Monday, 11th October, 2021

News that the Government is to scrap its ill-conceived cycle bridge across the Waitemata Harbour is as welcome as it is unsurprising.

Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t mean that the misguided approach to transport planning that led to the project being put forward in the first place will also be reconsidered.

In Auckland, and across the country, we are seeing significant cut-backs to roading budgets, in order to accommodate a massive increase in spending on public transport (PT).  And, while several large-scale road projects have been announced, the Government’s plans stop there.  There is no intention to start on any other major roads – not even scoping work – in the next 10 years.  

Let’s be clear: the problem is not investment in PT; it is inadequate invest­ment to support the needs of general traffic and freight at the same time.

Sitting behind the Government’s approach is simplistic, doctrinaire think­ing, and faulty logic when it comes to the role played by roads in the transport system.

This logic says that, if you increase road capacity, it leads to people mak­ing car trips they otherwise wouldn’t make or switching to cars from other transport modes, which in turn leads to more congestion.  On this basis, proponents argue, there’s little or no value in investing in roads – the money is better spent on PT and active transport.

The main flaw with this argument is that it fails to acknowledge the pres­sure that population growth puts on the transport network, and the crip­pling impact that under-investment in roads will have in a fast-growing, car-oriented city like Auckland.

Auckland has grown by 30,000-50,000 people each year for most of the last decade, and another 260,000 people are expected in the decade ahead.

There is no realistic way that the bulk of that growth can be absorbed by PT, walking and cycling.

The transport network remains completely dominated by private vehicles (they account for 95% of the distance travelled in Auckland), and even with billions of dollars being directed towards PT and active transport in the ten-year Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), little change in the proportions is forecast.

Moreover, RLTP forecasts show a worrying increase in congestion over the coming decade (the situation will be even worse now that Mill Road has been axed), meaning increased travel times, increased stop-start traf­fic and, in turn, increased emissions.

Alongside the investment in PT, walking and cycling, we need to see greater investment in roads on the periphery of the city, targeted widening of the motorway, and new strategic corridors (further into the future). 

Without this, it will prove impossible to move people and goods efficiently and to access the land Auckland needs for affordable housing – it’s also very likely to do more harm than good for climate change goals.

Cities in Australia and around the world are investing more than ever in PT, but they’re also investing massively in the new roads needed to sup­port population growth. Our leaders need to realise that it’s not a case of committing one or the other – you need to prioritise both.