Dame Jenny Gibbs wrote to the paper this week about Auckland Transport's plans for St Heliers. She'd read my column last Friday and didn't agree with me that there was too much on-street car parking in the shopping village. She definitely didn't want any of the parks taken out, to allow for more pedestrian crossings, as AT had wanted to do.
Gibbs lives in the eastern bays and said she had switched to a St Heliers optometrist, precisely because it's more convenient to drive to the village than into the city, which she used to do.
She had a very good point. We drive because it's convenient.
Being able to go door to door, or nearly, whenever you like, without having to fit in with anyone's timetable, it's great. Staying warm, dry and entertained while you do it, also great. Getting there more quickly, having the flexibility to visit different places on the journey, being able to transport cumbersome loads ... what's not to like about cars?
Nobody wants to carry their weekly shopping home on the bus. Nobody wants to use bicycles to pick up kids from school and take them to three locations, and pick them up again afterwards. Well, almost nobody. Nobody likes waiting for a bus that doesn't come.
Driving is a core part of how we live, because it's convenient. So why wouldn't we want to organise our cities to make the most of that convenience?
Let me try to answer. Actually, let me try to give you eight answers.
1. Car convenience is not a good foundation for city planning.
So often, that's been the default. We've said, first let's work out how to get cars more quickly and easily from here to there. We'll fit everything else around that.
But why isn't community building the foundation? Or if that's not your thing, how about maximising economic opportunity? Or protecting the most vulnerable. What about finding the optimum balance between economic and environmental progress? Those things are all goals and worth arguing over.
Car convenience is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
It's valuable, but are the things that make it valuable always best delivered by a private car? What if there was some way Gibbs could summon a vehicle to pick her up from her front door and take her to the optometrist?
After all, as the city grows, an empty park in St Heliers will become harder to find. Does she want to keep adding more parks? Is there a limit to that?
2. Cars aren't always convenient.
Just ask the people stuck in traffic, every single day. Ask people backed up all the way around Tamaki Drive, every summer weekend. Ask the people who drive round and round shopping precincts looking for a park on the street, because there are never enough parks and there never will be.
3. Cars are dangerous.
Last year - as reported yesterday - 649 people were killed or seriously injured on Auckland roads. Half were inside a car and the other half were hit by a car. They were motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists.
And contrary to popular understanding about who drives well, the three areas where the rate went up were well-off parts of town – including Gibbs' own local roads in the Orakei ward. The others were Hibiscus Coast and the Waitematā/central city area.
Deaths and serious injuries are not the inevitable price to pay for driving. We can't think that, or behave as if we do.
4. Cars cost a lot.
For many people, not all, but many, running a car is the most expensive transport option they could take. That's not really convenient at all.
5. Heard of climate change?
We can't keep driving vehicles powered by fossil fuels.
In cities, we have no right to ask farmers to lower agricultural emissions if we are not prepared to lower transport emissions. And none of us can expect the world's big emitters to confront their duty to the planet if we don't do the same.
Besides, it's silly to ignore it. We could be working now on ways to make climate-change strategy work for us, so we benefit from it. Or we can ignore it until we can't ignore it any longer, and then there'll be no benefits, just catastrophes to hide from.
If you think car convenience is the best thing to preserve right now, come back in a couple of decades and see what we think is "convenient". (More on this in the Weekend Herald tomorrow.)
6. What about health?
We have an obesity epidemic and, like climate change, we're pretending that isn't really a thing. Maybe it is convenient to drive kids everywhere, and sometimes, of course, it's inevitable. But a lot of the time it isn't good for them, or for the health of the people doing all the driving.
7. What about the benefits of community life?
Why do so many people think it's essential to be able to drive right into the middle of St Heliers, and other such village shopping centres, beach suburbs and beauty spots, and park right on the street?
Imagine another kind of St Heliers village. Defined by its cafes, greenery and little parks, its seafront boulevard, its cobbled and pedestrianised plazas. Where traffic, in the places it isn't banned outright, is calmed with slow speed limits, raised table pedestrian crossings and the elimination of fast thoroughfares.
You'd still be able to drive there, but you'd park at the edge. Because the village centre itself, indoor and out, would be full of people meeting friends, shopping, eating, lingering a while under trees planted down the middle of the old main street, where there's shelter on windy days and still that sparkling view of Rangitoto. Kids and adults alike would be safe on those streets.
For many people there, cars would still be convenient. But they're be fitted around the larger purpose.
The way some people complain about Auckland Transport, you'd think they'd never been abroad.
8. Can't we have everything?
Some say we shouldn't be pitting cars against public transport. Don't we need both?
Actually, we need far more resources put into public transport. The problem in St Heliers, and in many other suburbs around the city, is not that some car parks might disappear, but that the public transport isn't good enough. Complain to Auckland Transport about that.
And, Auckland Transport, you have to listen. This city doesn't need more roads or more car parks. Providing them will just encourage even more cars, and all the problems will get worse. It needs more public transport, and you have to provide it.