It's the crude but seemingly effective mantra of modern politics and we're seeing this tactic being used constantly by those arguing for the Southern Link.
So lets look at some of the key phrases we hear repeated a lot.
There seems to be little argument about this from many people, but we don't agree. Yes we have traffic queues at peak times, particularly during school term times, and we've had significant traffic queues during the recent storm-water upgrades and Rocks Rd. cliff stabalisation. By world standards, and even New Zealand Standards, Nelson does not have a congestion problem though. Additionally, if you do consider that a slightly longer journey time is a problem, then the chances are you're doing OK because for an increasing number of people there are much more pressing problems, such as how they're going to feed their family, buy a house, get a job or afford the heating bill. If there is a problem here it's that we have a broken system that puts profits and self interest over the wider needs of the people and over the environment. Congestion is a symptom of a system that removed railways, underfunded public transport and cycle-ways and instead built roads. Most countries throughout the world now recognise that this was a major mistake and they are putting in measures to undo it and re-address the balance.
If we polled cyclists and asked if we should build a new highway or put more money into cycleways and public transport we'd expect a biased response. We accept that. Similarly, if the AA does a poll or Nick Smith does a poll we have to accept that there will be a considerable bias. The NZTA Southern Link survey didn't have a bias though, right ? Not true, without even going into the way the survey was presented, there is a heavy bias towards the people that consider that we have a problem to solve (see above) and also feel strongly enough to respond. We also have to consider the fact that the real costs of the Southern Link are not known (financially, socially and environmentally) and while these are expected to be considerable, it would have been difficult for people to factor those in. The closest we have to a sample of public opinion is the telephone survey which contacted 500 people at random. Even this will have a bias towards those at home with landlines (and therefore younger people have a lower representation), however this did indicate that most people do not want the Southern Link, which is even more significant when you consider this survey was taken during considerable and ongoing congestion caused by the Waimea stormwater upgrade.
Many people, including some who are opposed to the Southern Link, are mistaken in thinking that we've had an increase in vehicles and freight on our arterial routes and that this is causing an increase in congestion. NZTA's own figures over the last 6 and 10 years respectively show that there has been no significant increase in vehicles or freight. This isn't steady growth, it's no growth.
OK, so ignoring the question of whether we have a congestion problem or not for a moment, and lets assume we do. A new highway, an additional road that will carry more vehicles, will only shift the problem. Even worse, it's likely that it will exacerbate the problem by increasing the amount of cars that enter our city or queue at the end of the Richmond deviation. Additionally, unlike motor vehicle volumes, the number of people cycling or using public transport is steadily increasing and creating a new highway that encourages more private vehicle use is likely to undermine that. Urban planning specialist Lewis Mumford famously wrote that increasing capacity for cars was "Like the tailor’s remedy for obesity – letting out the seams of the trousers and loosening the belt – this does nothing to curb the greedy appetites that have caused the fat to accumulate."
In the run up to the upcoming elections, be very wary of any prospective councillors using these phrases and challenge them. Be even more wary of anybody who's fallback response is along the lines of "we just need it" or "just get on with it".
Let's make sure we have a council that is made up of people with a real, sustainable vision for the future of Nelson that will have long term benefits for everybody, not just a few.