The extraordinary thing about our proposal for concerted action to build a coherent and high standard Rapid Transit Network for Auckland is not that it’s popular, but that it isn’t already there. It is hardly a revolutionary idea that our congestion problem is simply the result of us having little real choice but to drive in Auckland because all we’ve built since the 1960s is more roads. After all, this outcome was predicted even before we built such extreme auto-dependency into our city.
A 50 Year Old Plan
In 1963 Californian Transport Engineering Consultants De Leuw Cather were hired to advise on Auckland’s transport problems. They spent two years looking at the problem, reporting back in 1965:
Really? So how did they propose that this ‘Coordinated Bus and Rapid Transit Operation’ should work:
But surely that’s not all? You don’t go hiring consultants from California in the 1960s just to get told to invest in rail. No of course this was only half of their plan for Auckland the other half is the motorway system you see now. Well, different in detail of course, as is the Transit network we now need, but my point here is not the detail but the theory. Even then, with a much smaller city and at the height of the dream of the glorious motoring future the specialists knew that for a city’s transportation network to work well and economically it needs balance. They did envisage a driving city, but knew for that to function that it would need a complimentary Transit network. Here is the first page of the second part of their plan; the Highway Plan:
‘…a balanced transportation system adequate to serve the entire Auckland region to 1986 and beyond.’ Imagine that.
So De Leuw Cather envisaged Auckland investing in a core Rapid Transit Network first, then building a motorway network. Well without digging into the politics of the era lets be charitable to our past leaders and observe that money for these expensive investments is always contested and that clearly we didn’t build the Rapid Transit network but did build the motorways through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. And kept building the motorways, and rebuilding and re-widening the motorways, and then tearing down and building parts of them all over again, and we are still building and re-building them now. To the point that we completely forgot that original plan.
And now we discover that these motorways and the rest of our road network suffers from a particular problem called congestion. Which is, of course, simply overuse. Isn’t it time we stopped building more traffic creating roads, or at least paused for a decade or two, and added the missing balance that even those mad men from the 60s knew was needed in Auckland?
It’s hardly expeditious, in fact it’s pretty damn late. But it’s not too late to build the missing balance that will more than fix Auckland’s transport woes and will also get this little city thriving as well as it should. But perhaps there is another lesson in this story; we cut our cloth then and only built one side of the plan; so now in order to build the other half we’ll have to stop pouring all our funds into yet more expensive motorways.
So this is the answer to the problem of how to fund the Council’s current Transport Plan: Don’t. Delete, downsize, and delay many of the proposed mega road projects, accelerate the funding and construction of the missing Transit and Active networks, then take stock of what is really needed in terms of ever bigger roads once Aucklanders have real choice whether to drive everywhere, at all times, and for every journey. After all, we know it will work.
Charles DeLeuw and I don’t think we’ll need so much more spending on roads once there’s balance in Auckland’s transport system. Furthermore, we’ll have a much better and more prosperous city to live in and one that is more fit for the demands of this century.