Driving Time by Trevor Plumbly

2105NZHNMTRAFFIC1‘It’s Just Too Much Hassle.’

(Quote from an Auckland resident on visiting the city centre.)

It’s amazing how internally dysfunctional cities are – despite the fact that they are supposedly intended to house and serve people, the majority seem to struggle to do either with any degree of success. You name it, most cities have got it: casual crime, noise and air pollution, overcrowding and, of course, transport nightmares. It seems that regardless of the obstacles presented by the abysmal traffic flow and parking shortages, everybody travelling into the city must take a car. Our city fathers go into a hand wringing exercise every so often, producing all sorts of dire predictions backed by statistical analysis by well qualified and highly paid boffins for public consumption. They then tweak and tinker here and there but do bugger all in real terms to activate any practical long term solutions. The reality is, of course, that the only viable answers are firstly rail – but that costs ratepayers money – and secondly a certain amount of restriction of movement. Neither option is exactly a vote winner.

A Train of Thought

Currently the motorways into Auckland get seriously clogged twice daily, costing millions in lost working hours; doubtless these motorways were originally intended to improve access in and out of the city, but now they just seem to provide more vehicles quicker access to the inevitable bottleneck. A city in itself can only absorb so much traffic, and the extraordinary rise in private car ownership in recent years has placed an overwhelming strain on standard vehicle access. Clearly, there’s an urgent need for radical change if the city is expected to continue as a public service area. The first step should be to provide a reliable underground rail service from the surrounding suburbs, together with inner and outer city bus links. Secondly, we should follow London’s example and make driving a vehicle into the city centre inconvenient and, if necessary, expensive. We should ensure that any vehicle carrying less than three people travels strictly in the left hand slow lane, leaving the others for buses and fully utilised car pool travellers. Whilst we’re at it, how about restricting heavy goods deliveries between 8-00am and 6-00pm. Imagine the increase in bicycle use and pedestrian convenience, for locals, workers and tourists; the city centre would become more of a ‘people place’.

A Bigger Picture

But why stop there? Why is it deemed essential to have a busy container port in the heart of the city? Surely a deep water port further out, with a rail link, would make a lot more sense than throttling a main portion of the access roads with diesel fuelled container trucks. Vehicle pollution in some Asian cities has forced pedestrians to wear face masks: that alone should send a warning; it’s a sad indictment on the powers that be when people have to protect themselves from machines to walk the streets. Here in NZ we take a great deal of pride in our countryside but tend to leave cities to fend for themselves. We simply can’t afford to allow our obsession for unnecessary private vehicle use to continue unchecked – we need trains. It’s hard to argue against rail: trains are cleaner, quicker and a heck of a lot safer. Years ago we were stupid enough to prefer road over rail; we underlined that folly by allowing the import of a deluge of cheap second-hand cars from Asia. Three and four car families are now a reality in a city that simply can’t accommodate them and remain an efficient or indeed healthy environment for its residents. That should be the prime consideration of any administration.

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