A slow road to making the city cycle-friendly. Perry Wilton reports.
I’m shooting down Beach Rd on a new but already fading cycle path, and I’m grinning from ear-to-ear. The rubber on the pavement, exhilarating speed. Auckland’s monotonous cityscape is blurring on either side.
But at the Parnell/Strand junction, all of a sudden there is no longer a cycle way in front of me. Nothing. My knuckles go white as my fingers scramble for the brakes.
Do I veer right into the hell-scape of rush hour, or left onto the crowded pavement? The pavement is a no go. Pedestrians are in the way, and cars come out driveways without checking. On the road, cars are careering past, and I remember New Zealand’s average of 12 cyclist deaths a year come from crashes with cars.
This is the reality of dead end cycle ways in Auckland, and they are all over the city.
The last census showed that only 1.2 percent of Aucklanders cycle to work, only a third of whom were cycling into the city centre. Compare this to The Netherlands, where 36 percent of people list the bicycle as their most frequent mode of transport. Even Australia clocks 5.1 percent of their population using their bikes to commute each week.
You just have to look at a map to see the scale of the problem.
The dead ends everywhere make it near impossible to avoid traffic weaving or pedestrian dodging antics to get to work. Sharing the bus lane isn’t helpful either. Looking round to see a bus bearing down on you is downright terrifying.
I’ve experienced this as one of the 60,000 students frequenting the city’s university precinct. Cycling to class from out east, I go through the steep Grafton Rd/Symonds St intersection.
As a cyclist, I’m again forced to choose. Pavement, or bus lane. I pick the bus lane and my morning commute can become a race for my life if I have to try to escape an 18 tonne double-decker.
Auckland Transport research shows that if people cycled to school merely at the same levels as in the '90s, there would be an immediate 39,000 fewer car trips per day in Auckland during the morning peak.
But people who are motivated by safety simply won’t want to cycle safely for 2 km on designated cycleways, then the next 2 km jostling with cars and trucks.
Bike Auckland chair Barbara Cuthbert says this is backed up by Auckland Transport’s own statistics. “It’s pretty compelling data, with 60 percent of Aucklanders saying that they would cycle more if they had safe, connected infrastructure.”
Auckland Transport is slowly fixing the problem. Kathryn King’s work as the manager for walking and cycling has led to a 44 percent increase in city center cycling in just the last year, and 45,600 new riders in 2016.
Dr Lester Levy, chairman of Auckland Transport, says that cycle paths are a priority for Auckland and attributes the delays to connecting Auckland cycle ways to the “preliminary consultation process.”
“This is the general problem faced by transport authorities. We have a legislated consultation process so you can’t just arrive and paint in a cycle lane,” says Dr Levy. “People shouldn’t simply have something imposed in the area without having a say about what might happen.”
If there is a business person, let’s say a dairy owner, and a new cycleway is going to cause them to lose some parking directly outside of their premises, it is unlikely, no matter how engaging the consultation process is, they’ll be lending their support.
Cuthbert says that retailers on Ponsonby Rd have fought designated cycleways for years, and subsequently, “it’s a real bastard to cycle there”.
“Fort St, on the other hand, has seen local businesses benefit massively from prioritising pedestrians,” Cuthbert says.
So when can we expect a change? Well, the Auckland Transport urban cycle plan aims to link Auckland’s CBD by 2021.
Meanwhile, 800 new cars are being registered in the city every week, according to NZTA and Auckland Transport expects a third of main roads will be congested by 2020.
WHAT AUCKLAND CAN LEARN FROM THE NETHERLANDS
Mass protests against the domination of cars in The Netherlands in the 1970s were a push towards the development of its superb cycling infrastructure. Thousands of people lay in front of government buildings, demanding safer passage for cyclists.
Now at junctions, pedestrians and cyclists are prioritised. Traffic lights give cyclists the right of way on their continuous green lanes, or they have over and under passes to ensure a speedy ride.
The BicycleDutch YouTube channel, filled with countless hours of beautifully manicured cycle path heaven, show this in practise.
Compare that with the Parnell/Strand junction.