Hamilton has been "blinded in the headlights" of government inducements to build roads, says a leading city advocate of alternatives to using cars.
Living Streets co-ordinator Judy McDonald says she has significant sympathy for the views of city councillor Dave Macpherson, after he quit the regional transport committee and slated the city's preoccupation with new roads.
"There is an intense frustration with the road-building philosophy that has been adopted in New Zealand over the last few years. The real issue, of course, is it's ‘top-down' from the Government, funding is a nightmare.
"The council has gone for this, you can get subsidies to build roads, you can't get subsidies to build anything else. There's a subsidy but you're committing huge amounts of public money still to building roads when perhaps we don't need them, and could be building something else," said Mrs McDonald.
Over the next 10 years the city will spend $9.6 million on cycling, walking and public transport initiatives - by comparison over the next three years $33.6 million will be spent on the showpiece Ring Road project alone.
City transport staff say forecasted traffic volumes suggest that, over the next decade, the city's congestion will only increase. With the Ring Road expected to be the last major piece of roading infrastructure for some time, targets to limit peak-traffic delays are reliant on a shift away from single-occupant commuting towards alternatives such as car pooling and public transport.
While Mrs McDonald applauded the planning that had gone into cycle networks and walking paths in newer suburbs such as Rototuna, the problem lay in retro-fitting older parts of the city to make them accessible and habitable.
Hamilton boasts 948 kilometres of footpaths, compared with 605km of roads, 116km of cycle lanes and 17.4km of shared riverside walk and cycleways.
"Yet again the river path is closed down because of a slip. Expensive to fix, but possibly what we ought to do is bring that path up through town.
"We need to look at alternatives, and find other ways around our problems.
"It's deeply frustrating to someone who feels a different path can be taken.
"A lot of the council planning staff in Hamilton are relatively new English graduates, and one would think they have experience of systems that are rather better. We are heading down the wrong track in New Zealand," she said.
"The roading might be nice to have, perhaps, but we could get a lot more bang for our buck by going for the kind of things done in other cities.
"We seem to be captured by a government policy which is so short-sighted, quite wrong, and I think will lead us into a great deal of trouble when the real petrol hikes start to bite and it's too expensive to maintain our roads."
- © Fairfax NZ News