When Bicycles were King for the Day

February 10, 2017

Cycle Routes, Design for Auckland

You may have noticed less cars on the road than normal this past Wednesday. No, they hadn’t all broken down. Rather, owners had chosen to leave their trusty four-wheeled friends at home in favour of a trendier, two-wheeled alternative.

Go By Bike Day is a national initiative aimed at getting more Kiwis onto bikes. Historically, Auckland’s bike ‘ridership’ has been notoriously low, in part thanks to an under-investment in cycling infrastructure and a less-than-warm attitude towards cyclists sharing our precious roads.  But the winds of change are blowing through the city of sails and cyclists are on the rise.

We spoke with two of Auckland’s key cycling advocate groups to get their opinion on cycling in the city and the improvements needed to make Auckland a world-class city for cyclists.

Bike Auckland is a not-for-profit organisation working tirelessly to make Auckland a better city for people on bikes.

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Bike Te Atatu is a community group with a vision of making Te Atatu Auckland’s first bike-friendly suburb.

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The number of cyclists in Auckland has increased markedly over the last decade.

What do you attribute this increase to?

Bike Auckland - The easier it becomes to get where you’re going safely on a bike, the more of us will leap at the chance to do so. You only have to look at the bike count data to see that people are flocking to the newly built and increasingly connected cycleways. And our eyes tell us that bikes are becoming more popular for trips round the neighbourhood, too. Aucklanders are hungry for decent travel options, and going by bike is faster than walking, plus for many trips, it’s just as handy as going by car (only with less parking hassle). And once you get a taste for fresh air and the joyful buzz of going places under our own steam, it’s impossible not to share the news!

Bike Te Atatu – In our area the North-Western cycleway has seen massive increase in numbers in the last couple of years. This is attributable to:

  • completion of improvements to the path and infrastructure improvements at city end;
  • the increased availability and visibility of e-bikes;
  • no end to motorway congestion (despite NZTA building more lanes, there is still no dedicated bus corridor and no big improvement in travel times).

This has had a knock-on effect in Te Atatu itself, with some of those new riders and their families using bikes for local transport. More women on bicycles and fewer ‘road warriors’ by proportion add to the perception (rightly) that riding a bicycle is actually a relatively safe activity.

A view down the Northwestern cycleway

 

In your opinion, what are Auckland’s best cycling routes and why?

Bike Auckland – Off-road routes are a particular joy: the Northwestern Cycleway in wisteria season is magical, and Henderson’s Twin Streams route is a secret green delight in any season. The new eastern path, Te Ara ki Uta ki Tai  is going to be spectacular. And Tamaki Drive has a world-class view, although the shared path is showing its age – wouldn’t it be great to see a real waterfront boulevard with elbow room for everyone?

All that said, the protected bike lanes on regular city roads are a revelation. I’m loving the new Quay St protected cycleway, for example, and can’t wait for it to be fully linked into the city loop with the completion of the Nelson St cycleway, and eventually extended further towards Tamaki Drive. It’s exhilarating to bike through town without the stress of traffic veering into your lane. And it makes city biking with kids possible, which until a few years ago would have been unthinkable. Plus, the protected CBD lanes help people easily picture how other streets and town centres could make safe space for cycling.

Bike Te Atatu – We are biased of course but the NW shared path has to be on the list – passing the stationary traffic on the motorway is sweet but look the other way and you could see kingfishers, stilts, oystercatchers, herons, terns and the occasional seal.

The Henderson Creek path is less well-known but equally good – a vehicle-free and gentle way to get all the way from the NW to Henderson.

Kent Lundberg, an urban planner, designer and avid cyclist, recommends taking your bike to Britomart and cycling along the waterfront, before heading up and around the City Centre on Grafton Gully and Te Ara I Whiti.

Cyclists enjoying the Westhaven to City cycle route

The entrance to the Grafton Gully cycleway

The entrance to the Grafton Gully cycleway

A birds eye view of Te Ara I Whiti, or the 'Lightpath', which provides a link for cyclists and pedestrians from Upper Queen Street to Victoria Street

A birds eye view of Te Ara I Whiti, or the ‘Lightpath’, which provides a link for cyclists and pedestrians from Upper Queen Street to Victoria Street

 

What do you consider to be the biggest ‘wins’ for cycling recently in Auckland?

Bike AucklandLightpath was a miracle of speedy cooperation, with everyone bringing their top game to make a bit of urban magic happen. And without a doubt, SkyPath finally getting the formal go-ahead is a major win, and one that has been worked towards for decades. It really is the missing link, and the groundswell of support showed how urgently Aucklanders want to experience the kind of access that’s absolutely normal in pretty much every other city.

Plus, it goes without saying that the Urban Cycleway Programme (UCP) has absolutely transformed the landscape in the last few years. Thanks to the UCP and the Interim Transport Levy, the city is finally able to match its budget and ambition to the public desire for decent bike infrastructure, which is revealing the huge potential that’s been waiting there all along. That investment, and the optimism behind it, is already paying off.

Bike Te Atatu – We are part of a wider movement across Auckland – Bike Burbs – 20 similar suburban bike groups all beavering away at a local level to make our suburbs safer places to bike.   We humbly suggest that this movement is a big win for cycling. Another win is the recognition that new infrastructure needs to be designed for those who currently do not bike because they don’t feel its safe enough to do so. And the push to join up existing bits of infrastructure.

A cyclist commuting along the Great North Road cycle path

A cyclist commuting along the Beach Road cycle path

 

Auckland now has a number of shared pedestrian & cycle paths – what is the best way to provide for these two groups?

Bike Auckland – By treating them as two groups, ideally! It can be tricky to retrofit bike lanes into city streets without reapportioning space that’s been given to motor vehicles, so the temptation to design shared pedestrian and cycle paths is understandable. And shared paths can work where speeds are slow, space is generous, and movements are predictable. But it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game - a walkable city is a wonderful thing, and so is a city that makes space for cycling. I reckon Auckland’s big enough to find room for all of the ways people like to get around.

Bike Te Atatu – The absolute ideal is to separate these two groups completely, give them their own bits of infrastructure. The steady increase in riders will make this necessary for the safety and comfort of both cyclists and pedestrians. In the meantime people need to be polite to all other users until we have that separation.

What still needs to be done to improve Auckland’s cycling network?

Bike Auckland – Auckland’s big, and there’s a lot to fix – it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen! Bike Auckland has some thoughts on a strategic approach to the next tranche of funding. The big challenge is to steadily link up the network of protected and off-road paths, which Auckland Transport is doing – and at the same time, to think creatively about quick fixes that make neighbourhoods friendlier for biking.

This can be as simple as more bike parking in town centres (an instant signal that bikes are welcome), and good signage for routes – and also bigger, bolder strategies, like lowering the speed limit on neighbourhood streets, for example, which will be crucial when it comes to encouraging families to ride to school.

The new Local Path Design Guide is full of splendid examples for making streets safer – and, not incidentally, more beautiful – so we’re really looking forward to Local Boards, Council, and AT collaborating cleverly on ‘greenways’ projects at the local level. We’d also like to see the city take much more advantage of windows of opportunity:  if you’re fixing a street anyway, why not leave it better than it was for people on bikes?

Bike Te Atatu – Keep joining up the bits! A loose collection of unconnected bike paths is no use unless they join up. Serious consideration should also be given to lowering the speed limit on most side and secondary roads, so that separate infrastructure becomes unnecessary. Bike Te Atatu has a plan for this in Te Atatu Peninsula.

Lastly, what advice do you have for people who are looking to begin cycling in Auckland?

Bike Auckland - If you’re truly new to riding a bike, try one of Auckland Transport’s great cycle training courses. If you’re already familiar with bikes, begin with what and where (and who) you love. Does your heart beat faster at the sight of a Dutch-style basket bike? Try riding with a pal through quiet local streets to your favourite cafe or weekend market. If you fancy commuting, find a neighbour or workmate who’s heading your way, and sign up for the Aotearoa Bike Challenge.

Or perhaps you’re a rail trail fan who enjoys long straight lines and far horizons – gather a group, explore the connected cycleways, and use public transport to extend your reach. Or maybe you just want to potter around a park with the kids? We have a big list of great places to do that. And don’t be afraid of hills or long distances: e-bikes are turning Auckland into Amsterdam in more ways than one.

I guess what I’m saying is there are so many different ways to enjoy biking in the city, and very often, one will lead to another. So start where you are, and follow your nose. And the more you bike, the more you’ll want to speak up for more and better bike lanes and cycleways and safe streets. Which is great, because Auckland’s just getting started down this road, and a whole lot of enthusiastic nudges will keep it heading in the right direction.

Bike Te Atatu – Start small! Bike to the local shop, then build up from there. Walking your bike is not cheating or failing. E-bikes are not cheating. Replace one car journey a week for a bike journey. Plan your journeys to use quiet streets and side roads. Don’t be in a hurry! Bikes go free on trains! Combine bike/train to get further or bike one way and train home. Find your local Bike Burb. If there isn’t one, start one!

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A big thank you to Bike Auckland and Bike Te Atatu for contributing to this week’s conservation.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at some of the goings-on in Auckland for Pride Festival – until then, on ya bike!

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One Response to “When Bicycles were King for the Day”

  1. Matt Ensor Says:

    Thanks for the good info – my kids are really keen to ride on all the off-road cycleways.

    Reply

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