That's if you take the latest report from INRIX and see the comparison between lower density US cities and higher density European cities, and the effect on traffic congestion.
New Geography reports that "the added annual peak hour congestion delay in the United States is roughly one-third that of Europe".
It follows a report last year that indicated that intensification of development in Sydney is exacerbating traffic congestion and local air quality. It is logical, of course, that having more people in the same area will mean even if a greater proportion don't drive that there is more traffic and more exposure to vehicle emissions.
Given the Green Party, the Auckland Council (and indeed Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and most other urban councils in New Zealand) and the Ministry for the Environment all endorse what is variously called "Smartgrowth" "New Urbanism" "intensification" and the like, you might wonder why they don't look at such evidence?
What it means is that the attempt to intensify Auckland's development within urban growth limits and so-called "Transit oriented development" is counterproductive. Well it would be clear if the point of intensification was clear. It isn't, you see. It isn't about reducing traffic congestion, because if that was the primary goal then a whole raft of measures would be proposed that are not about land use, but around the supply and pricing of roads. It isn't about reducing emissions, because if that was the primary goal then measures would be taken to clean up the vehicle fleet and reduce congestion. No, it is something less direct and far more utopian - it is about long term changes to the urban form of the city. I was told this directly by a manager from the MfE some years ago - it is about changing the housing and employment patterns so that - eventually - people would cluster their living near railway stations and their employment near railway stations. It is a railway fetish based on the notion that railway transport is the most economically and environmentally efficient. The problem is that a railway can't deliver this unless it moves large numbers of people regularly - in Auckland it doesn't even start to do that.
Take the Western rail line, which Auckland Transport blog reported carrying around 305,000 in the month of February 2011. Wow. Except that figures from just two years ago on the North Western Motorway, between Newton Road and St Lukes indicate 123,000 vehicles on an average weekday. With an average occupancy of say 1.2, that means around 147,000 people, per day. Even if you divide the whole of the rail patronage among weekdays only, you get 15,260 per day, just over a tenth. Bearing in mind that there are other roads carrying traffic parallel to the railway (New North Road and Great North Road), that means the railway is carrying one tenth of the people of the road.
Now the railphiles are getting all excited about record patronage of their heavily subsidised services, but ignoring the price of this. Len Brown is factually incorrect when he claims tram lines were ripped up in the 1950s so motorways could be built. In fact, tram lines were being ripped up after the war because they lost so much money it wasn't economic to replace the wornout track, so trolley buses were put in place (which in turn faced the same fate from the 1970s). The trams were owned and operated by Auckland City Council, the motorways (which didn't start getting built until after the trams were virtually all closed) by the Ministry of Works.
However, note the pattern for patronage. Rail patronage has climbed 276% between 2002 and 2010, but bus patronage only grew 8.5%. Why? Well bus patronage fell two years in a row (2004 and 2005) by a total of 10%, whilst in the same year rail went up 53%. Bus patronage dropped marginally again in 2007, but in effect by 2008 there were less trips by bus than in 2002. Bus patronage recovered almost exclusively because the North Shore busway was such a stunning success.
That doesn't mean rail hasn't attracted more than people from buses, it has generated new trips, and has no doubt taken some people out of cars - it should, it has cost taxpayers over $1 billion so far.
However, you see this is what intensification is about. It is about moving the mountain to mohammed so to speak. Most people in Auckland don't live within a coooeee of a railway station, so said Helen Clark. Building railway lines closer to them would be ridiculous (although look at the Think Big plans for the North Shore, even without the electrification opened, they want more!), but changing planning rules so that new housing is about living on top of or close to railway stations - that's what they want.
People wont divert long distances to go to a railway station, but making them live near them - that will solve the problem!! Then Auckland will be like Copenhagen or Paris or Stockholm (or whatever quaint European holiday city the fantasisers imagine Auckland could be)! The actual impact is higher housing prices, less homes that people want and worse congestion because, even if a few more people ride trains at peak times, the rest of the time almost everyone still drives.
The whole SmartGrowth, intensification policy is quasi-religious - the evidence does not demonstrate that it delivers improvements in terms of transport outcomes, let alone housing or environmental outcomes. It is simply a tool to try to make new urban railways seem more viable - but it fails on all counts.