Auckland: cycling pretty in pink?
By Andrew Brown, October 2021
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What does a good cycling city look like? Andrew Brown ‘travels’ to New Zealand to find to learn about cycling in Auckland
New Zealand. What do you think of? Rugby. Open spaces. Wilderness. An exemplar covid approach? And one of the few nations with a Government policy on wellbeing. So, it follows then that Auckland, it’s largest city and economic centre (contributing around 37% of New Zealand GCP) might be an urban area that embraces bike riding like say Denmark or Copenhagen?
Well, no, sadly not. Auckland Transport (AT), comparable to say Transport for London and funded by Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) and the Auckland Council compare themselves to London or Vancouver in terms of ambition and vision. But like London, the city is playing catch up and faces pockets of resistance in predictable areas and combative, but supportive, criticism from lobby groups.
The official line is that Auckland is “getting there” as a cycling friendly city. There are some wonderful places in the city to ride a bike, but like in many UK cities, these routes are not always sufficiently connected to link communities properly and allow for active travel in the true sense of the word.
There’s around 300kms of cycle paths in Auckland and 7000km of roads, but if we look at the detail it is a bit different. Mary-Margaret Slack of Bike Auckland said, “When it comes to just protected lanes on the road, Auckland has approximately 4838km of sealed urban streets, and only 10km of that has protected/dedicated bike path. This means that currently the proportion of the road network that is safe enough for families to ride on without using the footpath is: just 0.2%. The crucial point about these protected bike lanes is that they disappear at dangerous intersections, leaving cyclists to their own devices at the point that the protected infrastructure is needed most.”
This backs up research by Bike Auckland and AT. Around 50% of Aucklanders say they would ride a bike if it were safer. Sound familiar? Right now around 37% of people in Auckland ride a bike. Of that, according to AT’s 2016 Auckland Cycling Account, three-quarters do it for recreation, 23% use bikes to get to the shops and 13% to ride to work.
There’s a familiar historic problem here that runs across New Zealand. It is car centric. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, more than 20 percent of Auckland intermediate school children rode a cycle to school. Today, that number has fallen to 3.9 percent. This drop started when import laws changed which led to many Kiwis buying more cars. The ‘need’ for roads and prioritisation of cars took off, and still underpins a lot of the country.
“Only 0.9% of all trips in Auckland are made by bike. Auckland Council’s climate plan aims to make this 7% by 2030. Great on paper, but we aren’t seeing meaningful plans to achieve this mode shift target. Where’s the delivery?” said Mary-Margaret.
The pace of physical change on the ground is not necessarily keeping up with the policy. Mark Hannan, spokesman for AT said, “In the last few years, Auckland Transport has worked closely with its funders, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the Auckland Council on significant investment programmes for safe cycling in Auckland. We are also keeping in line with the NZ Government’s Policy Statement on Land Transport and the Auckland Council’s, Auckland Plan 2050 towards keeping all road users safe.”
Helping people travel safely is the goal, so what’s the roll out of segregated cycleways looking like? Cycling infrastructure is added whenever there is any town centre upgrades, like at the iconic Auckland street Karangahape Rd, or K Rd. Protected cycleways have been added along both sides of the road. There’s a lot of off-road cycling infrastructure: Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive Shared Path is 7km and connects Auckland’s eastern suburbs to the city centre and the Northcote safe cycle route that goes through a number of town centres with two bridges across the northern motorway.
But even allowing for delays because of Covid-19 in 2019/20 AT delivered just 6.09km of new cycleways. For the current financial year they’ve lowered the target to just 4km. AT data shows that in the most recent financial year, just over $45 million was spent on walking and cycling projects, out of a total spend of $1.98 billion on transport. That means just 2.3% of expenditure was for cycling projects.
“We were appalled by the 2021 Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) announced in March. The cycling projects it includes are not even new; they had already been announced, and they are well overdue to be opened,” said Mary-Margaret.
Is this harsh? AT is like any other quasi-government authority. Hamstrung by politics, funding and public opinion.
It is important to stress that there is a vision for cycling in Auckland and it is a beautiful and lovey place to ride a bike. Tamaki Drive Promenade, Auckland City Waterfront and the Northwestern Cycleway – finished in 2012 and by 2020 has seen trips on it quadruple – are all great examples and AT has more in the pipeline. The potential for the city is enormous. Bike Auckland and other groups are calling for the go ahead to the Skypath – a dedicated lane for cycling and walking across the Auckland Harbour Bridge – that some estimates will lead to almost 3,000 daily walking and cycling recreation and tourism trips across the Harbour Bridge by 2028.
Mark Hannan said, “There is considerable resistance towards investments in cycling. These tend to be older and those who mainly drive to get around. They do not see cycling as an enabler of promoting good health, cleaner environment and providing options. AT is routinely accused of being ‘anti-car’ (we’re not). Resisters often say that existing infrastructure isn’t used and ‘takes away’ roading space from motorised vehicles and that it is dangerous to be forced to share the road with people cycling. They do not want to see how cycling fits into the larger Auckland vision of a city for its people.”
Like in London, Auckland is also pushing for safer school streets and low traffic neighbourhoods. The first LTN opened in Onehunga and most people loved it.
Mark Hannan said, “Working with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, we have our own version of your mini-Holland projects like Waltham Forest in our Innovating Streets for People Programme that’s working with communities to help them to get a sense of what their streets could be like and then transition streets to safer and more liveable spaces. This includes several pop-up cycleways working with local politicians, local schools, businesses and residents to come up with co-designed projects that are suited for their neighbourhoods.”
Change is coming in Auckland. Not at the pace some like Bike Auckland desire, but it is happening. Despite the noisy pockets of resistance, boosted by radio hosts spouting stuff that LBC and Talk Radio would be proud of, there is clear support for transforming Auckland into a cycling friendly city.
Mark Hannan said, “A more inclusive and equitable transport system unlocks greater opportunities for more people. While we’re making good progress in becoming a cycling city, we have many opportunities ahead to transform Auckland into a clean, healthy, and equitable city for all those who call it home.”
The city has scenic coastal rides, and the wider Auckland area has some great country and trails to explore. Our ideas split between off road tracks, trails and roadways
Auckland City Waterfront – roadway, path
Pohutukawa Coast – track and trail
Woodhill Forest – track and trail, MTB
Fourforty Mountain Bike Park - MTB
Hunua Ranges – track and trails
Tamaki Drive Promenade – roadway, path
Takapuna to Devonport – off road trail
Pakuranga to Bucklands Beach – track and trail
The Northwestern Cycleway – roadway
BEST PLACES IN NEW ZEALAND TO CYCLE
It is an epic country and there’s huge choice. Wilderness is a key phrase to note – so think bike packing, long distance and trails. Take your time. Allow a few days. Here’s out top 5 ideas –
Hauraki Rail Trail – 173km trail from near the Coromandel on the North Island taking you down as far as Matamata and the stunning Karagahake Gorge.
The Queen Charlotte Track is located at the top of the South Island, this is a challenging bike trail covering 70km split into three sections.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail in the South Island takes you from Greymouth to Ross in around 130km on one of the country’s smoothest and most accessible trails.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s original Great Ride. Covering 152kms from start to finish, the Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former route of the Otago Central Railway in the South Island. It was New Zealand’s first off-road cycleway and walking trail
The Queenstown Trail is a 120km route in the South Island taking you through some of the region’s most spectacular scenery as you cycle through awe-inspiring vistas, around crystal clear lakes, up and down river gorges and discover hidden ruins.