Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An open approach?

Community activists in Mangere and Otahuhu have been calling on Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency to come clean about their plans to bulldoze their way through these suburbs to make way for a motorway. After much agitation and some negative press, AT and NZTA issued a media release late yesterday (2 December) assuring those communities of an "open approach".

So does this amount to a backdown brought about by a realisation that what they are planning is appalling, or is it merely a public relations sop to calm the agitated locals? To answer this, we need to look at what the media release says.

An important area
The opening paragraph tells us AT and NZTA want the community to help them find "the best transport solutions to better link and economically growing south-west and south-east Auckland." We are alerted to the fact this is a serious issue because of the magic words "economically growing". In neo-liberal New Zealand, describing something as "economically growing" is designed to kill debate. This also suggests that years of cruddy urban design and bad traffic planning are now the problem of the communities of Mangere and Otahuhu. In the next paragraph, we are told that the suburbs of Mangere and Otahuhu are part of an "important area" that in fact covers an area from the airport in the west to Pakuranga in the east, and up to Penrose and Panmure in the north. Important but not exclusive.

NZTA's Tommy Parker then tells us there is "no preferred option", which on the evidence so far is nonsense, but just to help the citizens of Mangere and Otahuhu come to the right decision, we are told again that this is an "important issue that will affect jobs, the streets families live in, and the way people and freight can move safely around this area..." Jobs, got it? Oh, yeah, and freight. This, in case you need reminding gentle reader, is all about the current government's obsession with freight.

A key pedestrian amenity in Mangere
Then we get the mea culpa: "[we] acknowledge that we should have engaged the wider community from the start..." Well, yes. But the delay was only because AT  "wanted to better understand the transport needs of this area." This is bollocks. AT have given a couple of vague presentations to the local board, and talked extensively to the business sector in order to shore up support before telling the residents what they are going to do. 

More to the point, if AT really wanted to better understand the transport needs of the area, they could have consulted with their colleagues who are presently working on the South Auckland public transport upgrade. Or they could have talked to the community transport team, who would have told them that it is difficult to get around Mangere in anything other than an SUV, and that it is almost completely lacking in pedestrian and cycling amenities.

Conflict areas - not in Mangere and Otahuhu
Nor do the transport needs of the area appear to include dealing with a major traffic conflict area. An earlier map produced by AT shows the key traffic conflict areas to be on the intersection of Church Street and State Highway 1, and the Mt Wellington interchange. These, you will observe, are nowhere near Mangere and Otahuhu.

But back to the media release. It goes on to stress again that we NEED to do something because it's about jobs and economic growth. We don't have the room to argue that claim here but it, too, is rubbish. Suffice to say there is no logically necessary connection between a traffic conflict area in Onehunga, the fact jobs are located at the airport, and the need to put a motorway through a residential area. Indeed, if it is the presence of employment at the airport that is a concern, then AT would be prioritising the multi-modal link to the airport that includes cycle lanes and an extension of the rail because it is these that will reduce traffic volumes.

Finally, the somewhat exaggerated cross-Mangere freight problem is dumped back into the lap of South Auckland's residents again: "We’re asking for people’s patience, but more importantly we are asking for their help." 

Sure. We'll give you some help when you come  to us with an honest description of the problem, and a genuinely multi-modal plan to deal with it, including the improvement of pedestrian, cycling and public transport amenities in the area. In the meantime, stop fobbing us off with this claptrap.