Sarah Mohawk rides a bike, and writes about it. This is a cross-post of Sarah’s blog ‘Writing a better harbour bridge user story‘.

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Concept image of Waka Kotahi's 2019 Skypath that never eventuated

So, the Auckland harbour bridge walking and cycling connection is dead again, and here I am, turning around another quick response.

The scrapping of a project that nobody asked for isn’t surprising. Sure, we would have loved a connection like this, but we knew from the beginning that the bridge proposal was politically unrealistic and likely to fold under the pressure of public opinion. The media and the National party were gladly framing it as “a waste of money”, which should be spent on other projects struggling for funding like the Eastern Busway and Ashburton bridge — a strawman argument framing it as if the harbour crossing and cyclists at large were somehow stealing from the wishes of poor everyday kiwis.

This is where the framing of the harbour crossing by continues to fail, and we desperately need public opinion about cycle infrastructure to change.

The user story at large seems to be:

“As a cyclist, I want cycling infrastructure, so that I can do my cycling.”

This is why we get terrible solutions like bicycle buses and ferries. If you’re at Waka Kotahi, sitting down and thinking about the bare minimum you could build to help cyclists do their cycling, then sure. Chuck a ferry in. It sucks, but it’s an adequate minimum viable product.

However, the user stories we are all calling for are these:

“As a government, I want to increase mode shift to active transport, so that I can meet my obligation to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”

and

“As a commuter in Auckland, I want to get around as quickly and conveniently as possible, so that I can get on with my day.”

The key part here is not to do my cycling, it’s to increase mode shift. That’s where our real disappointment lies. Unlike motorists, many cycle advocates aren’t advocating for our own personal gain–we’ll cycle anyway–we’re advocating for others.

When Transport Minister Michael Wood ‘ruled out permanently allocating a lane of the bridge for cycles and pedestrians’, therefore denying the prioritisation of walking and cycling over private vehicles, it showed that there is little willingness to go after mode shift. To encourage mode shift, we need to make driving harder, and make cycling easier.

So let’s compare whether a proposed bus or ferry solution meets this need. Here is our baseline.

  • I get on my bicycle
  • I ride to work
  • I lock up my bike, get changed, start my day

Now let’s think about what happens when we incorporate using multimodal transport.

  • I get on my bicycle
  • I ride to the bridge
  • I wait for the bus/ferry
  • I load myself onto the bus/ferry
  • I ride the bus/ferry
  • I load myself off of the bus/ferry
  • I ride to work
  • I lock up my bike, get changed, start my day
  • A few times a week, I top up the money I’m paying for the bus/ferry (if paid)

A little more complicated, right? It’s a fine solution for many people who already ride a bicycle or take public transport, but those people aren’t our target market. Our target cyclists aren’t always sure about using public transport or riding a bicycle. They’re measuring up the options compared to getting in their car and driving to work which, while suboptimal, is extremely familiar. Without strong reasons for change that will personally convenience them, they’ll opt for a car. The reasons for change to active modes could be to save time, or to be happier.

Let’s use another example.

You’re designing some recycling bins for a food court.

Photo of Food-Alley, the wonderful food court that we miss dearly.
RIP Food-Alley

You know that the people who love recycling are willing to carry around their recycling until they find a bin, because they love recycling sooooo much. They are the ones asking for the bins, so you guess you’ll cater to them.

To cut costs, you put one recycling bin over in the corner, by the toilets. That’ll keep them happy, plus it means that recycling bins aren’t in the way of other customers who haven’t asked for recycling, and they don’t look too ugly. You can spend more money on things they really want, like more milkshake flavours. Win-win.

A few months later, and you notice that nobody is putting anything in the recycling bin you’ve installed. The average punter will put their recycling in the nearest landfill bin instead, because they don’t care enough to go out of their way to look for the recycling. They can’t see it easily, and the other option of a landfill bin is far more convenient. They also can’t see the overall benefit of reducing landfill waste –as the food court, it was your job to care about that problem, not theirs.

If this was the Waka Kotahi food court, the next step would be to declare all recycling an abject failure and that it’s all being cancelled until you can build automatic waste sorting machines in 25 years time. No, just putting less landfill bins and more recycling bins won’t work! We need a fully featured solution that incorporates all modes, including people who simply do not and cannot ever care to do the recycling! We can’t have a compromise!

The Auckland Harbour Bridge in 1959. Photo via NZHistory.
The Auckland Harbour Bridge in 1959. Photo via NZHistory.

What we’re missing, and we’ve always been missing, is that demanding that we can’t have a compromise overwhelmingly privileges existing modes. Whether it’s rubbish bins or driving a car, insisting that compromise isn’t possible is an outright denial of bias towards the status quo and its’ users.

And so I’ll leave you with one more user story that seems to have won the war today:

“As a motorist, I want to have unlimited access to all of Aotearoa, so that I can do my driving.”

As reported by Stats NZ on 15 October 2020, 42.6% of all carbon dioxide emissions in Aotearoa come from road transport. That’s huge! That makes getting people out of single occupancy private vehicles one of the simplest levers the government can pull to reduce our environmental impact, alongside agriculture. Yet while farmers get significant focus, cars are often sliding through scot-free. Let’s change that.

The easiest solution is to give us a lane on the bridge.

#LiberateTheLane

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