The shorter version
There are already ample excellent ideas for specific changes to improve transport in our city, some designed by actual traffic engineers and urban designers and planners (none of which I have any actual expertise in), and I’m certainly not going to rehash the details for all of them.
I want to share what I think are some of our priorities, so I’ll try to keep things fairly simple:
- I’m inspired by The Congestion Free Network.
- I want to see more safe and pleasant walking & cycling, and public transport. More about cycling.
- The next harbour crossing should be rail first and other options second (or not at all).
- I supported the SkyPath campaign, even though it’s a tacked on solution and we’d be better off if our next harbour crossing is a bridge with rail and pedestrian access designed in from the start.
- I support expanding the lower speed areas we’ve put in place on Queen St and Ponsonby Rd throughout the rest of Waitematā.
- As our city continues to grow I think it’ll be helpful if we have light rail in town and around Waitematā. More about trams/light rail.
- There should be rail to the airport. It should already exist. It’s embarrassing that it hasn’t already happened so we need to make it happen.
The longer version
For a long time now transport in Auckland has been treated as if it’s synonymous with cars, but they don’t actually go. Transport is about people getting where they’re going. For some trips that does mean you take a car, but when you want to get most of your population into a few concentrated parts of the city cars aren’t the best option. The best option, actually, is no single thing. The best option is to provide a lot of options.
Auckland was a public transport city before it was a car city, with over 100 million annual PT trips in the 1950s, thanks in no small part to our hugely popular tram network.
Many of us who live Waitematā also work here, and that closer proximity means we can freely choose how we get to and from work. Very few people in Waitematā are further than 45 minutes walk from the heart of the city, and it’s even quicker by bike, and if you’re within comfortable range of any of the Link bus routes you also benefit from probably the best bus service in Auckland – compared to the old spoke-style bus routes we used to have, it’s now hugely faster and more convenient to get from, say, Parnell to Ponsonby than it used to be.
But there’s a problem on the way for Waitematā, as our population increases, our bus patronage will also increase, and the projections for the number of buses we’ll need to have in the city to provide that service are really, on some streets – Symonds St for instance – will basically be stuffed full of with buses. This is far preferable to being full of cars, of course, because with buses we’ll be moving a lot more people.
But a lot of sensible people say, and I agree, that there’s a solution: light rail.
Of course we used to have a tram network (I wrote a bit about some of the history of trams in Auckland already), which was the old-fashioned form of modern light rail, and if we’d just kept that network, and gradually invested in and upgraded it over the years our city might have a very different shape today.
It’s quite expensive to build compared to having a bus sharing the same streets as cars do, but the per hour passenger throughput of light rail is really high compared to cars and buses, so it’ll mean we can keep our city moving even when we have a higher population than we have today. Not doing it will have a greater cost to the city.
In many ways we’re more affected by people from the rest of Auckland coming into “our” (for want of a better word) suburbs every day and choking up our local streets than we are by the use of some of those other forms of transport ourselves.
I suggest you go down to Britomart and take the train out to Sylvia Park this Christmas if you want a demonstration of just how pleasant it can be to choose an alternative mode when so many other people are trying to drive somewhere. It’s fantastic. This is why we need to invest in a bunch of different modes that don’t interfere with each other. Traffic congestion doesn’t affect trains, and it’ll be just the same with grade separated light rail.
Even if purely out of self-interest rather than the more desirable altruism it’s still in our best interests to make sure the rest of Auckland can get around easily without having to resort to driving for every journey. After all not many of us are going to end up with a train parked across our driveway, but many of us have had people park for free on our residential Waitematā sidestreets and heading off to work, haven’t we?
In cities, for most people, for most trips, and certainly for getting to work every day, cars are the past, not the future.
NB. I used the word “our” several times but it’s not quite what I mean. We don’t really own the space on the street in front of our house. That’s communal. It’s for other people to use if they need. But it’s better for us if fewer people need space so that when we have friends and family visit they can do so.