Pippa Coom: Ponsonby Road - a battleground for climate action

The Environment and Climate Change Committee recently received an engaging and informative presentation from Dr Rod Carr, Chair of the Climate Change Commission, Deputy Chair Lisa Tumahai and CEO Jo Hendy.

They made themselves available to discuss the Commission’s draft advice to Government and how Auckland must play a big part in Aotearoa’s pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

The Commission has called for “transformational and lasting change across society and the economy” to respond to the climate crisis. Their advice is evidence-based to set New Zealand up for success. Transport will be one of the most important targets for change. “This means changing the way we travel and move goods. New Zealanders should be able to walk and cycle more”. It’s Auckland’s biggest source of emissions at 43.6 per cent of our total emissions, with 86 per cent of this from travel by road. Transport will be a strong focus of council’s submission which is currently being drafted. It will be aligned with Te-Taruke-a-Tawhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan, launched online in December. An action area of the plan is to increase access to bicycles, micro-mobility devices and the safe, connected and dedicated infrastructure that supports their use.

Ponsonby Road can be seen as one of the battlegrounds in the debate about what we “have to do” as we plan for a decarbonised future and front up to the change needed in our transport networks; change that is needed not just for the health of our planet but for the wellbeing of our communities and businesses looking to recover from the impact of the pandemic. A vocal minority are insisting that the status quo of 6 traffic lanes dedicated to vehicle use are working perfectly fine. They like to run away with a narrative that are not facts. There are plenty of personal attacks against those trying to make a difference but absolutely no evidence to back up their “no change” agenda.

In the 10 years I have been on council a consistent and overwhelming theme of public feedback has been the desire for healthy, safe, attractive, and connected streets. This aligns with the Commission’s advice to deliver on options allowing people to get around for local trips other than in a car. As we saw during lockdown people will walk more and cycle more when they feel safe. In a climate emergency the status quo is no longer fit for purpose. Dr Carr suggests looking at the action needed from a risk management perspective “what if it doesn’t turn out as bad as we think it is and we’ve done all this stuff to live in a cleaner, healthier, greener, less vulnerable, more sustainable world. What happens if we didn’t need to do all that we did, but what happens if we didn’t do what we should’ve done?”

If there is going to be any outrage directed at Auckland Transport it should be because change is not happening fast enough. There is currently no funded project to put cycle lanes on Ponsonby Road. While other central city streets become more pedestrian friendly and welcoming for all kinds of mobility, Ponsonby Road is in danger of becoming just a polluting through route and not a desirable destination. As Dr Carr summed up to the Committee we must decide where our ambition lies, “We could do as little as we can get away with, or as much as our grandchildren would expect of us.”

Members of the public can submit on the Climate Change Commission’s advice until 14 March. (PIPPA COOM)




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