Driving is convenient, or so we think, but that's less true than you might think. The climate crisis offers a chance to recalibrate.
1. Google Maps makes driving better
GPS tracking systems make it less likely you'll get lost, but there's a downside.
They routinely send cars down side streets that were not meant to carry a lot of traffic. In London in the 10 years to 2019, distances travelled on residential streets increased by 70 per cent. The main reason: Uber, online deliveries and GPS.
That increases air pollution and the risk of injury to children and everyone else out and about on those streets.
Seen in this light, the role of GPS is to prolong the efficiency of driving by spreading traffic through all the streets – at the expense of everyone else on them. This is partly why low-traffic neighbourhoods like the one in Onehunga are being trialled.
GPS might help you get from A to B. But there's a social cost.
2. People drive because they have complex lives
Many people drive because their lives require it. Tradies, shift workers, people who feel unsafe walking at night. People who don't have other options. And there are many people whose days are filled with drop-offs and pick-ups involving kids, appointments, shopping.
There will always be people who need to drive.
But most people on the roads don't fit those categories. The average car trip is shorter than 6km. The average number of people in a car is only slightly more than one. And most people live within walking distance of a public transport stop.
Often, cars don't ease our complex lives: they add to the complexity.
Walking and cycling to school, for example, would not be dangerous for children, if there weren't so many cars. Going to the local shops would be easier and more pleasant without all the cars.
We jump in our cars for short trips because we think every minute counts. But does it?
If we all keep doing that, we'll find ourselves stuck more often in traffic, defeating the very reason we decided to drive in the first place.
And getting stuck in traffic, as most people probably know, is bad for your mental health.
3. T lanes add to congestion
Drivers stuck in traffic habitually complain about the apparently empty T lanes next to them. But those lanes carry more people than the general lanes.
Take Onewa Rd, connecting Birkenhead to the motorway. During the morning peak, Pre-Covid, there were 2200 vehicles on average in the general lane, mostly with one person in them. No more than 2500 people using the lane.
The T3 lane had only a quarter the amount of traffic, but it included 90 buses, mostly double deckers, and 440 other vehicles. The lane carried 6000 people.
4. Extra motorway lanes ease congestion
It stands to reason, right? More road capacity will make driving easier for everyone.
Nope, says Professor Simon Kingham, the Ministry of Transport's chief science adviser.
"New road capacity," he says, "attracts new drivers. In the short term, people who had previously been discouraged from using congested roads start to use them. In the longer term, people move further away from city centres to take advantage of new roads that allow them to travel further faster."
It's called induced demand and it's happening now on the outskirts all round Auckland.
The only way to ease congestion, and reduce carbon emissions, is to discourage driving. The best way to do that is to make the alternatives more appealing. That's happening with better public transport and more working from home. Cars may one day be charged to enter the central city.
But none of those things will work if we keep adding lanes to the motorways.
5. It's you vs the world
There's a theme to all of this. We drive because we perceive an advantage to ourselves by taking the car. Often, we discount the social cost.
That translates into a mindset when you drive: it's you vs the world outside your windscreen.
But walking, cycling, catching a bus or train: it's you as part of the wider world. You relate to it differently.
What's your carbon footprint? Try this five-minute FutureFit survey, supported by Auckland Council, to find out.
This story is part of the Herald's contribution to Covering Climate Now, an international campaign by more than 400 media organisations, which this week highlights our responses to climate change ahead of a US-led world leaders summit on April 22. To read more of our coverage go to nzherald.co.nz/nz/environment