi Road cycleways are built.
Get the best from the west:
West Auckland can consider itself a little lucky in that the western line is the last marked for closure—from 2024. This allows a bit more time to properly mitigate the impacts. All going to plan, the Northwestern Bus Improvements will be operational before any rail line shutdown takes place, but this is something that AT should make absolutely certain of.
If Auckland Transport implements high-frequency feeder services for the new busway, along with a healthy dose of all-day, every-day bus priority along Great North Road, the good people out West might not even miss their trains too much during the shutdown.
West Auckland is also already served by two well-connected cycle routes: The Northwestern Pathway, and the New Lynn to Avondale shared path, which links onwards to the city via the Waterview Path.
The important next step is to make sure that people can safely get to these long-distance pathways, by providing protected on-street feeder routes through local neighbourhoods.
Least accessible is Glen Eden, which is so close to the New Lynn shared path and yet inhospitable to all but the most confident of bike riders. With some clever route planning, it will be possible to quickly and affordably connect Fruitvale and Glen Eden into the safe cycling network.
We’ve got the pathway, now let’s walk it
For decades, transport planning and investment in New Zealand has favoured moving people in private motor vehicles. As a result, most people have little choice but to use a car for their daily transport needs, with predictable results: Any proposal which interferes with someone’s ability to drive absolutely everywhere at all times must be consulted, considered and eventually constrained to near uselessness in order to appease the car-dependent masses.
right, so you're closing an entire rail line with no consultation but mitigating the effects of closing the rail line will be contingent on consultation
— Hayden Donnell (@HaydenDonnell) October 3, 2022
So Auckland Transport needs to dig deep, recognise their purpose and make it abundantly clear to Aucklanders: people who use public transport will continue to receive a high level of service during this disruption, and that will require changing our streets.
It’s time to tip the scales back to a more balanced transport system, by allocating street space to the roughly 50% of trips which need to be made by active or public transport by 2030.
Everybody deserves to get where they’re going with a transport system that keeps them safe and meets their needs. To provide this over the next 3 years of network disruption, while staying on track towards our climate and safety goals, will require the leaders within Auckland Transport to step forward and show us what the agency can really do.