This is a guest post by Heidi O’Callahan
With climate change upon us, and transport at the heart of Auckland’s climate response, the AT Board must guide everyone in the right direction when it meets tomorrow.
In particular, Board members must hold firm against any business-as-usual recommendations the management team brings before them. Especially when those recommendations are based on a dated planning paradigm and depart from official policy.
The crucial example on tomorrow’s agenda: the three interconnected Inner West projects on the brink of delivery. The strong public support for all the projects – and the problems that will be caused by leaving out the middle part of the network – have been described in earlier GA posts.
The questions below cut through a cloud of misinformation right to the heart of the issue. They’re designed to help the Board make the right call and rise to the challenge of helping AT adopt sustainable transport planning.
1. Why did the AT Board allow AT to pause four particular projects without evidence?
In October last year, incoming Mayor Wayne Brown sent a letter to Auckland Transport, and the CEO responded to the Mayor’s letter by starting a “stocktake” of projects.
Four out of 790+ projects of varying sizes and at various stages of delivery. Why?
Four projects that conspicuously deliver walking and cycling safety bundled with additional benefits for all modes, and overdue repairs to roading and other infrastructure. Why?
We haven’t seen any evidence from staff and management that these four projects had the lowest value among all 790+ projects. In fact, quite the opposite: these projects are well aligned with policy. They’re also some of the very few on AT’s books that deliver on the top action in the Transport Emissions Reductions Pathway (TERP), agreed upon by Council and AT only last year:
Pausing these projects flies in the face of AT and Council’s agreement to tackle the most pressing issue of our time. And not finding a way to progress them ASAP will directly thwart progress on the TERP.
2. Will the AT Board challenge AT’s narrow definition of “strategic importance”?
The Board papers say:
Management recommendation is to stop the Waitematā Safe Routes project [the middle of three projects] given the lower strategic nature of the cycling interventions on local access routes…
In contrast, the TERP says:
Strategic delivery of the cycling network includes rapid deployment of routes that provide access to high demand destinations and linking them with area-wide networks around neighbourhoods, schools and rapid transit stations.
AT management’s recommendation is simply out of date. It’s a left-over idea from an era when peak hour commuting was prioritised over safe, local movements for everyone. Importantly, management isn’t just wrong about this one project – they will also need to update their strategy documents in line with the TERP.
The Waitematā Safer Routes is highly strategically important because it is the middle part of a network. This map (slide 19 from here) shows the hole that would be left in the network if that section is paused:
When built, these local routes in the middle of the network will significantly increase the number of residents with access to safe bike routes.
Similarly, pausing the Waitematā Safer Routes creates a hole in school zones, cutting students off from their local schools. This is the enrolment zone for Western Springs College.
I have no doubt the zones for primary and intermediate schools in the area will be similarly affected by similar safety gaps – especially Westmere and Grey Lynn Schools, which sit on the route proposed to be paused.
3. Will the AT Board “unpause” the WSR project by instructing AT to apply for funding immediately?
The Waitematā Safer Routes project currently lacks funding, but it wasn’t always this way. Back in February 2018, Shane Ellison stood at the heart of the routes, announcing his unwavering support – and diverted the Waka Kotahi funding to another project.
Now the project is in both the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan and the Regional Land Transport Plan. Given this situation, funding in the NLTP was almost guaranteed.
Auckland Transport has admitted that they simply didn’t apply for NLTP funding:
We did not seek further funding as we could meet the budget from local share.
This deliberate decision was highly unusual – and is why there is now a shortfall in budget.
Would Waka Kotahi fund it now? We can expect so. The agency’s CEO recently stressed the importance of integrated networks:
we know the most significant thing that changes people’s behaviour around cycling and even public transport is the ability to be able to use a dedicated network and safely use that network.
So there’s been a real priority on starting to be quite focused and systematic in the way that we deliver integrated networks for Auckland.
There’s also good reason to expect the money from the cancelled Northern Pathway over the harbour could be diverted to this project.
Item 22 in the Board papers shows the Board has already given full delegation authority to the CE for funding the Urban Cycleways Programme. He could choose to bring forward funding to deliver the full network here, hand in hand with seeking co-funding from Waka Kotahi to deliver the full benefits of all three sections.
The Board should remind the CEO they expect him to make a good call here.
4. How will the AT Board stop AT being swayed off course by minority voices?
Councillor Mike Lee was the politician who called for the pause of these projects. He is one of two Council voices (and votes) on the AT Board. His work in this role so far suggests he needs to quickly get up to speed on modern transport planning. For example:
- Safety. In a Ponsonby News article Cr Lee suggested more deaths are necessary before AT should address safety concerns in Pt Chevalier. Has he not been briefed on AT’s Vision Zero commitments?
- Network design. Cr Lee says cycle lanes should avoid the main roads. Has he not been briefed on network planning fundamentals? (He has also not responded to my January request to explain by showing his preferred alternative routes on a map.)
Cr Lee also recently admitted on bFM that he can’t suggest improvements to the Waitematā Safer Routes project, because he hasn’t:
been looking closely at those plans… given all the other things we’ve had to focus on, with the floods and extreme weather events, I’m way more familiar with the two components rather than the one in the middle.
What a farce. Cr Lee hasn’t examined the plan he stands ready to dismiss. How on earth is that respectful to the people he’s been elected to serve?
5. On what basis did the AT Board allow the CEO to change direction?
This whole fiasco can be traced back to Interim CEO Mark Lambert’s announcement in October of a “change in direction”.
The CEO is in charge of delivery, not direction. AT’s direction is officially set in the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, the Regional Land Transport Plan for Auckland (RLTP), AT’s Statement of Intent, the Auckland Plan 2050, and Auckland Council’s Long-Term Plan, among other governing documents.
As All Aboard Aotearoa reminded AT in December, there is no proper basis on which it can alter its strategic direction based on comments from a single elected representative.
6. Will the AT Board help shift the “savings” spotlight to where better outcomes are possible?
The Mayor’s initial letter which prompted the pause simply said:
Invest in cycle lanes only where the per-kilometre construction cost is on par with costs in other jurisdictions, nationally and internationally.
There was nothing in these words that required the pausing of shovel-ready progressive multi-modal streetscape projects. Even if there had been, AT was not in a position to legitimately pause them on the basis of a letter from one elected representative.
However, AT could have taken a look at their wider programme and discovered some projects of poor design worth pausing for a rethink. In fact, most of Auckland Transport’s programme could be improved easily.
Another absolute classic “vision zero can get fucked” @AklTransport move. Widening this corner so that cars can move faster and place bikes precisely in their blind spot for maximum injury.
Keep an eye out for my obituary at the corner of Gunner Drive and Te Atatu Road. pic.twitter.com/XVDscUnDGb
— Ben Gracewood (@aotearoa_ben) February 22, 2023
Remember that the TERP requires:
- a halving of vehicle travel by 2030, and
- a shift to vision-led planning in the design of projects.
If the AT Board can focus immediately on ensuring AT adopts these changes into its planning approach, every project will in turn become more affordable while making more space for walking, cycling and public transport.
Projects such as Airport to Botany, for example, will be hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper once AT realises it doesn’t need road widening and property purchase. Across the slate, the funding freed up by simply doing things in line with the TERP will streamline the whole exercise of balancing the books.
7. Will the AT Board provide the governance required to overhaul organisational conservatism?
Before any vote tomorrow, AT Board members should re-read paragraph 347 of this affidavit in the recent judicial review court case. It’s where the main architect of the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) admitted that he can see no viable solution for achieving the Council targets on emissions reductions.
As pointed out by one of the applicants’ experts:
[the official] appears to believe the choice is between a pathway that will impact negatively on wellbeing, or a pathway that will fail to meet the emissions goals in the timeframe required. This dichotomy is false. It is recognised and accepted throughout the transport sector, both in New Zealand and internationally, that there are many interventions that can meet both wellbeing and climate objectives.
AT management still hasn’t tackled the concerning planning misconceptions revealed in those court documents. Fortunately, the TERP has: it notes that ‘organisational conservatism’ is partly what got us into this corner, and that ‘significant sector reform’ is needed, to overcome:
entrenched ways of working amongst transport and land use planning professionals
These entrenched ways of working are exactly what we’re still witnessing here. Hopefully the Board will see through them, and resist being steamrolled by business-as-usual.
As I wrote in Turning Over a New Leaf, in August last year:
We are under no illusions; this will require a strength in leadership and governance we’ve not yet seen.
8. How will the AT Board ensure AT starts delivering on Council’s climate commitments – and keeps on going?
Next year – 2024, which is ten months away – Auckland Council must be “on track” to deliver Te Tāruke a Tāwhiri, Auckland’s Climate Plan. This is a C40 leadership standard that the Council committed to in 2021, after extensive discussion, deep reflection, and debate.
Decisions like the one AT management is asking the Board to make this week – and which it looks set to punt back to Council for one final sign-off – bring embarrassment on us all.
There is no reason to allow AT to pause the projects further, nor to flick the decision to another committee. That would simply consign the TERP to the pile of False Starts that litter AT’s history.
If the AT Board can help AT move past these critical gaps in their thinking, that will reassure the public that it’s possible for good decisions to be made for every similar ask that comes their way in future.
The AT Board has the authority to fully approve these projects and to call for speedy funding solutions of the middle section – especially as the CEO of Waka Kotahi sits on the board. This will demonstrate they are committed to the TERP, and committed to overhauling AT’s ‘entrenched ways of working’.
The policy is there, and the direction is clear. It’s now down to delivery.