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.

What is unusual is that AT immediately chose to pause only four projects, three of them on the cusp of delivery. These were the three Inner West projects, plus the New North Rd upgrade.

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.

Census 2018 data showing populations across the affected area.

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.

Western Springs College (blue marker), its enrolment zone shaded yellow. The rectangle indicates roughly where connections will be lost if the Waitematā Safer Routes project is not built.

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.

A cartoon by Mehdi Azizi shows children floating to school held aloft by bunches of balloons, while cars fill the streets below.
A cartoon by Mehdi Azizi shows children floating to school held aloft by bunches of balloons, while cars fill the streets below.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

A graphic showing the 44 organisations calling for progress on the Inner West projects so AT can continue to deliver streets across the whole city that give people the freedom to safely walk, bike and bus.

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.

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.

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  1. Only bop have the plan’s to 21st century upgrade trains that could be running from 2 years and Auckland had to miss out on the best trains ever even provided by nasa and government and the ntsb

    1. Blair – can you elaborate on what you mean please? What were these mystery miracle trains that Auckland apparently said no to? I thought that AT just put out a tender for trains, and took the one with the best price?

  2. Its heartening to read this post! A great reminder that it is still possible for AT’s board to take the actions needed to enable TERP and other programmes which support a thriving Auckland to proceed at pace.

  3. BAN PRIVATE MOTOR VEHICLES NOW! Or do something to at least make it more attractive for people to abandon their reliance upon them. Wholeheartedly agree with these ‘please explain your head in the sand ignorance of reality’ for our council with no popular mandate at all.

    1. And exactly how would that work?
      No one is ever going to ban cars – stop being such an idiot.
      Auckland council can address its climate change commitments by improving public transport, making all existing buses run on synthetic fuels and new ones zero emissions, reducing bottlenecks so that traffic flows more smoothly and improving the cycle network.
      It’s a multi solution effort that is needed, not your work anti establishment craziness.

      1. A multi-solution effort is definitely required, but reducing bottlenecks so that traffic flows more smoothly is not one of the solutions. Rather, that is the approach that has created our problems, as it leads to incremental traffic increases, creating bottlenecks elsewhere.

        Bottlenecks can be useful for planning, as they provide the opportunity to ask: What is needed to reduce the traffic throughout the network so that the flowrate at this bottleneck eases comfortably? Low traffic neighbourhoods, parking reduction and levies, safe infrastructure for walking and cycling and better bus amenities to encourage modeshift. There’s a suite of measures to use.

        Matthew’s first solution might have caught your attention, but his second one is perfect: “Or do something to at least make it more attractive for people to abandon their reliance upon them.”

  4. “How will the AT Board stop AT being swayed off course by minority voices?”

    Should be:
    How will the AT Board stop AT being swayed off course by lobby groups?

  5. So, how they discuss the open agenda might give us a clue to how they’ll discuss the closed agenda.

    If the Board can’t see how Management are trying to prevent delivery of these projects, they’re hardly going to see any problems in Management’s ideas about:
    – TERP Implementation – Next Steps and Climate change and TERP implementation
    – Special Event Management
    – Public Transport Recovery
    – Emergency Event Recovery

    It’s a bit of a litmus test, isn’t it?

  6. Great post. I hope the board takes note.

    One thing about leaving out the middle part of the network is that even in the design there is a missing bit on Gt Nth Rd to around the corner where St Joseph’s Church is.

  7. Wow that interview with Mr Lee was an eye opener. Especially regarding the Great North Project.

    “high speed bus lanes and cycle lanes down great north road” … WTF
    “Local plans for a boulevard with trees down the middle”
    “taking away too many parking spaces”

    Sorry … central planted medians with trees providing shade for cars are a ridiculous idea.

    Climate change … all new projects cause emissions … therefore only focus on ‘heavily engineered’ cycleways.

    The system that transport projects operate in have basically mandated all projects are heavily engineered. If you’re adding a cycle way ‘oh you’re introducing vulnerable users, you must do raised tables, raised intersections, more signalised crossings.

    Sorry Mr Lee, you’re basically talking a lot of talk and not offering ANY solutions.
    All your quotes are “I support cycling .. but xyz reasons why I don’t”.

    1. That interview with Lee is extraordinary:
      “I support cycleways” Just not any actual ones.
      “I am a passionate PT advocate” But oppose these projects that prioritise buses and upgrade bus stops.
      “I won the election in this area so I’m in charge” Yes he won the whole ward, but it was the Waiheke numbers that achieved that, he lost the vote in the city side of the ward.
      “There’s a culture war and widespread opposition to these projects” No the projects are proven to be widely supported and he’s the main culture warrior here, with his conspiracy theories about construction companies.

      A little humility and a lot more accuracy from the councillor would be much appreciated.

  8. Thanks for that Heidi, I knew the decision to “pause” these projects was abysmal, but even as a cycle advocate myself, reading your summary of how much hypocrisy is involved here is a bit flabbergasting. A real abdication of responsibility, and some moves of actual active sabotage of agreed policy and ethical acting.

  9. Until we are able to design, structure and manage these projects to be cost effective in NZ, they will go nowhere.
    All involved, including the naive dreamers that think 50% of trips could be made without a vehicle are fools.

    1. Has it occurred to you that for an adult man to think everyone is so utterly dependent on machinery to get around is rather sad? Have you no pride in the competency of your own human body? People in all societies throughout our history have been capable of moving around using their own strength and ability.

      We really aren’t as trapped as you think. If you would release the grip on the thinking that brought us to this car dependent system for a moment, you might discover a new sort of freedom.

      There is absolutely nothing expensive about design for walking, cycling, buses and some trucks. We have the infrastructure we need for those modes, already, and if it was only those modes using it – plus a few cars for specific needs – maintaining it would be very cheap.

      Where costs get out of control is in having to share space on the current infrastructure with cars. That’s hugely problematic and costly, because cars hog so much space.

      AT’s designs are certainly not perfect, but had these particular ones been delivered years ago when they should have, we could now be seeing better designs being delivered, from AT having learnt some lessons along the way.

      This is what is naive: your thinking that anyone should stop proceeding with the best decarbonisation plan available in NZ, simply on the basis of your personal inability to imagine how it will work.

      1. Excellent comment, thank you Heidi. People like Bevan need to get a grip. Travelling *everywhere* via car is an aberration that future generations will castigate us for.

      2. Sadly a typically snarky comment from Heidi which is little more than hate speech.

        Not to mention the lies. Nothing expensive about the infrastructure for walking, cycling etc. Has Heidi forgotten about the $16 million spent on the pink path? If this type of infrastructure is not expensive compared with the benefits, why is it that Heidi never talks about cost benefit in her rambling pieces?

        As we are seeing with the CRL, non-road infrastructure does tend to be expensive (second most expensive piece of rail on the planet per/km) and tends to deliver less than anticipated.

        Contrary to Heidi’s opinion, Aucklanders have a good understanding of how a de-carbonised transport plan would work. They are seeing it now. It means longer travel times. It means less time with their children. It means less productivity. It means lower wages. It means seeing your family and friends leave the city and living better lifestyles outside of Auckland.

        Only the blinded are guided by climate panic to back ideological nonsense like a 50% reduction in vehicle movements.

  10. Time to get rid of Auckland Transport and Auckland Council. No one is impressed with their performance. There are 66 bureaucratises looking after New Zealand roads – I can’t understand why anyone would think New Zealanders are getting value. Those who argue Council is critical for local advocacy, miss the point that almost half (45%) of all Aucklanders think Council is an unstable decision maker. It’s time to centralise everything. Make Council redundant.

  11. Auckland needs world class roading infrastructure. The AT team is dedicated on delivering the needs of Aucklanders. Cars are the bread and butter of successful transportation in a city like Auckland. There is simply no better alternative.

  12. MoT needs to get on with it and allow congestion charging in all major cities as needed.

    Without the ability to manage peak traffic demand through pricing too much funding will always go to roading, and other modes will always be compromised.

    1. At the moment, they’re busy putting the cart before the horse. Charging parking at the zoo and MOTAT as a way to ‘encourage bike and PT use’. Right, at a site away from the train line and where we’re fine because we’re literally on the only bus route that goes by there (others would have to come into the city and then catch it out)

      Actually, pausing these projects would gravely affect this move and given the profit AC will make as result, incentivise keeping the pause indefinitely.

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