Time to examine ideas underpinning roads

Traffic in Castle St at 3.30pm on Wednesday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Photo: ODT files.
Gerrard Liddell explores the real cost of road transport.

The pandemic has given us a chance to reflect on the amenity of our roads.

Young and old, fit and frail have been able to enjoy our roads unthreatened by vehicles. We can hear each other and the birds that have returned.

Our children have been able to use their ride-ons, scooters and bikes. Whole families have space to walk together.

We had forgotten how much we had lost since fossil-fuelled vehicles decided they did not want to share the road. Motorists concocted the term ‘‘jaywalking’’ to alienate others from their own road and marginalise them to narrow footpaths off which they must give way almost everywhere to vehicles. Overseas visitors are appalled at our subtribe of drivers who charge at dilatory pedestrians, treating other road users as little better than potential road kill.

We presume that one person in a car (the median occupancy) is entitled to take up the space of six cyclists or more than 10 pedestrians, yet we begrudge pedestrians the space to walk four abreast or cyclists to ride three abreast.

I as a motorist have never paid for this exclusive use of the road, compromising the safety of all others. I only pay part of the cost of resurfacing, the veneer of bitumen. I have paid nothing for disturbing others’ peace and taking their space.

It is my and others’ even heavier vehicles that damage the roads, and so it is only just that I contribute to this cost.

The moment I get into even the lightest car, my transport weight goes up from my weight by over a factor of 10, and by more in a Nissan Leaf and 20 times in an SUV. The road damage goes up over 10,000 times. It is extraordinarily difficult to push a car up a slight hill while it is easy to walk or cycle up the same, lifting your own weight rather than the additional weight of a vehicle. In few activities do we use one or two thousand percent more energy than we need.

The prerogative of parking allows us to store our vehicles on the street, that is to "park" them, but we can’t clutter the streets with other mobile objects, like storage trolleys.

So those that do not own cars (like 40% in some mesh blocks of South Dunedin) are paying rates for roads but missing out on their fair share of the road space. Even in the CBD parking charges do not cover the full cost of parking.

Worse this subsidised parking is used as the grounds for obstructing so many attempts to create space like cycleways for others. Our children have the same right we enjoyed growing up to be able to safely walk or cycle to school or other activities, yet my presumptions as a motorist have denied them that choice.

Research highlights the great cost to their health and development and to motorists as 40% of rush-hour traffic is due to children being driven to school. Addressing this would do more to decongest the roads than billion-dollar motorways.

Overshadowing these costs is the cost of carbon emissions that would need the price of petrol in New Zealand to go up 50% to $3 per litre. It makes protests over a 10-cent rise seem petty.

The social costs of motoring are over $6billion per year.

There are many other consequences of the multibillion-dollar car subsidy. It results in congestion that would be moderated by more appropriate charges, freeing the roads and parking for the comparatively few disabled who feel crowded out at the moment.

The biggest and deepest consequence of the car subsidy is the construction of sprawling suburbs and retail. Every day we postpone moderating the subsidy we are pouring concrete into our own mausoleum.

The sprawl renders delusionary the exhortations to eat and shop locally.

Post- earthquake Christchurch is a designer disaster, scattering the population in unserviceable outposts like Rolleston, Lincoln and Rangiora, leaving an emaciated heart.

Dunedin has contained the retail sprawl, but where once we had hardware stores like Placemakers adjacent to the CBD now we have to go to tilt slab barns in South Dunedin.

The subsidy sabotages attempts to civilise the Octagon and George St as more pedestrian friendly precincts.

Fortunately many people in Dunedin live within cycling or walking distance of the CBD so we are better placed to change our transport mix.

The examination of our transport system is not about punishing motorists, of whom I am one, but being able to drive with a clear conscience, knowing that we motorists are paying our way. Current technology allows more realistic road pricing.

To leave such a comparatively easily marketised commodity as road transport out of the market is to make a mockery of claims to be a market economy.

The distortions percolate our economy.

It means we are taking money out of schools and hospitals and putting it into gas tanks.

The virus has given us an opportunity to reflect and reset.

This is the time to phase in at least token charges and progress to a more rational and sustainable future.

  •  Gerrard Liddell is a Dunedin mathematician.


 

Comments

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Does anybody fact check the articles printed in the ODT? Motorist did not concoct the term ‘‘jaywalking’’! It references behavior in the street about horse-drawn carriages and automobiles in 1905 Kansas: "jay drivers" didnt drive on the right side of the street. In 1909 it expanded to pedestrians, and The Chanute Daily Tribune warned "The jay walker needs attention as well as the jay driver, and is about as big a nuisance." Maybe the problem with the roads in New Zealand is they are made so poorly? Fixing roads here is a Government works program. If the roads were made to an acceptable standard it would save everybody money. For a mathematician you haven’t thought this through. You feel some people who pay rates and don’t own a car are missing out on their fair share? Guess what? I pay rates and think the bike lanes are a waste and bikers need to pay their fair share ie WOF and licensing! The $3 litre petrol cost just gets added onto the cost of doing business and does nothing. Yes, the virus has given us time to reflect. The biggest threat we face is from a pandemic, not global warming! The CBD is dying because people don’t want to pay $5 hr to park and that isn' going to change!

re bike lanes:
The statement that someone doesn't like something is quite different from a critique or argument against it. Some people may not like our Botanic gardens or art gallery, but that is no grounds for disposing of them.

The article tried to make it clear that the cost of maintaining roads motorists pay for is a function of the damage vehicles do. On that basis bikes or pedestrians would pay less than 1/10000 th, and that is so little it is not worth collecting. Pedestrians do not run over cars or each other, so licensing, apart from being totally infeasible, is quite different from my driving a comparatively monstrous car.

re Cost of petrol adds cost of bussines:Partly. It will add to the cost of some businesses more than others. We have, for instance, calls to shop or eat locally. As long as we subsidize transport, local suppliers are penalized and we end up wasting more. We should not be promoting industries dependent on large transport subsidies over other efficient high value industries that do not depend on the subsidies.
That is not an optimal allocation of resources and makes New Zealand poorer.

REF: The statement that someone doesn't like something is quite different from a critique or argument against it. You are making an illogical argument here, and an emotive argument. Generally, an individual doesn't critique or present an argument against something unless they have a negative feeling about it. Pro/anti arguments & feelings are interconnected. You are writing an opinion piece so it is emotive. You have opined on something you have an emotive bias about.
REF: The roads are crap here. PERIOD. Otherwise, Downer wouldn't be redoing them every other year. Having lived in Europe and Asia, the roads are made to a better standard. Its not the motorist fault the roads are falling apart, its the goverments fault they dont build roads based upon quality. If I have to pay a dog liscensing fee, bikers should have to pay a road use charge and/or liscensing fee.
REF: Any cost a bussiness incurs is always factored into the what a consumer pays. Transportation cost is the BIGGEST ie petrol. Petrol is cheap now, have prices for anything gone down? No! Its impossible for an island nation that is so dependent upon imports not to pass acquisition cost onto consumers. Petrol included

re CBD dying:This was directly addressed in the article; if we subsidise people to drive miles away, then they will. We are lucky our CBD is so compact nothing is more than a short walk away. With good design it will be even more convenient and attractive. All around the world vibrant high value cities have limited parking. We have more benign weather than most of them. Just because we subsidised milk it didn't mean we had to continue. Similarly for parking.

re pandemic vs global warming:You may have seen the many news articles,for example Gwynne Dyer in the same edition of the ODT, where those more informed are quite clear that global warming will change life on earth while the pandemic is a comparative blip for mankind.

re ratepayers missing out on parking:Yes, we often happily pay for what we dont use. But if that is at the cost of other uses we have to balance these demands. Streets play many roles. When parking makes them unsafe for others or leaves no space for scooters for instance, then what would be the cost of alternatives?

REF: CBD is poorly designed, dull & boring. DCC sticks to the same old paradigm, nothing changes! I won't pay $4/hr to shop in Dunedin. I can purchase something online cheaper & better quality and use the parking money to pay for the postage. Your dreaming if you think Dunedin is subsidizing parking!
REF: Global Warming IS NOT settled science. Recent Greenland ice cores for the current geological epoch show temps oscillating back/forth on average 4 degrees Centigrade every 10, 20, 30 years. Climate change has become a political agenda rather than a scientific question. Because there are political factions lined up behind it & given a mandate not to find any potential natural causes & instead focus climate variability studies focused on the dangerous effects humans have on the climate.
REF: Who happily pays for what they don't use? Illogical! I don't want to pay for any more bike lanes. They are a waste of money and bikers don't use them. I have no intention of happily paying for them since I don't use them. My alternative is to petition DCC to stop wasting our money on things we dont need. Im not a tenured professor so I dont have money to pay for things I dont use!

Re roads made poorly: The article was about the economics, not the quality of road surfacing.
We could have a discussion about 'poor' roads and for example advice that adding median barriers is regarded as the best investment for road safety, but it would be off topic.

Thank you for giving the horse and carriage entomology of jaywalking. The term was little known until it was co opted by the motoring industry in the 1920s when they mounted a campaign against shared use of the road, as referenced in the article.

Interesting article. I think overall most people would favour a more pedestrised lifestyle but the challenge is costs. We have poured billions into our roads and a car dependant lifestyle for decades and it will cost more to reverse it. This is the primary reason people continue to design and build roads for the personal car lifestyle, it is the cheap, simple and well understood.

Pedestrainising the Octogan is a great idea but at the moment it needs to fit in with the context of a city designed for the personal car, a poor performing retail economy and a looming recession. Although there is the opportunity to take advantage of funds available at the moment from NZTA, CIP, etc.

I take a long view that reshaping the personal car to function better with a low carbon economy and public transport should be the primary goal. Small electric autonomous cars that are cheap have the potential to encourage public transport and reduce the demand if they can be designed to be convienant.

I'd encourage you to write a article about what the personal car should be in the future. "Last mile" projects such as Milton Keyes has great potential. NZ needs a case study, why not Dunedin?

Yes, pouring billions into a car-dependent lifestyle is a reason to urgently face the real costs of cars to redirect some of this investment. As you point out , subsidies sabotage attempts at mixed use such as in the octagon.

I heartily support reshaping the car, but it is an uphill battle against the subsidies which make it an even slower process.

Excellent piece Gerrard! Congratulations. Car dependency also weighs heavily on my mind. I frame the problem as a widespread inability to see the problem as driving and all the negative side effects have been normalised for so long. You can read my take on this by searching for my profile on Medium: 'Alex Dyer Medium'.

Keep up the great work!!

You have fine material on your site. I appreciate the contact.

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