COMMENT: Dear lucky Queenstown, or possibly Los Angeles or Sydney: we have news for you.
Auckland's favourite son, its most blessed citizen, is headed your way. Newstalk ZB breakfast show host Mike Hosking says he's thinking of leaving our town and he believes your towns would suit him better.
In a remarkable column in yesterday's Herald, Mike set out his reasons for wanting to leave. Or, to put that more accurately, he blew his brains out all over the page in a rant about roadworks that stop him getting to the hairdresser.
Road cone rage. And sure, we're all frustrated. But is Mike right, to suggest that if this work wasn't done we'd be better off? Let's take a quick troll through his complaints.
"Simply functioning even remotely efficiently on a daily basis has become farcical."
Really? He's talking about driving, it turns out, not any of the other functions most of us try to carry out in a remotely efficient way. And I should say that Mike is one of the people who really does need to drive himself to work: his schedule as a morning radio host, on air from 6am, is not catered for by public transport. But his problem, it seems, is that he can't easily drive across town.
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He "went to Quay St late last year", he says, but "I don't go there any more out of choice for obvious reasons".
With all the work going on, Mike did well to spot that drivers are discouraged from going there. But what is that work? There are at least six projects.
First, they're restoring the crumbling seawall, making it good for another hundred years, and, yes, they are factoring in climate change. Second, the enormous new Commercial Bay development will give downtown retail and hospitality a massive quality bump. They're especially excited about the new food halls. Mike may hate this, but it's almost as if they're making Auckland more like Sydney.
Third, there will be a huge, largely pedestrianised plaza, although still open to vehicles, in the two blocks of Quay St west of Queens Wharf. It's for the tens of thousands of people who will be in that area every day, on foot. Roads are public spaces and the demand on their use changes over time.
And they're greening the area with pohutukawa, sitting in special pits that will cleanse and carry away stormwater: an innovative and beautiful solution to a big problem in Auckland.
Fourth, the City Rail Link, which Mike calls a "monstrosity that is millions over budget" and "at least a year behind schedule". Those are not entirely real-world comments.
The CRL budget was increased in early 2019 but the project has stayed within the new budget and is on schedule. When it opens it will double the capacity of the city's rail system, which Mike will benefit from, if he's still with us, because it will take tens of thousands of cars off the roads.
Fifth, the lower stretches of Albert St are getting new bus terminals. They have to go somewhere. And sixth, the port is building a car storage building at the head of Bledisloe Wharf. Ring the bells! This is where Mike is right: they should not have been allowed to do that.
But like everything else, it's been planned. It's not true that "none of this appears coordinated". They're doing it all at once to keep the disruption time as short as possible.
Onwards. Mike is upset he can't drive quickly onto Victoria St West after work because of "closures and the bike lanes and the general dysfunction that passes for road works in this country". Perhaps he hasn't noticed how fast that particular project is moving.
The speed has been possible because they're not redoing all the underground services, a decision that may come back to bite them later. My guess, they were spooked by the people – Mike may know some of them – who complain hysterically when they do dig up the services. That's unfortunate, if understandable.
We need this project. The bike lanes will strengthen the cycling network, leading to greater use right across it. And it's not just about bike lanes. The area had become a bus terminal, sometimes chaotic, inefficient for buses and dangerous to pedestrians. Fixing those things may not be priorities for everyone, but they are priorities for city planning nonetheless.
Here's a list of the major priority users of inner-city streets:
Including the 60,000 people who live there, the 100,000 who work there, the 100,000 who study there and the untold numbers who shop there. Here's a list of other people with good reason to be using inner-city streets:
• Tradies and service workers.
• Emergency workers.
• People with restricted mobility.
• Shift workers not catered for by public transport.
• Cyclists, scooterists and other micromobility vehicles.
• Motorcyclists and motor scooterists.
• Public transport operators.
• Taxi and ride-share drivers.
• People with transport needs that can't be met efficiently or safely except by private motor vehicle.
These priorities are not peculiar to Auckland. Mike may be disappointed in Sydney and Los Angeles, because what's happening here is happening there too. Both cities are right now making massive new investments in mass transit.
Mike is right to ask questions about how well the disruption is managed but wrong to think nothing is being done. AT has recently launched Better Way, an online information service to "help people find a better way to get around the city centre". It also has Travelwise Choices, which helps large companies plan new travel patterns for staff.
These initiatives are great, although they don't go far enough. There's no big public marketing campaign. Travelwise Choices could be more proactive.
Beyond that, AT wrongly treats this disruption as simply that, disruption. Things will be restored, it suggests. But with so many people rethinking their travel habits, this is AT's chance to lock in the changes, to keep the number of cars in the central city down and thus make the experience of being there so much better for most people.
To do that, they have to improve the alternatives to driving for many more people. Increased frequencies and more priority bus routing would be a good start.
If Mike really cared about inefficiency, as he claims, he'd know the most efficient solution to people movement across town is to prioritise walking, public transport and micromobility lanes.
His problem stems from entitlement: he's upset the city is not planning its transport around his own preferences.
"I can't get to my hairdresser any more, a trip that used to take five to seven minutes through town now is 20 on a good day, 30 on a bad one, and in all reality no longer worth making given it's too hard."
Unless he walked, of course. What would that take, 10 minutes? Or he could catch a bus or a ride share. Still slowed by other traffic, but with no time-wasting parking fuss.
Let's be clear: planning the city's transport to make it easy for everyone to drive across Queen St would be the stupidest and most nightmarish thing they could possibly do.
But hey, hot tip: the quickest way to get across town is on a bicycle. Ride a bike, Mike, you'll wonder what ever took you so long.