NZ suffers hugely from a lack of public transport (trains, buses, trams) and access to safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists, hampering mobility, and yet is currently investing in a road building programme (seven state highways called Roads of National Significance). Trains and buses are much safer and more environmentally friendly for people and freight, and schemes such as the growing rail network of electric trains in Auckland should be the priority.
As NZ's population grows, congestion and pollution from road traffic will grow if given the chance, ruining our beautiful cities...unless we take a different and more enlightened approach to transport planning. We are a small country with limited income; let's spend it wisely and progressively on transport solutions that respect our international reputation as a green, clean country and a major tourist destination. Without even a rail connection from Auckland airport, and rail freight lines under threat, there is clearly so much to be done.
Why more roads and traffic is damaging for people
Pollution from cars is a major contributor to global warming which is the most pressing reason to reduce their use whenever possible. But traffic is bad for our towns and cities in many additional ways. They cause:
1. Danger, particularly to those who need to get around communities on foot and bicycles, which is all of us for our health, but particularly children, the elderly, the disabled, and the socially disadvantaged who cannot afford a car.
2. Health problems. Breathing difficulties such as asthma and other lung conditions are not helped by traffic emissions. People who only use cars and don't exercise easily become obese.
3. Noise pollution and fumes. Fast and well-used roads cause noise pollution and fumes, affecting all of us. We can't hear each other. We can't have conversations with our children or listen to the birds. We feel bombarded by the traffic which is psychologically negative.
4. Encroachment on public space. Planners who design in lots of urban parking spaces around shops, schools and other facilities are using valuable urban space that could be better used as parks or other constructive facilities that don't present a danger to children. Parking lots present a danger particularly to children due to manoeuvring vehicles.
Why more roads and traffic is damaging for economies
Real estate values are enormously negatively affected by busy roads. The quietest, traffic-free streets, or streets with 30kph limits, are the ones with the higher values, whether residential streets or shopping areas. These are the areas where people feel they can live and be encouraged to spend their money. They attract nice homes, roadside planting and seating, and classy shops.
Attractive traffic-free cities such as Cambridge in England and Amsterdam in the Netherlands are a tremendous draw to tourists also who feel they are in an attractive, relaxing environment. They can easily move around from the airport to the centre by train, and around the centre on foot and by bicycle. These cities are attractive and photogenic and therefore popular to visit. Similarly, attractive cities such as Wellington with its beautiful houses and amazing waterfront shouldn't be marred by more traffic. Tourism is vital to NZ's economy.
Governments who invest in road building spend billions on the roads themselves, and more on the health costs incurred by people inevitably being injured and dying on those roads. This is money much better invested in cleaner, safer forms of transport.
Why public transport requires strong local and national government support
Public transport systems cost money to build and run if they are to work well. Buses, trains and trams must be clean, frequent and go where you need them to go - on time. For this reason, it is important for them to have strong local and national government support. When this is provided, for example in cities such as Zurich, Switzerland, and even in a low-density population city such as Perth, Australia, people leave their cars at home and let the 'train take the strain'. It works, but only with the political will behind it.
Recommendations to communities
- Use public transport available to you. Use it or lose it. Under-use is a common reason cited by unenthusiastic authorities for scrapping public transport.
- Oppose moves to build more roads or wider roads. Instead call for separate cycle paths, footpaths, safe crossing places, and bus routes, trams and light railway systems connecting homes and facilities.
- Support moves to save any freight or passenger rail lines under threat and lobby local freight companies to use these rail lines to save roads from the danger, pollution and wear and tear of freight. The bigger a vehicle, the more likely it is to kill if involved in a crash.
- Oppose moves to build more and larger car parks around facilities such as schools. Instead, support schemes such as school walking buses and off road cycle paths.
- If you use a car, reduce your use. Plan fewer trips and car share.
- Talk to your political representatives at local council and parliament level. Let them know the importance you attach to the transport debate and your views.
Success of public transport in Perth, Western Australia
Success of public transport in Zurich, Switzerland