Earlier this month, RTC Policy staff had the opportunity to sit down with an elected official at the forefront of active-transportation policy and funding, New Zealand Member of Parliament (MP), and a longtime friend and colleague of mine, Julie Anne Genter!
Genter, who has been an MP representing Auckland since 2011, is also the New Zealand Green Party’s Spokesperson for Finance, Transport and Youth. However, she was born and raised in the U.S.—in California and Minnesota—and has a uniquely international perspective on transportation challenges faced by both countries.
A transportation planner and an avid cyclist and hiker, Genter has been a strong advocate in New Zealand for increased government spending on active transportation and mass transit. In fact, YouTube has many videos of her questioning the Minister of Transport from the floor of Parliament.
Genter stopped by RTC’s Washington office for a casual conversation about the successes and challenges faced by biking and walking advocates in both countries. Recent data shows that New Zealanders walk to work at higher rates (about 10 percent) than Americans (less than 3 percent), but Kiwis bike to work at only slightly higher rates (about 1 percent) than Americans (0.6 percent in 2013).
While New Zealand and the U.S. are making some strides in improving biking and walking infrastructure (Auckland opened this eye-popping urban trail last year), both countries seem to face similar obstacles in car-focused, built environments.
New Zealand’s funding model is very different from the U.S.’, however. While RTC is able to advocate for trail and bike/ped infrastructure funding at the federal, state and local levels, most funding decisions in New Zealand come primarily from one source: the national transportation authority. Genter’s party believes that funding active transportation is difficult in New Zealand due to the fact that the governing National Party prioritizes highway spending over other forms of transportation.
Genter also mentioned hearing in New Zealand many of the same objections to biking and walking that we hear in the states, and we all agreed that “making the case” for biking and walking—such as showing economic development potential—is critical to changing hearts, minds and purse strings. Genter said that many of the small towns along New Zealand’s end-to-end, 3,000-kilometer Te Araroa Trail have seen a boon in tourism and economic development since the trail’s completion less than five years ago. It’s proof of the real and immediate positive impact trails can have on communities.
We both shared the sentiment that increasing protected, “low-stress” bicycle lanes and walking paths is critical to increasing safety and the incidence of biking and walking in both countries.
As Genter and I biked around Washington, D.C., together later after her visit, she was impressed by the cycling infrastructure and the level of deference drivers exhibited toward biking. But of course, we still have a long way to go across the U.S. It’s good to know our international friends and advocates are with us!
For more information about RTC’s U.S. policy initiatives, check out our Policy pages.
You can follow Julie Anne on Twitter @julieannegenter.