Simon Wilson: Outrage? What outrage? The Auckland cycleway debate

OPINION:

Remarkable news from Auckland Council yesterday: Aucklanders strongly support the proposal for a special targeted rate to help tackle the climate crisis.

In a consultation that mayor Phil Goff says generated more feedback than any previous proposal, two-thirds of respondents said yes. That included 68 per cent of individuals, 66 per cent of organisations and 68 per cent of Māori entities.

The most support (83 per cent) came from people aged 15-24, but 65 per cent of those aged 65-74 were also on board. All age groups supported the proposal, as did all parts of the city and nearly all ethnicities.

The consultation material made clear that much of the money will be spent on transport, because transport causes 40 per cent of Auckland’s carbon emissions. Changing that is what fighting the climate crisis means in this city. We’ll get nowhere unless we do it.

And right across Auckland, two-thirds of us appear to be up for it.

Despite that, this paper reported yesterday that there would be “outrage” at an Auckland Transport proposal to spend more money on bike lanes. Turned out the “outrage” was expressed only by the National Party’s transport spokesperson, Simeon Brown. Even the AA, traditionally a staunch defender of the interests of drivers, made it clear they were in general agreement.

The AA gets it. We can’t keep adding more roads in the belief that will lower emissions, or help with road safety, or ease congestion. It does the reverse: more roads and more parking leads to more driving, and that makes emissions, road safety and congestion worse.

What we have to do is reduce our dependence on cars.

So here’s a goal. Let’s make it safe and desirable for kids to walk and cycle to school. Is there anything outrageous about that?

In fact, it’s almost the only goal we need. It would require safe routes around schools: dedicated paths and lanes, low speed limits for traffic, limited access to school precincts for cars.

Also, far less driving the kids to school because it’s conveniently on the way to work, aka driving to work because it’s convenient after dropping the kids at school. You see the problem there?

Breaking that cycle requires good alternatives for commuters and bad car-parking options at work.

We’d also need subsidies to help people buy bikes and training for kids. Both those things are included in AT’s plan to spend $2 billion in the 10-year budget on cycling, up from the $306 million allocated now.

Two billion dollars over 10 years is a very small amount of money. AT currently has an annual budget of $1.15b for capital works and $979m for operating costs. Cycling, even with this boost, would still be getting only crumbs.

Yet most cycling projects have strong business cases, which is more than can be said for most roads and public transport projects.

There’s no plan to force everyone to ride a bike. But if we made it safe for kids to walk and ride to school, we might find ourselves with a low-emissions city. Given that boosting cycling and walking is by far the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to reduce car dependence, why wouldn’t we try?

Boosting cycling is also the key to making the roads safer. More news yesterday: 70 per cent of deaths and serious injuries on Auckland roads happen to people not in a car. That’s people hit by a car. Your kids, perhaps. You with some shopping. Your grandad.

This is not inevitable. It’s not the price of living in a city. We have one of the worst serious crash rates in the developed world. If you want to get outraged, do it about that.

Two factors stand out. One: Encouraging “mode shift” means we have to reduce the road space available to cars.

It’s tough to grasp, but if we make it easier to drive, more people will do it. Car dependence will increase and all the problems will get worse.

The single best way to signal this? Give cyclists a lane on the harbour bridge. Trial it. Do it now.

Two: We have the technology. It’s called the e-bike.

This week National leader Christopher Luxon called technology one of his five platforms for progress. If he was serious, he would call for e-bike subsidies, especially for low-income earners.

Simeon Brown said yesterday that AT and the Government “should be focused on giving Aucklanders transport choices which are quick and efficient”.

That’s true, Simeon. It’s called safe cycling.

The council will consider the AT plan today.

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