Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Take a hike, you pesky walkers

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What about the walkers? A few days ago, the blueprint for the Auckland Transport Agency was unveiled. This is the $1 billion-a-year organisation that will preside over the new Super City's roads, footpaths and public transport networks.

The document contains three pages of charts and lists, itemising involvement in everything from road maintenance and parking enforcement to railway station surveillance and rolling stock asset management. But there's not a word about pedestrians.

Given that practically every one of us, if only for the quick dash down the road at lunchtime for a sandwich, is a walker, it's a glaring omission. But perhaps not unexpected, given the new master-plan seems covered in the DNA of the very traffic engineers who, over the past 50 years, have made Auckland the car-centred hellhole it is.

This isn't a guidebook to a brave and exciting new world, more a recipe for more of the same writ large. Signalling a more pedestrian-friendly environment would have been a good starting point. Best of all, looking out for pedestrians wouldn't cost a bundle.

Just a few cans of white paint for some new zebra crossings and the fiddling of the phasing cards in key traffic lights to give pedestrians an even share of the roadway would have been a signal that, at last, those on foot are being valued equally with those behind the wheel.

Walking to work last week, I got a reminder of the pedestrian's worth in the greater scheme of things. The Victoria St footpath beside the park, west of the flyover, had been blocked off without warning. This forced me to cross the road and run the gauntlet of one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly intersections in the land, the Franklin Rd-Union St-Victoria St circus.

To its credit, Auckland City's traffic department listened to my subsequent "suggestions", and is promising "pedestrian warning signs" there and at the Nelson-Victoria St intersection - both of which give free left turns for cars at corners which are blind - for both pedestrians and cars.

I'm holding out for zebra crossings at least, but my hopes aren't high. Pedestrians have long been seen by traffic planners as, if not exactly road kill, then at least as pests.

I'll never forget Transport Minister Paul Swain arriving in Auckland six years ago to open the latest stage of the Grafton Gully motorway. Just the week before, he had launched Labour's high-minded draft strategy document Getting there - on foot, by cycle. In it, he declared "not all journeys can be made on foot or by cycle, but there is scope for many of us to walk and cycle more. Around 30 per cent of motor vehicle trips are for distances of less than 2km". Having preached the gospel according to Shanks's pony, he then stepped from his limousine to cut the ribbon on a motorway system which cut all pedestrian access between the CBD and the Domain, home of the city's biggest tourist attraction, the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The new extension of Wellesley St, tunnelling under Symonds St, would have provided the perfect low-gradient pedestrian shortcut from Queen St to the Domain. Some of us jumped up and down about it at the time, but the traffic engineers said no one would use it. They argued that walkers already had access across Grafton Bridge, a lengthy circular route-march uphill to the south, or up and over Albert Park, through the university and down Grafton Rd. The planners and politicians even refused to contemplate bus lanes here, so car-obsessed were they. Instead, they commandeered historic Grafton Bridge and said buses and pedestrians could share it.

Pedestrians in Auckland are so off the planners' radar that they don't even bother with traffic counts to find out how many of us there are, or where we go. Potholes are repaired overnight on roads, but footpaths remain in a perilous state for years.

If you think that's an exaggeration, take a walk up the south side of Wyndham St from Queen St - hardly an obscure backwater lane.

It's a sign of where the humble pedestrian fits in transport planners' priorities. Maybe the politicians and officials from the outer cities will bring a new culture into the Super City. But there's no hint of that in the new blueprint.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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