Yay! She’s done it. Alice, the Tunnel Boring machine has finally completed boring the tunnel that will allow for the motorway encircling Auckland to be completed. For a city that is so reliant on driving, this really is a reason to celebrate. Although, I tend to see it more like a heroin addict finding out that a new shipment has just hit the street. Rather than encircling, I see strangling. But don’t mind me, I do tend to see things a bit differently.
Back in 2008, when this project was given the green light, the justification for this billion dollar
investment largesse was about “easing traffic congestion and delivering significant economic growth in Auckland.” This project was so critical, we were told, it needed to be fast-tracked. The usual process of consultation was waived. Cycling advocates took a pragmatic approach to the situation and made sure the project included cycling connections. Afterall, what’s wrong with the government’s transport agency being the largest provider of cycle paths in the country? Pragmatism rules, ok!?
I don’t recall there being much resistance to this project. To do so would be to find yourself like the boy with his finger in the dyke. You would have to go home for dinner at some point in the evening. Accept it. Take what you can from it. Resistance was futile. Even if the arguments in support of this project didn’t stack up economically, the government has the PR budget and the cojones to make stuff happen. We have a PM who is extremely adept at making stuff up. Black is white. Until it isn’t. While scientists go about their job earnestly checking and rechecking the data, the real power brokers “seem free to operate beyond the law, beyond truth, beyond accountability, beyond good and evil.”
So how did it come to pass that, within this context and within the same celebratory announcement, did we get to witness a transport agency spokesperson downplaying the benefits of the project? Yes really. Was it accidental or was it a deliberate move to ease the motoring public into the reality that traffic is not like water; that it doesn’t evaporate? Maybe it was neither because as far as I could see, there was no media reaction to these comments. It was no big deal. The project’s almost been built. Business as usual.
I suggest there are some things to be learned from this lack of media or public reaction. I want a lot more from cycle advocates – I want them to emulate these experts and their techniques, in a positive way, for a good cause. Call it aspiration. A much bigger and glossier picture needs to be presented. Bolder, braver. Give us a new narrative. A city full of wheeledpedestrians is a win/win situation. Sell it like the motoring industry or tobacco industry do so well. More of the why, less of the how.
As a rule, advocacy tends to run on goodwill and cake stall budgets. A situation that makes them too fragile to be critiqued. Choose your partnerships wisely. Partnerships that limit your ability to speak the truth have their limitations. While it is nice to be inside the tent, pissing on the tent from the outside is not the default alternative. Maybe that’s why Russel Norman has decamped to a truly effective advocacy group.
Finally, never let the facts get in the way of a compelling narrative. I mean, I’m sure it’s true that people who live in cities that cater for people ahead of cars live healthier lives and have better sex. I wouldn’t bother to fact check that. Just trust me. It’s true. Go on, put it on a poster and practice keeping a straight face.
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.