Cyclists say one size doesn't fit all

By Andre Hueber


You'd think a cycling advocate would be pumped about plans to widen Tamaki Drive's footpaths so more bikes can use it, but Tim Gummer wants Auckland Transport to change gear.

He says the agency's plan is flawed because it doesn't recognise there are several makes of cyclists.

"You can't lump everyone together, because their speeds are too different. Bunch cyclists travel at speeds of up to 30km/h, utility [commuter] cyclists travel around 20km/h and families at 5-10km/h."

The transport agency is considering spending $14 million to make the waterfront route safer for cyclists and pedestrians. It wants to widen the path for about 1km from Kelly Tarlton's to the Millennium footbridge at Mission Bay by extending the sea wall into the harbour or building a boardwalk over the wall.

Mr Gummer says the city could learn from places such as Portland, Oregon. It spent the equivalent of building a mile of motorway on a cycling infrastructure and now 8 per cent of all trips are made on bikes. In Seville, Spain, a public bike-sharing scheme helped the number of trips rise from 0.4 to 7 per cent in five years.

He says the plight of those who ride bikes as a means of transport, rather than for sport or leisure, won't be addressed until Auckland goes on a "road diet".

"The reality in Auckland is we're addicted to our cars. Until we look beyond that we'll be faced with this conflict. We're not necessarily anti-car, but it might mean they don't have the free reign they do at the moment."

On Tamaki Drive, Mr Gummer would remove carparks, create dual bike lanes often known as Copenhagen cycleways, reduce the speed limit to 30km/h and send bunch cyclists to a velodrome.

"Lots could be achieved if parking was removed. It's poor use of precious space. People could park further away or use other forms of transport to get there."

And while a velodrome wouldn't offer bunch cyclists the same experience, he says planning for the masses shouldn't have to revolve around the competitive group.

"They confuse the situation but they're only a small part, particularly as we go forward and cycling becomes more dominated by ordinary people on bikes."

Fellow commuter cycling advocate Mark Bracey says the Orakei Local Board is leading the charge to maintain the status quo on Tamaki Drive.

"Why does carparking and a 50km speed limit have priority over safe access for all people? It's hard to see why they're not doing it. Oil is being depleted by the day and the health benefits are obvious."

He says nobody wants to make a tough call, but Auckland city is at the beginning of a "tough journey ... it seems the easiest option is the least palatable".

Speaking for the local board, member Ken Baguley backs what he calls Auckland Transport's "very generous" plans. Mr Baguley, who chaired Auckland City Council's transport committee before the amalgamation, says addressing the conflicting demands of all cyclists is impossible, but the widened footpath would improve things for recreational cyclists and pedestrians.

He says bunch cyclists can use clearways on Tamaki Drive between 6am and 8am on weekends and the board is considering tarsealing a gravel track on the edge of Ellerslie Racecourse.

Mr Baguley says it's still to be decided whether a roundabout or traffic lights will be installed at the Tamaki Drive-Ngapipi Rd intersection.

"Traffic lights are safer for cyclists, even though most ignore traffic lights anyway, but that impedes traffic movement along Tamaki Drive. If you have a roundabout, some say it's not as safe for cyclists but there's no doubt there'd be a better flow of traffic."

The board would back a roundabout if safety could be addressed, but ultimately the issue was whether 30,000-35,000 vehicles a day should have to give way for cyclists.

The board's deputy chair, Colin Davis, says he believes removing carparks isn't fair on people who drive to the waterfront to enjoy the view or have their lunch.

"Are they suggesting we take away all the parking and deprive people from passive enjoyment of Tamaki Drive?" asks Mr Davis. "They're not taking into account other users."

He says sport cycling doesn't have a place on Tamaki Drive and having groups of up to 30 people riding in a bunch is "quite unreasonable".

"They say they like the view but when I see them their heads are down. A road is a road and not a training area. If cyclists won't use the footpath, we have to ask why."

Mr Davis admits much of the footpath is obstructed by tree roots and says: "If it's a matter of resurfacing to make it flatter, maybe that's a solution Auckland Transport has to deal with."

Cycle Action Auckland spokeswoman Barbara Cuthbert says families and beginners tend to use the footpath; a single cycle lane on the road could accommodate bunch and commuter cyclists. "There's no conflict. Road cyclists ride for recreation before work. They're off the road by 7am when the faster commuter cyclist is on the road."

Bunch cyclists have been making a concerted effort to be safe on the road, forming the "Good Bunch" programme last year.

Auckland Transport and the national Transport Agency endorse it (see boxed text), she says.

"I have been hearing for years about the bad behaviour of cyclists on Tamaki Drive but the bulk of crashes injuring cyclists are caused by motorists.

"We would love help from the Orakei Local Board to address the source of the problem, which is largely poor driving habits, including failing to look and see and before making major manoeuvres on the road."

UTILITY BIKING - WHAT'S THAT?

Tim Gummer says most Auckland bike shops are behind the 8-ball, tending to offer hybrid non-sit-up bikes.

"It's what they think is a city bike but there needs to be a greater choice of comfortable sit-up bikes with proper handbrakes like you see in Japan or Europe."

Mr Gummer says utility cycling (as a means of transport) is popular overseas but still in its infancy here.

He blames our "parochial" attitude and cycling's perceived link to sports culture.

"It's seen as stripped-back and hard and it looks tough. You have to wear special clothes and a helmet and you do it better if you crouch down. It's unusual."

Fellow utility cycling advocate Mark Bracey agrees, saying cycling is perceived by many as the "domain of the brave and the sporty and not worthy of respect".

THE FAR-FROM-WILD BUNCH

Cycle Action Auckland and Auckland Transport are setting up a pilot "ride leader" scheme. In it a professional cycle coach will be hired to work with schools and road cycling groups using Tamaki Drive. All groups will have a leader to supervise the riding behaviour of everyone in the bunch. It is hoped the scheme will eventually be expanded across Auckland.

Good Bunch rules:

Two abreast maximum

20 riders a bunch maximum

200m minimum between bunches

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- The Aucklander

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