Welcome to Friday. Here are a few stories that stood out this week.
The Week in Greater Auckland
- On Monday, Robert McLachlan wrote about the bicycle as climate hope.
- On Tuesday, Matt covered Auckland Transport’s proposed new Regional Public Transport Plan.
- On Thursday, Heidi looked at the council’s proposed Future Development Strategy.
Great North Inaction
Hayden Donnell has written a number of fantastic pieces on Auckland urban issues along with the culture problems at the likes of AT. He’s done another fantastic one for Metro Magazine which is now available. It focuses on how a very small group of anti-cycleway protesters and politicians were able to delay the Great North Rd improvements for eight months, during which they came close to getting the whole project cancelled, despite otherwise near unanimous support for it from across the community.
Transport advocates see Great North Rd as a case study for AT’s well-documented bias towards inaction and endless consultation. They say it shows how politicians can use dubious financial constraints to undermine projects they oppose on ideological grounds. But in the eyes of many of the project’s supporters, it’s also a lesson in how a small number of sufficiently vehement activists can take advantage of local government’s risk aversion. When asked why a popular, majority-government-fund- ed, shovel-ready, long-overdue project has been beset by seemingly endless delay, Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa ward councillor Julie Fairey pauses a second, then sighs. “There’s a Margaret Mead quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’,” she says. “That works in both directions. It works for the better and for the worse.”
In this system, if you shout long and loud enough, you can sometimes drown out everyone else.
The whole thing is well worth a read.
Why not Waiheke
Last year Auckland Transport announced changes to ferry services following a deal with Fullers. It saw the Devonport route finally coming under their control in the same way that buses, trains and most other ferry routes operate. However, Waiheke was excluded and remains a fully commercially operated route. Those two routes were exempted from normal PT contracting rules by the previous government and Auckland had asked the government to remove that exemption but they had encouraged a negotiated outcome.
However, it appears that following that deal, a report to Waka Kotahi recommended there was a case for change in the status of Waiheke ferries.
In August 2022, consultant Barry Kidd was engaged to assess the situation and concluded that “there is a strong case for changing the status of the Waiheke Ferry Service from exempt to contracted”.
His report stated that Auckland Transport (AT) had consistently identified the service as integral to the region’s public transport network and for many island residents was their only transport link to Auckland City with access to employment, tertiary education and training, and medical services.
Residents had not been able to take advantage of public transport discounts, including a 50% discount for community service cardholders.
However, the report warned that residents’ concerns may not be solved by removing the exemption, which “may in fact exacerbate some of them”.
Fare reductions were likely to increase demand, particularly over summer weekends, when there were already capacity issues.
Todd Niall at Stuff highlighted at the start of the week how AT’s RPTP falls short on climate emissions.
Auckland’s new public transport plan seeks to increase patronage by 50% in the next eight years, with more low-carbon travel, but falls far short of what the city’s own emissions reduction plan requires.
The Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) has a goal of 150 million boardings by 2031, but the council’s Transport Emission Reduction Pathway (TERP) says a target of 550 million will be needed by 2030.
The RPTP is a statutory plan required to be agreed between the council and transports co-funder the government, and the latest draft iteration from 2023-31 will reignite debate on planning for change that don’t deliver climate action goals.
And, in a follow-up story, he looked at the urgency with which the Mayor is (or isn’t) ensuring Auckland delivers on climate promises made in South Korea just a couple of months ago:
AT is still working out how to devise a plan, let alone implement one, and quite how or when this gap between a majority – but not unanimous – political enthusiasm for TERP will come face to face with AT’s leadership is not clear.
One approach clearly not taken, is for AT to create an urgent implementation plan, and then point out the funding gap, so that the politicians can help them address it.
Brown put his signature to a document in Busan which pledged “active leadership in resolving climate change issues”.
The mayor will need to demonstrate soon that he is serious at home, about delivering promises made abroad.
That didn’t take long
It seems Auckland’s newest motorway already has a problem:
Waka Kotahi claims the multi-million dollar Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway is resilient and safe despite needing a major patch-up just a month after opening due to a landslide that is still moving.
It is a problem the Transport Agency knew about before the ribbon was even cut on the $880 million project.
Cracks have appeared in concrete barriers after recent storms reactivated a known slip. Reports obtained by RNZ show the earth is moving towards the carriageway at a stop-start rate at times exceeding 30cm a week.
London’s Elizabeth Line beats forecasts
Overseas we’re starting to see some public transport use in some cities recover strongly, some are now even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. In London, usage is back to nearly 90% of what it was before COVID and interestingly, numbers for the new Elizabeth line are showing usage ahead of even their optimistic post-pandemic predictions.
Ahead of an Elizabeth line committee meeting next week, Transport for London (TfL) says that the Elizabeth line is now beating post-pandemic passenger number forecasts. In its first full year of operation, the Elizabeth line carried just over 150 million passenger journeys, and although passenger demand is below pre-pandemic forecasts it’s above a range of post-pandemic projections.
The line is averaging around 3.5 million journeys each week, with the busiest week on the railway peaking at over 4.1 million journeys. Assuming nothing else, then they expect this year to carry around 170 million passenger journeys and could reach 200 million a year if post-pandemic recovery continues.
Maybe one day soon we’ll be able to start claiming near pre-pandemic levels of PT usage.
From the ‘tell us you don’t ride a bike without saying you don’t ride a bike” files
The Herald reports:
Rotorua’s MP has slammed a mandate that could lead to speeds on the majority of the city’s urban streets being set to 30km/h, claiming “a child on a pushbike would be breaking the law”.
Rotorua Lakes Council has opened public consultation on its draft Speed Management Plan 2023. It describes in its consultation document that while people can have a say on some proposals, it could not change the national mandate for the speed to be 30km/h around schools.
The rule was part of the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s Road to Zero initiative and aimed to set “appropriate” speeds around schools. Schools and the council could determine this area, whether it was a road running past a school gate or a wider area including roads with a “higher volume of active-mode travel”, the agency’s website said.
Graph of the week
Tying in with Heidi’s post about the Future Development Strategy, this graph shared by Wellington Regional Councillor Thomas Nash helpfully lays out the cost of urban sprawl to the average ratepayer:
Let’s talk about potholes
There’s been a lot of talk about potholes recently – a relatable topic that highlights a whole lot of other issues around climate and road maintenance funding priorities.
The Spinoff has a good piece on everything you always wanted to know about potholes but were afraid to ask… although not quite everything – two additional details worth knowing are firstly that in order to fix potholes properly, you need a stretch of good weather (something that’s increasingly in short supply).
And, as per this tweet by Cr Richard Hills: a key part of the picture is that road maintenance budgets were frozen for a significant stretch in order to fund major roading projects. Which is an unsustainable approach, as we’re discovering.
Via Twitter, this cartoon by Stuff’s Sharon Murdoch puts potholes into broader perspective:
Hate potholes? Support bike lanes, as this on-it tweet suggests:
Lastly, some cheerier stories to wrap up with…
Breaking news Friday 11.20am: the Reshaping Streets rules have just come through. These updates will empower Councils to more easily modify and test changes to streets, including things like community play streets and events, as well as trialling different layouts so people can experience them in real time. See also this coverage by Stuff.
First, this video story highlights some really clever before-and-after images by photographer Brian Donovan of various locations around Auckland, and lends a longer-term frame to many of our discussions here. You can see Brian’s “then-and-now” images online here, as well as a whole lot of fascinating images he’s taken over the years, like this one of motorway construction through Grafton Gully, part of a set.
Oh hey, did somebody say before-and-after? You know we love them. Here’s one. Eight months, $11.5m. Over to you, Auckland Transport…
Children are the future…
Here’s a nice video by AT looking at the positive outcomes of its safe speeds zone around an inner-city school. Kids, parents and schools are great advocates, especially when given tangible improvements to speak to, rather than endless consultations and promises of jam tomorrow. Next task: fix those red-light runners and improve walking and biking safety at intersections and side streets. But you have to start somewhere, right?
Meanwhile, in weather-beaten Central Hawke’s Bay, councils are catching up on local street changes to make it safer to walk and bike to school, and to get around neighbourhoods safely:
Central Hawke’s Bay District Council chief executive Doug Tate says while recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle remains a priority, the Streets for People and Transport Choices programmes can now slowly be reactivated.
“We’re seeing first-hand the impact of our changing climate – Cyclone Gabrielle followed the wettest winter on record. Both the Streets for People and Transport Choices programmes encourage safer, healthier active ways to get around, helping to reduce emissions.
“We would never be able to afford these programmes on our own, especially not now, so we’re grateful to Waka Kotahi for funding and ongoing support.”
And here’s an inspiring read about Sophie Howe, currently visiting New Zealand: she’s the Welsh civil servant whose job it is to speak for those who aren’t here yet, “the world’s only Future Generations Commissioner, representing the interests of unborn generations”:
Howe might be best known for standing up to the Welsh government’s plans to spend £1.4 billion (NZ$2.9B) building a 14-mile stretch of motorway.
“We’re in a climate emergency, and we need to reduce our emissions from transport. It impacts the health of current and future generations, in terms of high levels of air pollution,” she said. “We’re continuing to invest in an old solution and never getting to the root cause.”
The commissioner asked the Welsh parliament, the Senedd, to justify the motorway extension between the cities of Cardiff and Bristol. The politicians found that difficult to do, Howe said.
“They cancelled it, and then reformed the entire transport strategy for Wales. Investing in roads is now at the bottom of the list… safer routes for walking and cycling is at the top,” she said.
“The [political] system discounts the interests of future generations. It operates in silos and works on the basis of short-term political cycles. It’s no wonder… away from the arenas like COP [the annual UN climate summits], that what we promised doesn’t play out. Although reforming governance and systems of decision-making sounds boring, to me it’s the absolutely critical missing element,” Howe said.
“It’s quite a brave government that’s going to set up an institution to tell them when they get things wrong.”
To win over politicians and the public to green solutions, Howe recommends highlighting the positives – such as the beauty and sense of community that comes when busy roads and car parks are replaced with tree-lined footpaths, cycleways and public spaces.
Howe acknowledged there’s a bit of guesswork in the job. “The unborn don’t talk to me very often,” she joked.
But there’s plenty of data and projections – from climate science to economic trends – to understand the challenges of the future. She regularly asked living citizens about what they want to leave to their grandchildren.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s probably the best one we’ve got.”
Have a good weekend.