Auckland may have won the title of the world’s most livable city thanks in large part to New Zealand’s Covid-free status, but it is not about to receive any traffic awards.
Auckland residents drove an average of 1.6 billion kilometers a year more in 2017 than in 2013. Half of peak-hour trips are less than six kilometers. New Zealand has the the fourth largest car ownership per capita in the world and Auckland residents own more cars per capita The most recent New Zealand Health Survey reported that 83% of trips to work were made by car..
Transportation planning for the future is urgent: Statistics NZ predicts Auckland’s population will increase from 1.7 million to 2.4 million by 2046.
Congestion isn’t just about nuisance and carbon emissions. A recent Auckland University Report they found that driving was associated with psychological distress, particularly anxiety.
“Car trips can have quite a negative impact on people’s mental health, on the people who make the trip, and on the neighborhood people are traveling through,” says the report’s lead author, Dr. Kirsty Wild. from the University of Auckland. She says that after just 15 minutes in a car, “satisfaction with transportation” decreases, and after 40 minutes, “satisfaction with life” decreases.
Wild is especially concerned about the aggressive marketing of SUVs, which together with Utes now make up two-thirds of New Zealand’s new vehicle sales.
“They are marketed as safer, but in fact they are disastrous in terms of safety for pedestrians,” he says. “They are not safer for the people who drive them either. Images of driving and freedom are highly promoted. It is our second largest advertising sector. We are immersed in the idea that driving gives you control and freedom. “
Efforts are underway to get New Zealanders out of their cars. In November 2020, there was a detailed proposal from the multi-government department for a congestion charge in Auckland that would see a cordon around the city center at rush hour. This could reduce traffic by 8-12%, roughly school holiday levels, and then apply to key routes on the city’s broader road network.
Another plan that will alleviate traffic congestion is the $ 4.4 billion City Rail Link project. Auckland’s first underground railway will allow the network to have at least twice the rail capacity. Although it was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024, now could be delayed for new consultation plans for light rail to connect the city center with Auckland Airport, a project in itself long overdue.
At the end of last month, Bike Auckland organized a rally calling on the New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) to conduct a three-month trial this summer to convert one of the eight car lanes on the Auckland Harbor Bridge into a bicycle and pedestrian lane. After years of frustration at the lack of progress, around 1,500 cyclists broke through police barriers to cross the bridge.
Days later, the Minister of Transport, Michael Wood, announced plans for a new independent dedicated walking and biking bridge to be built alongside the Harbor Bridge by 2026. Wood has also asked Waka Kotahi to develop options for a bike and pedestrian lane on the Harbor Bridge now.
But Barb Cuthbert, president of Bike Auckland, isn’t impressed. “It’s a repeat of 2019 when Waka Kotahi produced attractive graphics without doing any design work,” he says. “Two years later, they announced that they couldn’t build the project.” It also states that the test lane is expected to be for Sunday use only.
“The reality is that we are not going to get anything on the bridge for another five years,” says Cuthbert. “What Auckland Transport has been doing is opening a little bike lane in a park and calling that 0.5 km a bike path. That is not an agent of change. What really matters is a strategic cycle network. “
Choice problems and excessive attachment
Cuthbert says that until there is real progress, there will be more direct action like in Wellington where unauthorized pop-up bike lanes lobby the council to speed up bikeway projects.
There is some evidence that Auckland’s driving habits may be more difficult to change even with an improved public transport network.
Dr Mohsen Mohammadzadeh, Director of the Urban Planning Program at the University of Auckland, undertook a study at Hobsonville Point in the city, New Zealand’s largest planned urban development, which found that although it was designed to be close to public transport links, almost all residents still wanted to own their own car. Each house had two or three cars despite the single car spaces allotted for each property.
Mohammadzadeh argues that New Zealand needs to change the sociocultural values that reflect decades of car ownership.
“People are overly attached to their cars,” he says. “They perceive that the ownership of their car has a personal meaning. Parents are intentionally using their cars at school pick-up time to show their vehicles to other people. It’s the mindset we have to work on. “
But Kirsty Wild disagrees that this is an ingrained cultural problem. “You can’t infer a preference from current behavior unless people have the right choice,” he says. “Walking, cycling and public transport are not suitable options in Auckland. With cycling, you’re asking people to risk their lives to do it, it’s no wonder they don’t. “