The politics of opposition to cycleways

By 0 Comment

Auckland Council is now getting into the business end of climate change policies.  The emergency declaration has been passed, and the vision, Auckland’s Climate Plan, has been endorsed.

These steps are important although overdue.  When I first became a Local Government politician in 2001, we knew then that the world faced a cataclysmic climate disaster and we had to get moving but at least then we had some time.

Politics was different then.  The right was obsessed with the proposition that climate change was a socialist plot to destroy the capitalist system.  At one level it was.  It is clear now that rampant consumerism is destroying the planet and the capitalist system is the cause of the problem.  But back then it was a battle between science and right wing dogma.

The debate is now over.  What we are seeing in the real world is exactly what was predicted.  The right has achieved nothing but assisting decades of lack of action at a time when action was most needed.

Over the past two decades locally there has been some progress.  Thanks to the Fifth Labour Government and a united Auckland Region Auckland’s double tracking and electrification of the rail system has been completed.  Out west a number of walkways and cycleways have been constructed and intensification has been concentrated Waitakere City around the rail line.  If you want to see a local example of a compact urban form then come out west.

The double tracking and electrification of the rail line took 14 years.  It is now state of the art public transport.  But we no longer have the same amount of time to do the next big project.

The IPCC recently released a recent report where it said:

It is unequivocal that climate change has already disrupted human and natural systems. Past and current development trends (past emissions, development and climate change) have not advanced global climate resilient development … Societal choices and actions implemented in the next decade determine the extent to which medium- and long-term pathways will deliver higher or lower climate resilient development … Importantly climate resilient development prospects are increasingly limited if current greenhouse gas emissions do not rapidly decline, especially if 1.5°C global warming is exceeded in the near-term.

UN General Secretary Antonio Guteres has been even blunter in his language:

With the planet warming by as much as 1.2 degrees, and where climate disasters have forced 30 million to flee their homes, Mr. Guterres warned: “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”

“In our globally connected world, no country and no corporation, can insulate itself from these levels of chaos.”

If we do not want to “kiss 1.5 goodbye … we need to go to the source – the G20” (group of leading industrialized nations), the UN chief said.

Noting that developed and emerging G20 economies account for 80 per cent of all global emissions, he drew attention to a high dependence on coal but underscored that “our planet can’t afford a climate blame game.”

Developed countries must not put the onus on emerging economies to accelerate their transition nor must emerging economies responding by saying, “you exported carbon-intensive heavy industrial activities to us in return for cheaper goods”.

“We can’t point fingers while the planet burns,” said the Organization head.

Advanced cities like Tamaki Makaurau must be able to play our part if the world has a hope of avoiding a climate catastrophe.

How is Auckland City doing?  It has its big plan to halve CO2 emissions over the next decade.  But so far construction of the all important supporting infrastructure has been lagging.

There are two recent proposals which will potentially make a significant contribution to Auckland’s goals.

Auckland Transport’s draft parking strategy proposes that parking on some major roads be removed so that space is made for traffic and other forms of transport to improve the performance of the system.  Having a parking space right outside your home if you live in the inner city is a very expensive service that the Council does not have to supply.  And it can be used for much more important roles.

This is not something new.  And unfortunately the arguments against converting car parks into alternative mode use is exactly the thing that we will have to do if we want to reduce transport emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Unfortunately there is the appearance of a viable political market for pedaling nonsense.  Here is an example of the level of incoherence the opposition has mustered.  Whau Councillor Tracy Mulholland was reported as saying this:

Who parks in the parking outside town centre shops? Customers do! AT appear to be telling Aucklanders to walk, cycle or catch a bus or a train even if it doesn’t suit!

It is essential that we support small businesses, the lifeblood of our region’s economy. The café owners, services businesses, chemists, gift shops; people who risk their savings to set up and run businesses and who rely on loyal customers to shop there.

Don’t be fooled by the argument that the Draft Parking Strategy is about tackling the ‘Climate Emergency’. It’s not. I predict Auckland Transport will shortly cut some public transport services because it’s going broke. The Government – which is poll-driven, noting the temporary reduction in fuel excise tax – has underfunded AT’s activities for more than a decade.

Climate action is a distraction from the real goal, which is charging motorists more and more to help fund AT, which has become both extreme and dogmatic in its puritanical desire to eliminate cars from Auckland.

Is she correct that cycle lanes are the death knell for adjacent businesses?  The experience from throughout the world would suggest not.  From the Guardian:

Experience often overtakes fears after projects have time to become part of daily life in cities. Studies of New YorkLondonTorontoSan Francisco and other American cities determined that pedestrian and cycling infrastructure increased retail sales by making streets and the stores along them better for shoppers on foot, bike and public transport.

In Detroit, [Mayor] Duggan will be hoping to see similar support after he oversaw the largest one-year buildout of protected bike paths in the US and created a network of plazas and downtown pedestrian space. Plante’s path to reelection in Montreal on 7 November is being challenged by Denis Coderre, who has criticised her bike- and pedestrian-friendly policies. Critics have portrayed Plante as out of touch with ordinary residents, but even her opponent is careful to promise that he would not reverse her signature protected bike lane on St Denis Street.

Bikelash can be exhaustingly repetitive, to the point where even media writers are tired of the ritual of discussing bike lanes solely in terms of controversy.

Reflecting on a decade of bike controversies across Canada, Toronto’s the Globe and Mail this month asked: “Is the war against bike lanes finally over?

Perhaps not quite yet, but the editorial took the view that bike lanes had “grown from political flashpoints – and ideological signifiers – to standard-issue civic infrastructure”.

It added: “The arguments over bike lanes are settled. They’re becoming what they should have long been: an ordinary way of getting around our cities.”

This level of incoherence from the right is the reason why any notion of having a civilised debate on the issue and reaching consensus has little if any chance.

The other recent announcement by Auckland Council is the Auckland Cycling and Micromobility Programme Business Case which this week was considered by Council.  The proposal is to work out what infrastructure would be needed to increase cycling’s share of all trips in Auckland to 7%.

The Herald in covering this issue showed there are two types of stories that it publishes.

One, by Bernard Orsman, was rather sensationalist.

His article said this:

Transport planners want to nearly double Auckland’s cycle network, make bike training compulsory in schools and scrap teachers’ parking in a controversial $2 billion cycling scheme.

Proponents say the plan is essential to ensure Auckland becomes a more liveable city for residents but opponents are predicting ‘outrage’ amid warnings of more congestion if cycleways take over more car lanes.

The ambitious proposal also seeks to abolish tax deductions for company cars and introduce public subsidies for people to buy bikes, the Herald understands.

While $306 million has so far been allocated, planners are seeking political support for a further $1.7b, plus law changes to increase cycling’s share of the transport system and do so safely.

National MP Simeon Brown was gifted the headline by using that go to word for tired conservatives, “Outraged”.

He should read the actual agenda item before tweeting.  Because it was about the best use of the $306 million that all councillors had previously agreed to although it did note the significant increase in funding required if Council is to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target.

And talking about value for money the various cycleway projects are said to have a benefit cost ratio of 2 to 3.4 which is really, really good.

By comparison some of the road projects that National has supported have these BCRs:

  • East West Highway in Auckland – 0.96.
  • Transmission Gully – 0.6.
  • Puhoi to Warkworth – 1.2.

The alternative article was written by Simon Wilson.  He said this about the Orsman article:

… this paper reported yesterday that there would be “outrage” at an Auckland Transport proposal to spend more money on bike lanes. Turned out the “outrage” was expressed only by the National Party’s transport spokesperson, Simeon Brown. Even the AA, traditionally a staunch defender of the interests of drivers, made it clear they were in general agreement.

The AA gets it. We can’t keep adding more roads in the belief that will lower emissions, or help with road safety, or ease congestion. It does the reverse: more roads and more parking leads to more driving, and that makes emissions, road safety and congestion worse.

What we have to do is reduce our dependence on cars.

So here’s a goal. Let’s make it safe and desirable for kids to walk and cycle to school. Is there anything outrageous about that?

The politics is interesting.  Clearly some think that opposition to cycleways is an election result enhancing thing to do.  But from this week’s local government election results in the UK it appears that anti cycleway candidates did not do so well.  From the Guardian:

The opposition to cycling infrastructure generally has a major problem.  They present no alternative showing how we are going to get to carbon neutrality.  Instead there is a yearning for the status quo to prevail when clearly this is no longer an option.

Hopefully this year’s Central Government budget will provide sufficient funding so that Auckland’s Cycling and Micromobility Programme Business Case can be fully implemented.  And this year’s elections results in politicians committed to improving the region’s cycleways being elected.



Leave a Comment