As we modernise Auckland's out-of-date and constrained transport system, the dream of a transformed system with increased capacity and scope for faster and safer journeys can slowly but surely be dulled by the reality of constantly living with disruptions and squabbles.

Whether it is the vast City Rail Link or smaller but important projects like cycleways, walking paths or neighbourhood intersection safety work, there will always be contestable opinions and unavoidable levels of disruption. It is not unlike a major house renovation where tensions arise, flashpoints transpire and you question why you ever started.

We started because traffic congestion is increasingly choking the Auckland region, which is no surprise given that over the past four years Auckland's population grew by the equivalent of Hamilton, more than 160,000 people. This unprecedented population growth is compounded by the history of transport infrastructure decisions in Auckland being deferred or not made at all.

Despite this, in recent years there have been many good things achieved on the transport front in Auckland. Public transport patronage is growing at never-seen-before rates, the Waterview tunnel's impact has been significant, the long-awaited City Rail Link is being built and new facilities are commissioned or opened on an almost fortnightly basis.


However, these significant gains are reasonably quickly neutralised by the scale of Auckland's population growth.

Critical to effectively tackling congestion in Auckland is a highly emotive issue, the "elephant in the room" if you will, which is a shift in the allocation of street space.

The board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of re-allocating street space for a wider variety of users, particularly to accommodate more spatially (and environmentally) efficient modes of transport.

Our streets will increasingly change through the addition of light rail, bus and bike lanes, wider and better footpaths and bus stops as well as the addition of proven safety enhancements like raised pedestrian crossings and calmed intersections.

At the heart of this policy is a firm commitment to reconceptualise our approach to safety so everyone can more confidently use their streets without fear of tragic outcomes. In particular this means improving the conditions for the more vulnerable people on our streets, older people, children and all those walking and riding bikes or similar.

It will also often mean changes to the street environment that encourages drivers to slow down to safer speeds through town centres, near schools and other areas where people and vehicles mix.

These changes are gradually rolling out across our city to promote modal changes towards public and active transport (cycling and walking) and involve a shift from a generally vehicle-user first state to a more equitable balance. This approach is consistent with the Auckland Council's and the Government's aims for our city and furthermore is well supported by evidence.

However, simply providing a range of effective modal options will not be sufficient to break the deeply ingrained habit of car dependency in Auckland. Car dependency is mainly a result of a mindset, whereby people have become hardwired to use private cars for most trips.


To be fair, until recently, the limited availability in Auckland of effective modal options such as public transport and active transport has contributed to car dependency.

However, new public transport and active transport developments in Auckland such as the electric rail service, integrated ticketing, the new bus services and the developing rapid transit network along with planned new park and rides, connected cycleways and innovative solutions to the "first and last mile", will increasingly challenge car dependency by enabling faster alternative journeys with increased confidence in arrival time.

Overcoming this car-dependent culture will require thoughtful and effective behavioural change, but if a sizeable percentage of car dependent drivers do not make the modal switch, congestion will simply worsen, adversely impacting economic growth, jobs, housing and quality of life.

It is fair to say that re-allocating street space can be challenging, but these changes are necessary to deal with congestion and to promote safety. The aim is clear: the enhancement of our city's streets as safer and more productive places to be in and to move through every day.

Dr Lester Levy is the chairman of Auckland Transport.