Along with ‘Transformational’ the other phrase suffering from misuse in discussions around Auckland’s transport plans at the moment is ‘Multi-Modal’. This seems to have come from the logistics sector where it refers to the sending of goods over a variety of technologies and/or involving handling by various companies to get to their destination. In the urban transport context it seems to have at least three meanings:
1. A journey that uses more than one kind of movement, eg walk/bus/walk, or drive/rail/walk, or bike/ferry, or even bus/bus/bus [3 different bus rides] and so on.
2. An infrastructure project designed to facilitate different modes of movement, eg the AMETI project includes highways, buslanes, cycleways, and train station redevelopment, so can be described as multi-modal.
3. An analysis of needs for an area that sets out to not proscribe what mode, or combination of modes, will provide the best outcome. Currently there is [yet another] study into the transport needs of south west Auckland that aims to be multi-modal, which is to say it will look at whether trains, bus systems, more motorways, or maybe teleporting [!?], will best suit the needs of the area and at what cost.
So we can see how the phrase can mean various things, although generally we can say it is intended as a positive; as it sounds like a good thing, sounds like it offers choice, democracy, and in a sophisticated way. Who doesn’t want that?
Here is Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye:
I support, as does the Government, the development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternative modes to transport.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Except this is from at post on her website where the MP is detailing the government’s refusal to support the construction of the City Rail Link, because, somehow, it supports ‘a robust multi-modal plan’. So when you don’t want to support something but still want to appear all positive it seems calling for ‘a thorough analysis of all the alternative modes to [sic] transport’ seems like a cunning choice of phrasing; go all multi-modal. Okay, so perhaps we’ed better look at this phrase a little deeper.
The multi-modal journey.
Almost all public transport trips are multi-modal. With the occassional exception of someone who say works at Westpac, whose offices are directly above Britomart and who also happens to live right next door to another train station, all PT trips can be assumed to involve getting to the point of connection with the transit system by some other means, usually walking, and then doing the same at the other end of the transit journey. This fact is one of the reasons that cities with more effective public transport systems consistently record better health statistics than those without. Simply because with more people using PT, more people are getting more exercise.
The chief advantage of the vehicle mode is that it can be point to point. Straight from your garage at home to the carpark at your office. So while very handy also both extremely sedentary and completely mono-modal; therefore cities dominated by car use report poorer public health outcomes. There is all the evidence in the world for this for example; here, here, and here.
Of course park’n'ride journeys are also multi-modal, but usually involve less walking. And when I ride my bike to University I am only using one mode point to point, but still getting more exercise than those rainy days when I take the bus. But despite these two examples a place that supports more PT journeys, and therefore more multi-modal journeys, reports better health outcomes.
Nikki Kaye again:
Yes well Multi-Modal does include cycling and walking, and it’s great that Kaye knows this but do her government’s transport policies actually encourage more of either? There is nothing, for example, about opposing the construction of the City Rail Link that supports either Multi-Modality or cycling and walking. In fact quite the reverse. All PT encourages walking, offers choices other than driving, and frees the streets up to be available to cyclists and walkers. And fully underground and transformative projects like the CRL do these things extremely well.
So lets look at some more examples.
It is often gloomily noted that in order to get funding for a cycleway in Auckland you first need to find a billion dollar motorway project to attach it to. Certainly this is true of the Waterview project [and here] which despite taking place on a rail designation its only claim to any multi-modality is that the Environment Court has forced the addition of some pretty good funds for cycleways and paths as a means to mitigate the negative effects of this motorway on the local community. It has no public transport component -so other than the mitigating paths and bridges it is not really a multi-modal project. Hopefully AT will add buslanes to Gt North Rd after this project is complete but there is no funding or specific inclusion of bus priority in the Waterview project itself.
Multi-modality can be retro-fitted to an ordinary road too. Here is a multi-modal street in Manhattan: From left; bike lane, parking, general traffic, dedicated buslane. And to top it off pedestrian priority in the foreground. Four modes each with their own priority, clearly to do this you need a fair bit of road width, and that presupposes other systems of movement to compliment the road space. Of course Manhattan has a comprehensive subway system to free up this roadspace.
This pattern of strict separation isn’t the only way to multi up the modes; there’s also the ‘shared space’ way, this offers a more anarchic multi-modality that can work extremely well, especially in narrower streets where vehicles can be calmed by enough users of other modes, this type of system is common with trams too:
Or we could think of particularly mono-modal systems; motorways are not only restrictive of what travels along them [no walking or cycling, and very little successful public transport] they also break connections across them for other modes, especially walking and cycling, but also for more local motorised connection too. Not only that but the quantity of traffic that they then dump onto to local streets severely limits the exercise of multi-modal patterns seen in the examples above.
This is what a Mono-Modality looks like. So anyone looking for a ‘robust Multi-Modal plan for future transport to the CBD’ would be wanting to urgently add the modes that are missing from this picture, and could well be looking to limit the use of systems like this one: the largest Motorway interchange in in Australasia.
So I guess the question I want to ask the government is how sincere are they really about Multi-Modality? I agree a truly multi modal Auckland would be a great improvement but successive governments have deviated very little from a highway dominant policy and the current one has greatly accelerated it, and therefore increased our Mono-Modality. The Government Policy Statement makes it very hard to get funding from NZTA for any mode at all other than state highways, in fact it seems designed to enable motorways to get funding no matter how poor their cost benefit analyses. So under this government the share of Land Transport funding going to anything other than state highways has shrunk. And now they are planning to make it even more difficult for the local authority to make its own investments that may differ from this bias.
These actions then are the exact opposite of promoting the Multi-Modal. I know this may seem naive but I would very much prefer politicians to back up their sweet words with actual actions.