Auckland's transport plan provides us with a once-in-a-generation choice between two competing visions: to keep pursuing the failed model of motorway-driven sprawl, or to develop a quality, compact city with a balanced transport system.
Generation Zero, with the respected authors of Auckland Transport Blog, have developed a fully costed, visionary alternative to the current $60 billion transport plan: the Congestion Free Network.
We propose the staged investment in public transport corridors all over the region, with high frequency all-day services. These corridors would include electrified rail to Mt Roskill and Pukekohe, busways to Silverdale, Kumeu and Botany, rail to the airport, light rail along Dominion Rd, an extensive ferry network and even rail to the North Shore. And all of this at only 40 per cent of the cost of the current transport plan.
A full regional cycling network would complement this system, as well as focused upgrades on specific local roads. This would provide Aucklanders with genuine transport choice.
By contrast, the council's current plan to deal with Auckland's growth over the next 30 years is set out in its Integrated Transport Programme (ITP).
This plan calls for the vast majority of funds to be spent on costly new motorways. As such, it is based on the same flawed thinking that has given us the heavily congested, sprawling city we see today.
In fact, our transport agency predicts that despite this multibillion-dollar tarmac bonanza, congestion will only get worse.
Instead of discussing whether we use new roading charges, petrol taxes, or higher rates to pay for this roading binge, we should be questioning the overall direction of the transport spend, and our Congestion Free Network offers the transformational change our city deserves.
Drivers appreciate the choice of frequent and affordable public transport when it is provided, and the reduced road congestion that a multimodal system provides.
The current school holiday-related reduction in traffic demonstrates our roading network works well when we take cars off the road. And our recent modest investments in public transport are already paying off: rail patronage has increased by a factor of five over the past decade. The Northern Busway has been a spectacular success with 40 per cent of people coming into city from the North Shore in the mornings now travelling by bus.
The smart solution to our transport woes is to invest in the "missing modes": rail, buses, ferries, cycling and walking.
The council's current transport plan is not only counterproductive, it's irresponsible. It locks us into a future of more carbon pollution, more financial debt, and will offer no solution to the obesity epidemic that our city is confronting.
The council admits that the ITP will dramatically increase carbon emissions and break our city's commitments to dealing with climate change, at a time when Auckland needs to urgently move away from fossil fuels.
The effects of pollution are real: a study titled Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand has found that over 100 Aucklanders are dying prematurely from car emissions every year. But it doesn't need to be this way; another study, by the University of Auckland, has demonstrated that moving just one out of 20 short car trips to cycling would not only reduce carbon emissions, but prevent over 100 premature deaths through increased activity, generating net savings of about $200 million per year.
No city has navigated a path out of congestion through simply widening roads. Build a new motorway and it will fill up, producing more traffic, more carbon pollution, and more urban sprawl. Our Congestion Free Network will provide Auckland with the world class public transport system we deserve within 17 years, and provide us all with genuine transport choices every day, at a far cheaper price than the current plan.
The local government elections this year provide us with the opportunity to make this vision a reality.
We're asking candidates to commit to the vision of the Congestion Free Network and question our expensive motorway obsession.
Remember to enrol to vote, and head to Generationzero.org.nz/auckland to help make this a reality.
Dr Sudhvir Singh is a doctor at Middlemore Hospital. He is one of the leaders of Generation Zero, an organisation of young New Zealanders promoting solutions to climate change through transport, energy and healthy liveable cities.