There's a man in Devonport who thinks we should have a travelator connecting his suburb to downtown Auckland. You know, one of those things you step on at an airport and they transport you another 100 metres, and there's still half a mile to walk.
This man, he lets me know about it often but he's a shy man so I'll call him Dave. Dave's plan is for an undersea travelator. You'd stand there and be transported over the seabed, in a tube like at Kelly Tarlton's, all the way to work, or home again, or wherever.
Don't worry, unlike airport travelators this one would go all the way. That would be horrendous, wouldn't it? Step on at Devonport and you get to the middle of the channel and that's that, you have to walk. No, this one would definitely go all the way. I assume. To be honest, I haven't checked that point with Dave.
Would it be murky? Not much to look at? Dave's got a plan for that. He wants a tube within a tube, with the outer tube filled with tropical fish.
That sounds like fun, but is tropical fish the best version of the idea? Dave can be a timid thinker sometimes. Why not stingrays and sharks, like at the real Kelly Tarlton's? Why not millions of seahorses? Eels. Stupendous squid, or whatever it is they call the really big ones. Luminescent creatures of the deep. Sunken galleons, with treasure.
They could change it out, as the occasion demanded, just like they change the lights on the Sky Tower. Imagine what they could do at Halloween. All those dead souls from Pirates of the Caribbean.
They could personalise the experience. If Dave wants fish and I want to read the complete Don Quixote, scrolling on the perspex tube beside me, writ large in the murky sea, why not? It doesn't have to be real. We could each have our own virtual experience. Mermaids.
Would it get tiring, standing all that way? There could be seats. Genius.
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There's actually no reason we can't do this. Compared to motorways and new harbour bridges and light rail networks and underground railways, not to mention undersea railways and/or roads, as are currently proposed, it would be cheap. And fun. And it would make us famous, so people would come from everywhere to experience the world's first, best, longest and most astonishing open-sea underwater travelator. We could charge tourists double. Triple.
Have I mentioned a cycle lane yet?
Meanwhile, former Act Party leader Richard Prebble is promoting the case of Sky Cabs, an overhead system of transportation invented by Auckland architect Hugh Chapman. Sky Cabs are pods that hang from an elevated rail, as distinct from trains that run on top of an elevated rail, which are called monorails.
Unlike monorails, which got so mocked so mercilessly on The Simpsons no one will ever take them seriously, Sky Cabs are reliable, fast and very frequent, we're told. And they would cost just a fraction of what light rail or other more conventional mass transit options would cost us.
Chapman has been pushing his invention for many years, as yet without any takers.
Why not? There are several conflicting principles in play. First, many planners consider it bad practice to be the first to build brand-new technology. Let someone else make all the mistakes.
Second, if someone offers you something too good to be true, it probably is. Are there really massively cheaper transit options than the ones officials favour, given they have penny-pinching ministers and Treasury breathing down their necks?
The answer, surely, is that there might be, so the question is worth asking, but don't go pinning your hopes on it.
The third principle in play is the oh-my-god-the-future-is-scary principle. We don't know what transport modes will work best or even what the choices will be. (Although we do know, as certainly as you can know anything about the future, that vehicles driven by fossil-fuels will not be among the options.) Probably the thing we understand least about the future is technology.
Followed closely by population. We don't know how many people our transportation will have to cater for. As my colleague Liam Dann noted this week, it was only 15 years ago that planners thought the population of Auckland would hit 1.5 million in the year 2050. But we're there already.
All over the world, the biggest cities in each region have been growing much faster than was expected, because that's where the work is. But another trend has also emerged: some big cities, like New York and Los Angeles, have shrunk. Fewer migrants (a US phenomenon), and many people who just can't afford to live there anymore.
Will that happen in Auckland? If your work is in the city but you can't buy a house or afford the rent, and there's really good rapid transit, why not live in Northland or the Waikato?
It's not easy, being a planner, or a politician who has to choose. It's difficult to propose committing billions of dollars to transport modes that might turn out to be the wrong ones; and yet it's absolutely critical those billions of dollars are committed quickly so we can create the infrastructure we need.
That's why nostalgic solutions have such appeal. The proof of the wisdom of building more highways – and mocking "train sets" and "trams" – is plain to see: it's right there in the past.
Never mind, there have been some good signs. At Puhinui, a stop on both the southern and eastern rail lines near Manukau, Auckland Transport is building a new interchange station. It will connect those lines to a rapid bus service to the airport and to Botany, and perhaps further north again. Meanwhile, the Eastern Busway is being built from Panmure to Pakuranga and then onwards to Botany.
It's beyond belief how long that eastern corridor has been in the planning, but it's happening now. A network is being created and it will transform the east.
And, a bonus outcome: while everyone frets endlessly about the merits of airport transit on Dominion Rd, Puhinui will connect the airport by rapid transit to almost everywhere south of the harbour bridge. It's not a complete solution, but it sure will help.
Transport minister Phil Twyford has also announced dedicated bus lanes are coming soon to the northwest motorway, with "pop-up" stations. Cost anxiety eliminated rapid transit from that route not so long ago, but they've worked out a way to do it quickly and more cheaply and now it's back.
Build it quickly and less than permanently, knowing the service will change as demand evolves: in an uncertain and needy world, it's not a bad principle to apply to some infrastructure. Because one thing's for certain: it's time they speeded up transport planning.
Meanwhile, on the subject of harbour crossings, the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group has delivered its third and final report, arguing the port in the Waitematā must shift to Northland. One of the many enormous implications of this is there would be far fewer trucks on the harbour bridge.
That's because there'll be a new inland port or freight hub to the northwest of the city, with road and rail freight routed around the city centre, not through it.
How about this, then: the eight lanes of the bridge could become two for mass transit, one for cycling and walking and five, including a dynamic lane, for cars. Has that been the plan all along?
Maybe the proposed undersea crossings for rail and/or road will be redundant before they're even built? Maybe the only undersea crossing we'll want or need will be Dave's travelator.