A man wrote to me last week to explain that wherever possible he drives in the cycle lanes. He wanted me to know he was obeying the rules, because the Road Code advises drivers to keep as much to the left as possible.
He assured me that whenever he sees a cyclist, he gets out of the lane to allow them to pass. I do not think I was able to persuade him how bad and mad this is.
Still, it’s better than the guy who took to Facebook last week to say he was polishing his bull bars, or the other guy who said the first guy could come round any time and he’d help him wipe off the blood. Or the people on Facebook who have said they will drive on the Tamaki Drive bike lane this Sunday.
If there is a war for the use of our roads it is not between two equally aggressive antagonists. The family groups and others who rode the harbour bridge two weeks ago did so to push their case for more safe cycling routes. It was civil disobedience that involved no threats of violence to anybody.
I’ve heard from several dedicated cyclists who were appalled at the bridge ride, though: They believe it was counter-productive because it made some drivers angry. And an angry driver, given the nature of the weapon at their disposal, is one of the worst kinds of angry person there is.
How are we going to change this?
It was another crunch moment in the climate crisis debate this week: The Climate Change Commission delivered its advice to Government on how to achieve its emissions targets.
As the technocrats and policy wonks pore over the details of what we can and should do, there’s a big political question that receives hardly any attention at all. It’s the hearts and minds question: How do we create a nationwide movement for change?
In Auckland, it principally means: How do we get better at talking about transport?
Transport Minister Michael Wood has had a good go at it with his rethink of NZUP, the $12 billion Upgrade Programme first announced by the Government in January 2020.
Transport goals are being aligned with climate action goals. There are some extremely good decisions in the new NZUP, two of them especially having the potential, over time, to change almost everything.
Unfortunately, the headline item was the new $700 million harbour bridge for walking and cycling. Where the hell did that idea come from?
Not the cycling lobby. They didn’t ask for it or endorse it when it was announced.
The focus of Bike Auckland, Movement, the GetAcross Coalition and the years and years of anguish over SkyPath has always been cycling and walking on the existing bridge. At a far lower cost.
But Waka Kotahi says a new bridge is now the only option, although its expert analysis has not been subject to review.
Wood says the new bridge will be an “amazing” asset for Auckland and mayor Phil Goff agrees. He calls it “a sustainable and enduring solution that will benefit the city for generations”.
They’re right, it would be amazing.
But that’s not the point. A magnificent new museum on the waterfront would also be amazing. So would a new stadium.
So would $700m worth of expanded cycling networks, or a new network of electric ferries, or a much faster rollout of electric buses and dedicated lanes for them to operate in.
Instead, the new bridge has become a symbol of misdirected priorities. Ashburton needs a new bridge: True! Nurses need better pay and so do teachers: Also true!
Waka Kotahi has taken the Government on a sucker’s ride with that new bridge.
It’s not only because it will cost too much. It’s also because it has driven an unwelcome wedge between cyclists and so many others – and the consequences are life-threatening.
For heaven’s sake. Run a shuttle bus service and instruct the ferries to carry more bikes. Trial a lane for cycling, maybe even just on Sundays to start with. Do the easy things and build public support. Is it really that hard?
Wood’s more far-reaching announcements concern Drury and Northland.
In the coming decades Drury will become a town the size of Napier, with major commercial and industrial development and perhaps 200,000 people living there.
It has the motorway and a rail line. Wood has scaled back a proposed new four-lane highway, known as Mill Rd, added a third railway station to the two already announced, and expanded the requirement for cycling and walking networks.
What he’s done is say: “Okay, it should be possible to have large urban centres where public transport, active transport and ride-share options are the preferred means of getting about. True for commuters, getting to school, visiting friends, getting to the sports field and going to the town centre. Not for everyone, but for an awful lot of people. And where better to trial that idea – to build it into the DNA of the place – than in a brand new town?”
Where better indeed. It’s an excellent initiative.
Tell you what though, minister. If you really want it to work, give every kid a bike. And make every street safe for them to ride on.
You might also want to think about free public transport, all buses being electric and many of them being small shuttles.
The second transformative project is Northland rail. The long-delayed spur line linking Northport to the main trunk line will be built. The line from Whangārei north will be upgraded.
This could transform depressed towns like Kaikohe and Kawakawa. It will mean forestry, kiwifruit and avocado and a host of other nascent industries can use the railway to get their goods to Auckland and to the world, via Northport.
Northland will become the new Western Bay of Plenty. While its export potential is clear, the railway will also allow it to offer a fast, efficient turnaround for importers. Just as Tauranga already handles about 40 per cent of imports bound for Auckland, Northport will also steal a lot of Auckland’s business.
The future is rushing down the track at Auckland and its port, and if the city wants a decent share of the economic potential that railway will bring, it’s going to have to shake up its ideas about freight, ports and supply chains.
How? Build the freight hub in Auckland’s northwest proposed by the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy (UNISCS) group, and build on its 20 per cent investment in Northport too.
From the Government’s point of view, there’s no obvious downside to this. Northland will test the proposition that freight can be moved at scale by rail. Meanwhile, Port of Tauranga and its enormous new freight hub at Ruakura, near Hamilton, is gearing up to do the same.
Supply chains will become more efficient, while being grounded in climate action. The car carriers will complain, but they’re dinosaurs. And there will be no big public backlash. Consensus will grow.
How long before we can say the same about cycle lanes and other initiatives to calm traffic and bring greater safety to the city’s streets?
But guess what? At dawn today, the Karangahape Rd cycleway was due to be officially opened. Next Friday, Quay St will reopen. Both projects provoked their own storms of protest, and now both are poised to make this city better for everyone. Change is possible. So, over time, is consensus.
Forget that bridge. Keep the rest of it coming.
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