Tēnā koutou, everyone – hope your week has been a good one.

This Week in Greater Auckland

A busy week in the blog mines for Matt in particular. Just a reminder that we always welcome guest posts  (and reposts) on topics relevant to the field of urbanism and the future of Tāmaki Makaurau in particular. Drop us a line (admin at greaterauckland.org.nz) if you have something to share.

On Monday, Matt wrote about about the consultation and redesign for the Upper Harbour Drive cycleway.

On Tuesday, Matt asked, who doesn’t want to build our roads back better? after the government’s apparent sudden U-turn on their transport strategy and whether climate is still the overarching consideration.*

* Breaking news: judgement has been delivered on a citizen-led case that hoped to clarify that Waka Kotahi should prioritise emissions reduction in all of its planning, delivery, and calculation of BCRs.

The key ruling appears to be that the Government Policy Statement on Transport is “just vibes” (albeit also “#goals”) and thus when it comes to nationwide climate action from the transport sector, “meh” and “YMMV” and “#roadboss”. For a more precise account of the judgement and what it means, check out this comprehensive article on Newsroom.

On Wednesdaywe reposted our cry of anguish and call for action from exactly a year ago, when Levi James was tragically failed by Auckland Transport.

Yesterday, Matt covered the latest progress on the City Rail Link.

Life in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

As we’ve written on here before, people will pay good money to live in, or even just visit, low-traffic neighbourhoods. They look forward to it for ages, and reminisce about it forever. Imagine that everyday luxury delivered right to your doorstep.

Like, who wouldn’t want our cities and suburbs to look and feel more like this?

And it can help lead to more of this:

And once you get the through-traffic out, it becomes easier for emergency services to do their job:

Air Pollution is Killing Us Early

Getting people out of cars will also have significant widespread health benefits. The Herald reports:

Two air pollutants are quietly contributing to thousands of premature deaths in New Zealand every year, shows a new analysis that’s prompted fresh calls for tougher regulations.

While New Zealand’s air quality is generally considered good by international standards, Stats NZ’s newly updated indicator has linked pollution from vehicles and fireplaces to around nine times more early deaths than last year’s road toll.

The indicator data was calculated using the latest Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) model, which was published in 2022 and used 2006 and 2016 as base years.

It focused on two human-made pollutants associated with health risks: PM2.5 – or fine particulate matter measuring fewer than 2.5 micrometres in diameter – and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

While NO2 was mostly linked to traffic pollution, PM2.5 also stemmed from other sources of fossil fuel combustion, such as people burning wood and coal for home heating over winter.

In 2016 – the most recent year for which suitable population, health, and air quality data was available – the pollutants were linked to an estimated 13,155 hospitalisations and 3,317 premature deaths.

Image via Stats NZ

Those numbers! To put them in perspective, that adds up to a yearly death toll roughly the equivalent of our total cumulative deaths from Covid-19 so far. An alternative headline might be: “Annual traffic deaths 7x higher than previously understood”.

And here’s another reason to address this:

Importantly, studies were increasingly suggesting that air pollution could affect our brains, as well as our heart and lungs.

“We could literally be making ourselves dumber by not addressing poor air quality.”

Meanwhile, London is showing that direct measures to cut pollution can have a significant impact, such as their Ultra Low Emission Zone, which charges £12.50 per day if your vehicle doesn’t meet emissions standards.

London’s experience also suggests the key to making these zones work is putting effort into giving people alternatives.

If that feels too challenging for Auckland just yet, reducing speed limits is another proven way to significantly reduce the amount of air pollution from traffic. It also saves lives, a win-win.

Regional inspiration: yes, we can have nice things!

In a great Twitter thread starting last September, Stuart Houghton shares images of an incredible transformation in Taupo. It’s amazing to think that SH1 used to run through here – and now it’s a lakefront space for people.

You can read more about the Taupō Town Centre Transformation here – it’s a strategic urban and public realm design refresh, funded by the MBIE Covid-19 Relief Fund. Love your work, Taupō District Council and Boffa Miskell!

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Book Recommendation Corner

We haven’t read these (yet) but they look like some great adds to the urbanism bookshelf:

  • Henry Grabar’s Paved Paradise, coming out on May 9th, is “the story of how our demand for free and easy parking screwed up our cities – and how we can undo the damage.”
  • Dr Leslie Kern‘s Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World, is the subject of the latest episode of the must-listen War on Cars podcast.
  • Paris Marx’s Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About the Future of Transportation is already available in local bookshops – and so too will the author be, on Thursday 30 March at Time Out Bookstore on Mt Eden Road. It’s a cosy space, so be sure to book your spot here. There’s also a great interview with Paris here.

Graphic invitation to a session with Paris Marx, author of Road to Nowhere, at Time Out Bookstore on Mt Eden Road, 30 March at 6pm

Buses and Trains in Spain

Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker thinks Barcelona might have the worlds most legible bus network.

He’s also written about it in the past – worth re-reading as a useful reminder of the liberty that comes with this kind of legibility.

While we’re in Spain, how about some armchair travelling with a video on why density matters, with a focus on Valencia.

Slipping Away

It continues to be a tough time for many parts of the country in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and other weather events. Among the latest news is a new slip north of Whangamata in the Coromandel, which, combined with the huge slip on SH25a (aka the Kopu-Hikuai saddle) will only make access more difficult for people and towns north of there.

Meanwhile in Hawkes Bay, the images and video in this article highlights the extent of the damage to the rail line between Napier and Hastings – something Kiwirail says will take months to fix. You can see rail lines that have been twisted and bridges washed away.

A Kiwirail engineer notes that the focus of the repairs will be on an “ugly, fast” approach, with the goal of coming back again in the future to do it better.

Image by John Cowpland at Stuff

And it’s not just New Zealand experiencing these ongoing weather events: California is set to get some record precipitation, on top of an already unseasonable amount of snow in its highest places. Where will the water go?

Intercity Thoughts

Once those tracks are restored, here’s an idea:

Mark your calendars!

Bike Auckland’s upcoming Bike Champions’ Forum is on Wednesday 22 March, doors open 5.30pm for a 6-8pm session, at the Flagship, 55 Madden St in Wynyard Quarter.

The topic: this one neat trick to reduce traffic congestion, enjoy cleaner air in our cities, make our streets safer, improve accessibility for young, elderly and disabled people, and combat the cost of living crisis—all while helping to protect our planet. You guessed it: e-bikes!

Speaking of e-bikes, once again we are asking: when will the government bring in incentives for equitable access to electric mobility? Then we can take our place on the map amongst other smart countries of the world!

Need more convincing?

And furthermore…

Electrify all the things!

It’s not just e-bikes that will change the way we move. Here’s a great nitty-gritty local read on the immense potential of electric trucks to shift the way freight is moved around.

We’re noticing a common theme: companies like this take the plunge into low-carbon options, and find it’s working even better than expected, and moreover, that it can be rapidly scaled up. A timely example of how and why to move the dial for climate action – and why government caution is unwarranted.

“It’s not a science experiment or a greenwashing thing. The trucks are going to do the job the old ones did,” Mark (Darrah, director of Reliance Transport) says as we take a walk around the Wiri depot. “The trucks spend a lot of time stationary loading and unloading – we don’t need a big range.”

Mark explains the potential savings. “For diesel, we may look at 2kpl at $1.20. Fuelling an EV is four to 15 times cheaper, depending on how you source or produce your energy.”

“There are all these little nuances,” Mark says. The megawatt charging standard coming in 2024 will revolutionise it, so we have to design our charging infrastructure for that. We can connect to the grid to trickle charge at night when the cost is low and have a 300kW solar setup and a 2mWh battery storage system to charge at a megawatt off- grid. That’s a couple of million dollars…

“But we’ve burnt a million litres of diesel a year for the past 15 years… so investing in the long term, we can drop energy to a fraction and fix that cost for decades with a microgrid.”

One last image that gave us a happy buzz this week…

Phew, it’s been a busy old week, so we’ll wrap this up and post it for your morning-tea and lunchtime reading. We know there’s always tons more news to discuss – we look forward to your links in the comments! Happy recharging over the weekend, everyone.

Header image: the Taupō Town Centre Transformation, by Stuart Houghton.

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  1. Re the pollution study, I have always thought this should have been front and center of the discussion, long before climate change.

    1. I agree. We don’t want to change the way we live so the thousands of New Zealanders who die every year from air pollution are just collateral damage.

      1. I think given the opportunity people would change. It’s the oil industry and legacy auto makers that are making that change difficult for the individual and lobbying governments to be afraid.

    2. It was through the 80s – early 2010s

      Both are important, and they’re similar goals. Electrification helps both.

      But it’s absolutely bonkers that we don’t even have any roadmap to implement Euro 6 in NZ. The most popular vehicles are Euro 5 diesels. A standard so leaky that it basically has no real world improvement over Euro 3, and was replaced pronto overseas.

      Dieselgate scandal here? nope, we just keep the same regulations they were working around for a decade and let them do what they like. Toyota sells Euro 6d models in europe that emit an order of magnitude less toxic gases / particulates, but Euro 5 only here, don’t even offer Euro 6 engines here.

      1. Great to transport companies like Reliance have pathways to both EVs and Euro6. Let’s hope there are more enlightened truckers like them out there.

        1. I don’t think it so much progressive more like economic . When other companies see Reliance getting the contracts with electric trucks they will all have to follow.
          This is another take on it.

  2. “Human nature ” is funny,in a macabre sort of way. Presented with overwhelming evidence of a “better way,”(cleaner air to breathe,healthier lifestyle,better neighborhoods, etc),there is a collective shoulder shrug,and acceptance of BAU.
    Even worse than this,the proponents of the “better way” seem to be viewed as “out of step” with the rest of society.
    Mother Nature,will in the end,have the last laugh,unfortunately.

  3. Anyone know when the Bike the harbour bridge events are happening? I recall that they were going to happen on a ticketed basis but haven’t heard much since the events were announced

  4. A ‘2mWh battery storage system to charge at a megawatt off- grid’ would allow for 0.000000002 hours of megawatt charging (7.2 microseconds), transferring 7.2 Joules of energy. I really hope they invest in a 2 MWh battery storage system.

  5. The government has announced a new $78 million upgrade to Christchurch’s bus services, the fund comes from the cancelled Auckland Northern Pathway walking and cycling bridge. The funding will cover 22km of new bus lanes , 100 more buses, more frequent services, and over 400 additional bus shelters.

    Plus there is also a consultation from local authorities and Waka on a new mass rapid transit system in the Garden City..


  6. For those on here that think ULEZ is such a great idea, think again.

    The mayor of London is forcing nurses, cleaners and others in the low wage economy to divest of vehicles newer then most cars in NZ and due to this scheme. Most are unable to replace them even though public transport in the outer suburbs and satellite towns of London effected by this is garbage during unsociable hours when many of them work.

    It’s just green washing.

    My Jag is a big dirty polluting beast (3 litre diesel) but is exempt due to the date of it’s manufacture whereas my Hyundai which is a 1 litre diesel one year older falls victim.

    It’s just a tax to prop up the mayor’s office, nothing more and TfLs own research proves this. Take a look at how many councils are fighting the mayor over this.

      1. As I said, fine for those well off like me and likely you (someone who I’d guess would live in London’s inner boroughs where transport is very good) but for those less well off it’s not good reading at all. Those who can afford it likely have a compliant vehicle already but the used car market here is crazy thanks to COVID so those in need suffer.

        Just imagine if it was applied across Auckland at $25 a day. South Auckland would be in big big trouble:


        1. Question is mainly, what would it cover. Our society heavily marginalises and penalises people who get around by other means than a car.

          It would be a start to cover the city centre, at least there many people already don’t have cars / don’t get around by driving all the time, and it is at least somewhat reachable by public transport.

          Outside that small area, the alternatives are so punishing, the only effect you can possibly have are people having to spend a lot of money on new cars. That is not an ideal outcome.

          Ideally things like low emission zones (and also congestion charges) would work, but it would be completely cynical to introduce these in Auckland in its current state. You’ll instantly poison the well for another two generations.

    1. Looking to the UK in general is not a great idea. Honestly feel sorry for everyone there (except the landed homeowners). They’re now poorer than New Zealanders, they suppress homebuilding like there is no tomorrow so housing costs are insane, and getting much worse.

      At least NZ is on the up and up. The UK is country rapidly declining, still pretending they’re rich. “Taking a look” at anything political there is a dumpster fire. The entire country / political system is geared to benefit existing homeowners and landowners. Particularly the local governments.

      On the ULEZ front, do you understand the rules at all? It’s all about the Euro generation they conform to. Euro 5 to Euro 6 is a massive step up. Yes, your 3 litre euro 6 diesel is going to be cleaner than a 1 litre euro 5 model. Euro 5 was such a leaky standard that the real world difference to Euro 6 is much greater than the on paper difference. It’s better for local air quality to drive the jag (making no mention of global co2 emissions because then its a different story)

      1. I wish the suppressing of homes were true but take a quick look at where I live Aylesbury to see that that’s not the case at all. Copy paste houses that are of a low quality but expensive to buy, much like a lot of NZs stock, new and old.

  7. I see with the rail rebuild on the eastern line they will run express buses from both Panmure and Glen Innes. Also the Onehunga line will go into Britomart again but only in off peak. During peak will just run to Penrose.

  8. So, videos from Shifter and City Nerd but not Not Just Bikes’ new one about oversized utes and SUVs?


    I was walking by one of the new schools out this way, and for a moment I thought literally every car in the carpark was a SUV. It turned out I just couldn’t see the minivans hidden behind them. Minivans! Hidden behind SUVs.

  9. Does Taupo still have the fake raised crossings with “pedestrians give way to cars” signs? These town centre improvements are great but there are a lot of gaps, and Taupo is culturally a drivers town.

    1. Agreed. The town centre is a traffic jam. Acacia Bay is 9km from town, Five Mile Bay… you work it out. The new lakefront is nice, but it was enabled by construction of 16 km bypass with massive cuttings and bridges, not a viable solution for most places. And the old SH 1 seems to be busier than before the bypass. And the council still hasn’t resolved the bus/toilet issue that Paul Callister wrote about here years ago, even after agreeing to do so in mediation.

      1. The good news is that most town centre’s in New Zealand have already had a bypass constructed. In Auckland, every single town centre on Great South Road has been bypassed, but we haven’t got around to the urban realm improvements

    1. Nicely encapsulating some of the pros and cons of a bypass.

      A sane solution would be make the place accessible for driving people, without *prioritising* cars… NZ seems to struggle with that concept.

      Even in “cars first” Auckland, we now regularly do traffic calming and zebra crossings (albeit we struggle with how to deal with SUVs able to still ride roughshod at speed over them 🙁 ) So surely we can do that in a tourist town!

  10. “One more bypass will fix it, then we can road-diet them.”

    [Followed by]

    “Now is not the time to propose such radical change. Think of the [insert local dairy / restaurant / character building] and the damage it would do if people couldn’t drive there anymore!”

    We constantly promise that the good stuff will be done next year. But then there’s the next crisis, and we go back to doing the same thing and argue there’s no money and no social license for change.

    I used to hope that high fuel prices would eventually FORCE a rethink, but it seems we’d rather beggar ourselves to buy millions of electric cars and rebuild our highways every storm season than change. I guess I am a crotchety old man nowadays, except unlike most complaining that things are being changed, I am complaining that nothing ever seems to change.

    1. Argh. That was to go after Sailor Boys comment above about how every town centre in Auckland already has bypasses.

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