For the first time in a long time, Aucklanders get to leave. Tomorrow – travel freedom day – we are going to see the 12,000 air bookings out of Auckland queue around SH20 to the airport.
In the following week we will see motorways north and south pile up with even greater intensity than usual as Aucklanders who are able to get out for the first time in months.
They’ve been leaving for a while.
In late October it was announced that New Zealand population growth was slowing in all regions due to the COVID international travel restrictions. But it actually fell in Auckland. Chief Statistician Hamish Slack commented that “While the population decrease in the Auckland region was just 1,300 or 0.1 percent in 2021, this was still a significant change.”
Auckland has grown on average 1.8% over the past 20 years, higher than the national average, and proportionally Auckland dominates New Zealand as in few other countries in the world.
The 2020-21 COVID restrictions have had the effect of making Auckland liveable again by decreasing congestion and making it a whole lot less aggravating.
So hundreds of thousands of people leaving for January will make that even smoother.
Surely in this existential pause if ever there were a revolution to occur in how one third of New Zealand lives, it would be now.
Yet even in this peaceable context for Auckland, one of Auckland’s most passionate, knowledgeable and committed urbanists Matt Lowrie is in utter despair at the uselessness of Auckland’s public transport system.
It was striking to see Matt Lowrie at GreaterAuckland complain at how useless public transport is in Auckland.
He is exceedingly patient, is an avid cyclist, is across all the working groups, and daily assembles a formidable team of nerdy planners and transport specialists to comment on every urban improvement that is and can be made in the region.
I have this sneaking feeling that people have just had enough.
For those still holding out for the future, today, more news of a western Auckland cycleway that now only has funding for the first of seven stages. How the Council got into that little mess is a silly saga all by itself, but it is going south very fast.
This is on top of the New Lynn to Avondale cycleway that has been in design since 2014. About 3 kilometres to build, parallel to a rail line, maybe March 2022. In that time a place like Dunedin started and is near-completion of multiple cycle networks.
In the next few days we will get an announcement about a light rail option for Auckland. It will be a decade away before it’s carrying people. It was top of the construction list post-election 2017.
I had a good discussion with a major moving company rep the other day. For those trying to get out of Auckland to pastures south, their order books are full to June. COVID has given people sufficient time to form plans, change jobs, and commit elsewhere. Lots of people.
They are done with Auckland.
For the hundreds of thousands who have decided to holiday at a town near you, just be careful: they may never leave.