MANAGING SUSTAINABLY : The road to sustainability

Nearly eight out of 10 Aucklanders are concerned about traffic congestion. Now the new Super City gives us change to manage it. Congestion has to be fixed.
It’s not about rail versus roads, or cars and trucks versus public transport. Cars and trucks have already won that debate hands-down.
The debate should be about how we use our constrained traffic corridors so that people and freight get more easily to where they have to go. We are literally running out of roads because of the way we manage their use.
It is estimated freight volumes will grow by 70 percent over the next 20 to 30 years, if we continue business as usual.
If we get serious about catching up with Australia, then we would have to grow our economy at two percent faster than Australia each year for 15 years, or one percent faster for 30 years. The only way we will grow that fast is if exports and imports grow even faster.
All the evidence suggests that when gross domestic product grows, freight volumes in New Zealand grow even faster.
To make progress in catching Australia, freight volumes will need to grow by more than 100 percent over the next 30 years. Given we are only planning to hold current congestion rates, we need step change.
No city anywhere has been rich enough to build enough roads to avoid congestion. So the debate in the new Super City and elsewhere needs to also encompass not only maximising the investment in rail and public transport, but also our road network.
If we ran hotels like our roads they would be empty most of the time – and you wouldn’t be able to get bed during the peak holiday season. Hotels price low, off peak, and high during the peak. We must also look at charging for accessing roads at peak times, or at least for express lanes. This will provide many with the incentive to move road use to off-peak periods.
This works in other cities. In Stockholm, congestion pricing cut peak traffic volumes to the CBD by 25 percent.
Coordinated traffic lights, dedicated freight, or high-occupancy lanes and real-time traffic flow management can make major difference to how we move people and freight.
A report from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation authority found traffic light synchronisation region-wide would be one of the most effective congestion reduction measures. However, it didn’t happen because it was felt to be politically impossible to get agreement across seven local authorities in Auckland. Now there is just one.
The city also needs to consider door-to-door mini bus systems which pick people up from home and take them to main bus and rail corridors. Mini buses are then used to complete their trip. Smart jitney bus systems, as they are called, can move more people on congested corridors, and better meet the mobility needs of people in low-density cities.
Effective local schools, walking school buses, and staggered starting times for tertiary institutions could reduce peak period education-related traffic.
Better cooperation between all the current players could see regional hubs created on the fringe of the cities to switch some truck movements away from city streets.
We need long-term commitment to package of policies which will last beyond the terms of one government and one council.
A comprehensive sustainable approach will help tackle congestion – and deliver the step change needed to cope with 100 percent freight growth over the next 30 years. That in turn will be underpinning not only an economic improvement, but better quality of life.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. The study on Creating Sustainable Super City – How to Accelerate Auckland, is available at www.nzbcsd.org.nz

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