Bike lanes will bring a host of new opportunities to Karangahape Rd, but still there are retailers who don't get it. So now we need a new "bright minds" organisation to help the mayor and Auckland Transport get good work done well.

I like shops. I like them so much I don't buy things online. Laugh if you like but I enjoy browsing in a good shop and I fear for urban life – in local village centres and the middle of the city – if the shops close down.

But that is the inevitable consequence of too much online shopping, isn't it? Your favourite shops, with all their social and cultural and economic value, won't stay open unless we support them. And when the shops die so will the cafes that depend on them for customers.

I like shopkeepers, too. I know quite a lot of them and I admire their optimism, their business smarts, their commitment to their customers, their creative flair.


So when I say I like shops, and also many shopkeepers, you can probably imagine how much it pains me to say that some shopkeepers right now are just being complete idiots.

This paper published a grab-bag of complaints about Auckland Transport (AT) earlier this week. There was a theme, sort of, that stupid bike lanes are replacing valuable parking spots, although some of the complaints had nothing to do with cycling or parking spots, and some were prompted by preparatory work for the City Rail Link, done by CRL Ltd (CRLL) not AT.

Many of them related to Karangahape Rd. Philippa Stephenson of Tart Bakery in St Kevins Arcade complained that they can't deliver their vegan pies from their bakery in Grey Lynn because some loading zones have been removed near the arcade. She was quoted as saying, "It's almost as if they have gone insane with this idea of cycleways."

But the next day she clarified that, and wrote on social media: "Tart totally, utterly, 100% supports cycleways. I would love nothing more than for Auckland to be the Copenhagen of the South Pacific... No one with a brain could object to a transport method that has so many obvious benefits."

Okay. Maybe be a little more careful with your complaints, then.

In fact, Stephenson will benefit substantially from the new cycleway, and not just because it will deliver her many more customers. It will connect the bakery to the shop, enabling – how's this for a perfect solution – a courier with a cargo bike to deliver the pies. She'll actually be helping to create the Copenhagen of the South Pacific, right there on K Rd.

My prediction: they're going to need much bigger bike racks at St Kevins soon, because cycling customer numbers will soar.

Besides, for those times they really do need delivery vans, there's a service lane running right behind the arcade.

According to the Herald story, Michael Richardson of the Karangahape Rd Business Association (KBA) believes "K Rd is a progressive community that supports cycle lanes, but not if it means the loss of parking retailers depend on".

What nonsense. Nobody expects to find a park on the street on K Rd and few people drive there to shop anyway. How does he not know that?

For the record, in Europe, America and in Auckland, they already know that cyclists are likely to make more visits to an area than other transport users, stay longer and over time spend more money. That isn't always true, but it definitely is for a place like K Rd. Wide, flat, close to the city centre and with a cycle-friendly alt-cultural vibe. K Rd is the perfect place for bike lanes.

What's more, courtesy of the new apartment blocks opening nearby, it will soon to be home to thousands more people. Precisely none of whom will drive there to shop. And because of changes they are making to the side streets, the precinct will also end up with more loading zones.

Wide, flat, close to the city centre and with a cycle-friendly alt-cultural vibe, K Rd is the perfect place for bike lanes. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Wide, flat, close to the city centre and with a cycle-friendly alt-cultural vibe, K Rd is the perfect place for bike lanes. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Not all the retailers feel like Richardson. Tane Williams, co-owner of the St Kevins cafe Bestie, posted, "The views of the KBA etc do not represent all K Rd businesses. No noticeable drop in business or ease of delivery myself since parks were removed, + I cycle erryday (sic)."

But oh, there's Chris Fowlie of the Hemp Store, saying "Consultation has been lip service."

No it hasn't. Consultation has been extensive, and most people, including most businesses, said they supported the cycle lane project. Complaining that they didn't ask you, when what really happened is that your views were not widely supported, is not terribly honest.

What's more, K Rd is still open for consultation, with drop-in clinics planned for next week.

The Herald story also had retailers in Mt Eden complaining about lack of consultation, but their fear is about bigger bus stops in the village. I do feel for AT in this. What do you say to shopkeepers who object to having hundreds more potential customers hanging around outside their shops twice a day?

Back on K Rd, Fowlie is also quoted as saying "the end goal will be fantastic", but he fears the ongoing transport-related construction work will "bankrupt independent businesses". Not on K Rd it won't.

Still, he has raised a real issue. Transport projects will continue to disrupt Central Auckland for many years to come and neither AT nor CRLL have been good at supporting local businesses through the pain. We've seen that in Albert St, Mt Albert, West Lynn and elsewhere.

If AT can't manage the complaints on a no-brainer project like the K Rd cycleway, what's going to happen when we get to the really disruptive but far more important light rail on Dominion Rd?

The sad truth is that AT, in common with CRLL and some other agencies of council, doesn't know how to treat disruption as opportunity. That slogan is almost a truism in business, but it does not appear to have clouded the minds of many members of the AT board, or its executive team, or its external relations bosses.

So someone else will have to do the thinking for them. My suggestion: the council should set up a bright minds committee, drawn largely from the private sector. Business entrepreneurs, urban space designers, iwi advisers, event organisers, marketing experts, people who are good at thinking outside the box. People with the skills to contribute to the city who don't want to work fulltime for the council.

Make them answerable directly to the mayor, and make him answerable for the quality of their work.

Most important: empower them. Give them the authority, through the mayor, to inject creative thinking into projects by AT, Watercare, local boards, the main council organisation and whoever else. And to sign off on those projects.

Their job: to ensure the commercial life of the city is enhanced, not undermined, during the construction of Auckland's great new transport projects.

This does not mean ensuring the cars can keep going anywhere any driver wants to go. Instead, as other forms of transport come to the fore, it means helping local businesses embrace the disruption and turn it to their advantage. Get that cargo bike courier going. Set up market stalls when the shops are hard to reach because of roadworks. Stage lots of events. Offer special public transport deals and keep the shoppers coming.

There's so much possibility, when everyone gets their heads in the right place.

* Drop-in consultation sessions are being held on Karangahape Rd held next week.