It was wonderful to see thousands of people turn out on Saturday morning to attend the opening of Ngā Hau Māngere, the new Māngere Bridge.
A mix of young and old, locals and visitors, walkers and cyclists, and even a local seal joined the celebrations.
The bridge will be a new connection between the communities of Māngere and Onehunga, and a vital part of the safe, connected walking and cycling network we are building in many towns and cities.
With a lovely wide path, gentle slope, and places to stop for a chat or to fish, Nga Hau Māngere is a massive win for the community, and I am proud our Government has delivered it.
However, judging from their column last week (NZ Herald August 25) the Opposition would point to infrastructure like this as an example of a war on cars.
I call it giving people transport choices and taking the challenge of climate change seriously.
For the last century, the growth of the automobile has allowed our cities to grow and deliver greater connectivity. However, it hasn't been without costs.
More and more space has been consumed to provide for motorways and car parks, carbon has been pumped into the atmosphere, our health has suffered, and we are missing out on crucial productivity gains as more of us spend time sitting in traffic. Waiting.
We cannot continue to pump more vehicles into our cities, even if they're all electric.
That's not to say private vehicles don't have a role to play. In the current three-year period our Government will spend almost $7 billion on maintaining existing roads, we'll invest in important new roading connections like Penlink in Whangaparaoa, Takitimu North Link in Tauranga, and Ōtaki to north of Levin to improve resilience, and we'll put $500 million into the Clean Car Upgrade to help Kiwis get into low emissions vehicles – hardly a war on cars.
However, after half a century of transport policy and investment almost exclusively focused on private vehicles, it is time to have some more balance and provide other transport choices to people.
This is what people overwhelmingly say in survey after survey – that given safe and efficient infrastructure they want to increase the amount of walking, cycling, and public transport travel in their daily lives.
Again, it's not all or nothing – a 10 to 20 per cent decrease in traffic through good alternative options (similar to school holiday volumes) would massively reduce congestion and emissions.
To give people this choice, we need to open up our streets for safe walking and cycling and improve the frequency and reliability of public transport services.
This will help to unclog our streets, allow goods and services to move around more efficiently, and support greater productivity, building our country's economic prosperity.
Research shows that if we encourage smart transport choices early in life, there's an increased likelihood they'll transfer into adulthood.
Many of us walked and cycled to school when we were young, yet we don't feel safe letting our children do the same. The reason is simple; there's a lot more cars about.
In the five years pre-Covid, more than 180 children were injured outside schools by a vehicle.
Why on Earth would we accept that? And how on Earth is it responsible to resort to political scare-mongering by labelling attempts to change this a "war on cars"?
Our proposals in the Reshaping Streets package are about empowering local communities and schools to work together make getting to and from school safer.
This isn't cancelling the school drop-off as per the misleading claims that have been made.
It's simply about allowing communities and schools the ability to make changes so streets can be safer for all involved.
The answers won't be dictated by government, but worked out at the local level. Communities might decide that some areas should be prioritised for kids to safely walk to school, but they might also decide that a drop-off zone can be put in around the corner where it is safer for everyone.
Over the past few months, region after region has been hit by increasingly extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Politicians can no longer mouth words of sympathy as communities are flooded and roads washed away, while simultaneously running campaigns opposing any and every measure to reduce the emissions that ultimately cause these events.
By giving people more transport choices, we are taking action to reduce emissions, reducing congestion, while also keeping kids who just want to walk or bike to school safer.
- Michael Wood is the Minister of Transport and MP for Mt Roskill.
31 August 2022