by Ian Apperley
Mayoral candidates are promising everything from second tunnels to a billion dollars in new roads, flyovers, more cycle lanes, cheaper public transport and an end to congestion. All well and good, but not achievable and old thinking.
There has been a lot of moaning and whining on social media about my views on how ineffective Wellington City’s transport networks are. Let’s face it, the traffic in the city is getting worse and it is clear the politicians have no idea how to improve things or where to start, and often have an agenda that belongs back in 1970.
The cycling shambles has proven three things to my mind.
First, separating people and creating zones where only pedestrians, or cyclists, or other traffic can move is silly. It creates conflict because separation creates entitlement. For example, a cyclist can’t get down the Island Bay cycleway at speed so they use the road. The road users complain because the cycle is “on their road.”
Two, consultation with the Council is stuffed. I got into a long debate with someone who decried my position on this because I should be “engaging,” and a councillor told me that “just because you don’t get what you want doesn’t mean consultation is not working.” I’ve engaged on everything in the past five years and I can tell you now, consultation isn’t working. Island Bay proved it.
Finally, the council’s bull-headed ideology and intractable positions do it no favours. This is not an organisation that can say “hey, we got it wrong.” That’s a problem.
Anyway, back to transport. I think there are a range of things that the city can help with if they choose.
First, public transport in this town is way too expensive. I can still have a small car, park in town, and it is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than the bus. Worse, the bus still operates on 1970 principles. Turns up when it turns up, can be full, gets stuck in traffic, and the bus driver is sometimes grumpy. Point is, it doesn’t encourage me to get on and use it. In fact, if I did, I’d probably go broke.
That has got to be fixed. Any modern city has a good public transport system at its heart. We don’t. The WCC will blame the GWRC for that, but why not get radical instead of just pointing the finger? Why not contract for our own bus services, using modern facilities, and stop paying the GWRC the subsidy?
We need more shared spaces. As I mentioned above, road apartheid is the path to hell. If you look at cities of our type and size around the world, the shared space works well. Basically, you remove all the barriers, traffic lights, roundabouts, curbs, warning signs, and you just let people negotiate the intersection. Weirdly, it works. So why can’t we pick a couple of intersections or suburban villages and try that? The WCC missed a massive opportunity to try this with the lower Cuba Street rebuild.
Spending money on cycleways out in the suburbs is weak. What would be brave is to start having the conversation about cycleways in the CBD. I have said it time and again. I can get to the edge of the CBD on my bike quite happily, but there is no way I am going to cycle down the quays. Be brave and visionary.
Open up all the transport data. CCTVs, the devices that capture smart phone movements, real-time public transport, traffic counters, the works. Then let the community get on with creating the applications that exploit so we can see when the bus is coming, so we can see the best time to travel, so we can see real time information. What happens now is that the data is locked away until it can be “monetised”, which it never will, because, well, Google.
Why aren’t we moving to make Lambton Quay pedestrian only? Or at least bus only to start with? It’s madness that we have a road that puts traffic right through the heart of the city. (And there’s more than one of them…)
Why aren’t we working with autonomous car makers and the NZTA to build roads that will support robotic vehicles? London is about to put the first cars on the road in Greenwich, this is not a technology that is coming in 50 years, it’s here right now and we could open our arms and embrace it, which in turn will get us international media coverage for free.
Autonomous cars will ultimately: cause public transport to become a lot cheaper (or die), give more independence to the less able-bodied, allow for car sharing, allow lower income workers to move more, reduce congestion, reduce accidents, and reduce emissions. So why aren’t we investing in this?
City wide traffic management by robots, AI, is also becoming commonplace. You could see the Smart Motorway as the first baby step to this. Rather than relying on humans to figure out traffic patterns, it will use a smart system to manage the entire city as an organism. Most traffic congestion is due to erratic movement of vehicles. A car driving too fast, a car driving too slow, a cyclist holding up a lane of traffic, a broken down bus, and the like. Modern systems account for that and provide much smoother traffic management than humans will ever be able too.
None of these initiatives is particularly radical or revolutionary. Bill English is right about one thing, our transport thinking isn’t progressive. But then neither is his. More roads are not the answer. But neither is transport disintegration and sitting back and letting the city come to a standstill so people are forced to get on bicycles.