Traffic chief wants to demolish harbour bridge

By Miles Erwin

In an ambitious plan to get Auckland's traffic moving again, the city's transport chief has suggested building tunnels, demolishing the harbour bridge and limiting some car parks to hybrid cars only.

Auckland City Council transport committee chairman Richard Simpson has even suggested making car parks shorter to discourage Aucklanders from buying giant SUVs.

Mr Simpson intends to put his suggestions for alleviating traffic congestion and pollution to the council.

His prime concern is Auckland's extremely high rate of car ownership, with 1.7 per household instead of 1.4 for the likes of San Francisco, a city he says he admires.

His plan involves a carrot-and-stick approach to discourage people from owning cars.

Top of his hit list are SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles. He wants to take back ownership of council carparks from council company Parkright and use prices to control when and what Aucklanders drive. He plans to discourage Aucklanders from buying bigger cars simply for status

"It's about trying to break that arms race," said Mr Simpson. "We've just got to get that behavioural change."

To do that, Mr Simpson wants to limit some parks in parking buildings to hybrid cars only, discouraging larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

He would also provide more small car parks that large vehicles cannot fit into.

"Car-parking is a powerful tool - it's the most powerful tool we have in our arsenal."

But Mr Simpson also sees the Auckland Harbour Bridge as an important tool in changing Aucklanders' driving habits. He said the bridge had passed its use-by-date and should be demolished.

"There are serious fatigue issues with the harbour bridge," he said. "We should be having a bridge connection that can have rail and pedestrians."

Having a rail and pedestrian link with the North Shore would encourage commuters to use public transport, he said.

Another alternative was a tunnel linking Victoria Park and the North Shore, freeing up the land now taken up by the harbour bridge and its surrounds.

"There's plenty of great land around Westhaven that's completely going to waste," Mr Simpson said.

His ideas will not necessarily become council policy. Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard said there were no plans to get rid of the harbour bridge just yet. But he said Mr Simpson's plans would be debated by the council.

"I think that's the best thing we can do," Mr Hubbard said. "Cities really move forward when you've got people with imaginative ideas. Say one in 20 comes home to be a winner and away you go."

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