Mode Switch: Give people transportation choices and get the right tools for the job
Thomas Nash is Regional Councilor for Greater Wellington, Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Massey University and Advisor for Auckland-based social enterprise Big Street Bikers.
OPINION: There is the freedom to move around easily in a car-free city. You can leave home without looking at the timetable, show up at the station or stop and in minutes you’re driven to your destination without worrying about traffic, parking or questionable driving.
Most of the time in New Zealand, this freedom does not exist.
Instead, the vast majority of our funding for transport and our public space is dedicated to a single mode – the private motor vehicle.
Transportation should be about selecting the right tools for the job. If the job is to move small groups of people in a large number of private cars, we should build more roads until we run out of space. If the job is to move several thousand people smoothly in a city with limited public space, we have to do things differently.
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It’s as much about transportation design as it is about urban form.
People who enjoy a range of transportation choices often live in cities where homes, shops, and workplaces are closer together and connected by frequent, high-capacity public transportation. The best examples are trains and light rail or trams. Buses are also good examples.
Wellington already has the highest use of public transport in the country and if the Metlink network did not exist, our roads would be clogged with cars at peak times. The biggest complaint about public transport in Wellington is that we need more of it. We know there is a demand for public transport, and we know that as the city’s population grows, the current network will not suffice.
In the years to come, we can expect many more apartments along the main north-south corridor through Wellington, served by frequent, high-capacity public transport.
It must be a city designed for people. A city where if the only mode that works for you is the car, then you can get around by car. Where, if you are able to drive across town with passengers and gear loaded into the SUV, that option will be there.
But you will also be able to cycle safely, knowing that your children are also safe on their bikes. And you’ll be able to get around on public transport without having to wait for hours at a bus stop or be delayed by cars – or car carriers – blocking the road.
The aim is to share public road space more equitably. Because the private comfort of driving a motor vehicle on public roads should not come at the expense of public transport or public safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
It’s reasonable to have these choices rather than just being funneled into cars. This freedom to choose from a range of transportation options depends on getting the right tools for the job.
Public transit arrives in Wellington. It will be either bus rapid transit service or light rail.
Bus rapid transit is a tool to augment public transportation in a higher density non-housing scenario in Wellington.
Light rail, which takes more than twice the number of passengers than bus rapid transit, is a tool to supercharge public transport in a scenario with higher density housing in the city.
More space for walking and a separate space for cycling are tools to move people in the cheapest and least polluting way possible.
Moving people efficiently should be reason enough to prioritize these tools for our transportation jobs, but climate change might be what really gives us the toolbox we need.
Our laws and policies were not designed for today’s challenges, but they are beginning to catch up with climate reality. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted transportation and urban form as cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and, in line with this, Nova Scotia’s first emissions reduction plan. Zealand demands a 20% reduction in driving over the next decade. Cities must provide the bulk of this reduction.
In a warming world, temperate New Zealand’s urban population will grow. If we are to plan responsibly, we need to build the transportation infrastructure now to support this growth.
Let’s learn from the mistakes of past planning decisions. We need only look at the scale of Wellington’s water infrastructure deficit to know what happens when we choose not to build for the future.
If we build the right public and active transportation infrastructure to support a growing Wellington, we can equip this beautiful port city with the right tools for the job and give everyone the freedom to choose from a range of safe, easy, low-emission and family-friendly. – user-friendly transport options. We should.