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Automobile Lifestyle April 2, 2015

Cars and Cites

One Way Cycle Track

“Carless cities, wow, what an amazing, visionary thing,” says Mark Knoff-Thomas, Chief Executive of Newmarket Business Association. “If we truly want Auckland to be the world’s most liveable city, then these are the kinds of initiatives that we need to put in place. Anything that makes the city a faster flowing environment is good for business also. Anyone who thinks building more roads is the answer doesn’t live in the modern world.”

Innovative policies are being put into place all over the world. A Milanese scheme saw commuters paid to leave their cars at home and opt for the train instead. Paris plans to double its number of city centre bike lanes by 2020, ban diesel cars and limit other traffic. In 2001, four in ten Parisians didn’t own a car, that’s now up to 60 per cent. When the city briefly banned some cars last year due to smog levels, pollution in some districts dropped by a third. Scandinavian cities and even China are taking note.

Southern Gateway

“Auckland is in a transformational phase, going through teenage growing pains,” continues Mark. “The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the growth and development and we’re also experiencing behavioural changes with people.”

According to Mayor Len Brown, Aucklanders are desperate for a greater choice of transport options. Last year, thanks to the introduction of electric trains, passenger numbers were up by nearly a fifth, for the first time overtaking Wellington’s figures. “Aucklanders tell me every day they want better public transport,” says the Mayor. “The latest hike in patronage confirms that if we build it, they will get out of their cars and use it.”

The city’s population is expected to soar past two million in the next couple of decades. Things need to improve, fast and drastically. “The problem we have right now is that the transport system is under enormous pressure,” says Mark. “You don’t have to dig very deep to find an army of commuters with bad experiences. Previous local and central governments have been really passive about this, but they are finally beginning to realise investment is good not just for Auckland, but the efficiency of the nation as a whole.”

“Aucklanders are behind this,” says the Mayor. “The business and investment community are behind this, we just need to get on and get it done.”

“Longer term, I’d love to see fewer cars in Newmarket,” says Mark. “But you have to respect that a lot of retailers have invested their heart and soul into their businesses, and it’s all very well having these idealistic philosophies, but if you’ve borrowed money on your house to start up and suddenly there are no cars coming by, it can have a detrimental effect. We have to have a long-term vision. Measures must be introduced incrementally, to provide opportunities, so that things aren’t being taken away without being replaced by something better.”

Sky Path Observation

As part of the Auckland Plan, many of these issues are looking to be addressed. Among its targets are to ensure that by 2040, 45 per cent of all peak morning trips are non-car based (the current figure is 23 per cent), to complete the City Rail Link by 2021 and to have, within a year, the all-new all-electric fleet of trains ferrying 48,000 passengers daily. Greater attention to pedestrian and bike friendly pathways has also been proposed, including the government’s $100 million commitment to Auckland’s first separated cycleway. Cycle Action Auckland chairperson Barbara Cuthbert says that 2014 was the ‘tipping point’ for support of two-wheels transport and expects big things in the coming years. “We’ve been dreaming of this for so long,” she tells Stuff. “Last year really showed that the public demand was there and now it’s really going to pick up speed.”

Mark makes an interesting point that it’s not just simply about improving our transport systems, but also people’s attitudes. “Ideology splits too many people’s opinions,” he says. “So based on your political beliefs, you’re either for it, or against it. But this isn’t about whether you’re left or right or green or whatever, it’s about practical, pragmatic, positive developments for Auckland. It’s about what’s right for the city.” Also, he says, what don’t get mentioned are the numerous knock-on opportunities that will develop, enabling business to work and grow together, most obviously with the delivery of goods. “We have a lot of cool problems that need to be thought about laterally,” says Mark. “If we stick with the same model of business we have, any drastic change won’t be fluid. We need to think about how to make businesses part of the solution. Ultimately, giving more space to people is far better than giving more space to cars. It’s people that give an area life.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces

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