15 February 2008

Stupid, Wasteful, and Dangerous

Last night I attended a public meeting to oppose plans by the Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington, and Transit New Zealand to “solve” central Wellington’s transport problems by building more roads and digging new road tunnels, despite the considerable body of evidence (such as this report) that shows this approach does nothing but induce more traffic onto the roads, thus causing further congestion.

I was peripherally involved in organising the meeting, and I’ll be making a submission on the issue. I went along hoping the meeting would go well, and it did: we got over 100 people, lots of whom stayed around afterwards to offer help with the campaign. But the meeting did something I didn’t expect: it made me angry.

Not angry at the presenters, but angry at Wellington’s transport planners who, year after year, decade after decade, trot out the same “solution” to the problem earlier “solutions” have helped to create. Despite the massive contribution of private car transport to greenhouse gas emissions; despite the mismatch between the world production of oil and world oil demand, which is the underlying reason behind high oil prices, and which will only get worse as oil production peaks and then declines; despite the body of research which shows that there are better ways of solving transport problems; despite all that, these planners repeat their mantra that we have to build more roads to take more cars.

There’s some extenuating circumstances. New Zealand’s bizarre transport funding rules mean that local government can get central government to pay for 100% of certain roading projects, but only 50% of non-roading projects. Wellington’s Mayor has openly said that road tunnels are essential, no matter what comes out of the public consultation process. There’s a whole heap of construction companies eager to put on the hard hats and the fluorescent jackets one more time and let the asphalt flow out and the money roll in. And, of course, by no means are all transport planners stuck in the past.

But in an era when climate change and oil depletion are both accelerating, when cities overseas are moving away from the private car, when transport alternatives are available, to keep pushing the same old failed solution is stupid. It’s wasteful – roads are massively expensive to build, more expensive than the alternative options. And it’s dangerous, because it fails to face up to the reality of our urgent energy and environmental problems, and diverts resources that should be spent on tackling those problems.

It’s stupid, wasteful, and dangerous. And it has to stop.

• Reports of the meeting by Matt Bartlett (PDF) and Eye of the Fish.
Make a submission (deadline is 22 February) and read the planning report

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