Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald continues its 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In part six of the series we look at transport.
Vancouver on Canada's Pacific seaboard is geographically not unlike Auckland, and faces similar challenges from plans to cram in another million residents over the next 30 years.
Both cities are close to nature, with attractive coastlines and transport routes constrained by multiple water crossings, and have occasional exotic wildlife sightings in common.
Auckland has had its share of seal and sea-lion visits, but Vancouver urban studies university professor Anthony Perl doubts that if his city had been fully penetrated by motorways like our Spaghetti Junction, there would have been any chance of a deer being spotted wandering through its downtown streets last month.
"It makes a big difference in terms of the built and natural environment," Dr Perl tells the Herald of a legacy of successful multi-racial community opposition to plans from 1968 to 1972 to build motorways through the heart of Vancouver and its Chinatown district, supported by planning controls by successive city administrations.
"We've lived here 10 years - there's been one deer and one bear that have made it to downtown Vancouver," he says.
"You can't do that with a motorway - they would get squashed trying to get here."
Although Dr Perl says large suburban areas in Vancouver's hinterland have been "fully buggered by motorways", the only one within its city limits is Highway 1, which bypasses the central business district by about five kilometre to veer north across Burrard Inlet.
Another - Highway 99 - ends abruptly on its southern boundary, where the new Canada Line in Vancouver's famed "Skytrain" rapid rail system takes over passenger transport duties, with branches serving the airport and the dormitory suburb of Richmond, home to a large Asian population.
The new line with its computer-controlled driverless trains, which opened in 2009 as the third in the Skytrain network and is fed by the busiest bus route of any in Canada or the United States, is being credited with spurring the growth of mid-rise apartment blocks around its stations in Richmond and mixed-use residential, retail and office developments closer to central Vancouver.
It accounts for 40 million boardings a year, out of a total of 117m throughout the Skytrain network compared with Auckland's latest rail patronage record of 14 million passenger trips, and offers a 25-minute largely-elevated ride over 12 kilometres between Vancouver and its airport.
Dr Perl, who walks to work at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, acknowledges that congestion remains in streets fed by the two motorways but says that serves as "a natural regulator" of how much traffic makes it further into the city centre.
But he frets over a plebiscite last month in which voters rejected a proposed sales tax rise of 0.5 per cent to pay the local share of a transport funding package which would have provided more extensions of the Skytrain network, including through the lower-rent city of Surrey to the southwest, and fear a resulting growing dependence on cars among people needing to travel long distances to work.
Other differences he points to between Vancouver and Auckland is that his city has moved many of its port activities well to the south, near Canada's border with the United States, and that it made a conscious decision to use land around Skytrain stations for town centre developments rather "acres of parking lots."