Auckland city, in particular, where the car has become king, can be an intimidating place through which to travel by bike. It's time for change, but will Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and the Government pedal hard, or keep coasting?

One of the hallmarks of a grown-up, liveable city is a network of cycle lanes on which people of all ages and abilities can travel in safety. This requires more than simple green strips painted on the edge of a road, or a footpath divided in half by a white line. It requires separated cycle lanes.

Separated cycle lanes are proliferating around the world. They've long been commonplace, of course, in countries such as Holland and Denmark yet, now, even in those cities where the bicycle has long played second fiddle to the car - from Sydney to new York - they're spreading out to the suburbs like fresh arteries carrying fit and healthy citizens to the heart of the city.

In central Auckland a new cycleway opened late last year, running from upper Queen Street, down behind the university to Beach Road. Another is due to open next month - from Westhaven to Wynyard quarter. More are on the horizon. However, the question is how close is that horizon, and how long will it take us to get there?

The discussion surrounding cycling has been pushed with renewed urgency in the past year through Auckland Council's regular speaking events known as Auckland conversations. The talks have featured city planners, public transport advocates and urban experts who have all spoken about how their cities have been transformed.
This was where the influential former commissioner of transportation for the city of New York Janette Sadik- khan spoke about the opportunity in front of Auckland to transform its streets. She described how New York built nearly 500km of cycleways in under six years and pedestrianised times square.

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"It doesn't take millions of dollars or decades to do, it takes vision, it takes political courage. So be brave, you just need to re-imagine your streets, they're in plain sight," she urged.

John Mauro, chief sustainability officer for Auckland council, says that comparable cities around the world show quality cycling infrastructure can help us reach our aspirational goal of becoming the world's most liveable city.

"Putting cycling within reach of people of any age - wearing their regular clothes - is relatively cheap, it's easy and it can transform how we live our lives - but it also keeps money in our pockets, makes us healthier and might put the fun and freedom back into getting around Auckland."

Long time cycling advocate Barbara Cuthbert says she has seen "a massive expansion of Auckland's cycling culture in the past few years." Not only that, but the public perception around those who chose to get around by bike has changed.

"When I started at cycle action Auckland six years ago to defend the Devonport - Takapuna lake rd cycle lane I remember a local news story which featured cartoons of 'fiendishlooking' cyclists."

Now when she talks to the media on cycling issues she says she gets a far more understanding response, which "captures the shift in public attitudes to public transport and cycling, driven by increasing pressure for more transport choice in our city."
Cuthbert says it's helped that we've managed to get new cycling projects underway like Grafton Gully cycleway which show "how good Auckland could be once we have a connected, safe network."

Leroy Beckett, who cycles around central Auckland, enjoys the experience of tackling Auckland by bike: "I find it pretty good, I cycle pretty much exclusively on the ridges. But the thing is you feel like something could happen at any time."

That's why he makes the point that "infrastructure has to come first, and then the people will follow."

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Leroy Beckett in the thick of it. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Leroy Beckett in the thick of it. Photo / Ted Baghurst

It's these people in central Auckland who are in abundance and would ride for the majority of their trips if there was a well-designed, separated cycle lane network, explains Niko Elsen of youth organisation Generation Zero.

"Auckland has a problem of people using cars for making short trips. It makes absolute sense to move some of those trips onto bicycles. But we'll only get more people onto bicycles if it is safe, fast and easy to get around."

Analysis of the recent census shows that there has been double-digit increases in bike trips, up 26.4%, from 2006 to 2013 in Auckland. This is backed by a 2014 study out the university of Auckland from Dr Alexandra Macmillan on the costs and benefits of commuter cycling.

The study found that the most effective approach would involve physical segregation on arterial roads and low speed, bicycle-friendly local streets to get people on their bikes.
The research estimated that by putting in place separated cycle lanes the behaviour change would bring large benefits to public health over the coming decades, in the tens of dollars for every dollar spent on infrastructure.

In December Auckland council updated its plan for the priority city centre cycle routes for central Auckland. The plan now includes separated cycle lanes on nelson st for the north south cycle route, Beaumont St/ Westhaven drive, Quay St cycleway, an east-west route via Victoria Street, K Rd and Ian Mckinnon drive. However only the first stage of the north-south cycle route on Nelson St and the Beaumont/Westhaven Dr project have funding in the long term plan (the city's 10 year budget which outlines how the council intends to spend its money).

This leaves the other projects up in the air, awaiting more funding in the future, possibly through the government's new urban cycleways policy or if changes are made to the long term plan.

The budget for cycling infrastructure has been decreased on a yearly basis in the new budget. The annual spend is down from about $10 million to $5.5 million per year. This leaves the per-person spend in Auckland still less than $10. This is low compared with other cities across the county that have a per-person spend of over $20 in their annual plans.

Auckland councillor Chris Darby points out that this is only the draft budget and changes are possible. A request to Auckland transport was agreed upon by the governing body in November to bring back more options for increasing the walking and cycling budget.

From councillor Darby's point of view he sees cycling as a "game changer" in Auckland's future, and that the long term plan is crucial. He says if the city is serious about delivering a step change for people who wish to ride their bikes but currently don't feel safe Auckland needs to commit at least $20 - $30m per year over the next three years to building more cycleways.

Auckland mayor Len Brown has reinforced his commitment to cycling, saying that it's about providing realistic alternatives to the private car but that because Auckland faces a $12 billion transport funding gap to build the new infrastructure including cycleways alternative funding is needed.

"If Aucklanders choose to support alternative funding pathways there won't be cuts in the budgets to build cycleways or any other means of transport [in the long term plan]."
Criticism from community groups has been directed at Auckland transport due to the time it's taken to get many of the projects in its Auckland cycle network underway.

Early last year it was revealed that, based on the number of kilometres built per year over 2013/2014, it would take till 2055 to finish the network. New figures from cycle action Auckland last year show that rather than increasing the speed of building cycling infrastructure, they've slowed down.

It will now take over 100 years to finish the network based on their current build rate per year, says the group. However, projects are still going ahead with the shared walking and cycling path on the harbour bridge known as Skypath moving into its final planning stages.

Janette Sadik-khan's challenge to re-imagine Auckland's streets may not be happening as fast or have as much commitment as some want but projects are moving ahead. It means that people who want to cycle but currently don't feel safe will have to wait a bit longer for new separated bicycle lanes unless changes are made to the long term plan and the speed at which Auckland transport builds new cycleways.

This leaves new cycleways just out of reach - on the horizon waiting for the city to be brave, stretch out and demand its new streets.

Waterfront cycleway due to open

Finishing touches are made on the new waterfront cycleway. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Finishing touches are made on the new waterfront cycleway. Photo / Ted Baghurst

The harbour bridge to Wynyard quarter cycle and walkway is due to open next month. The new path and boardwalk is up to five metres wide and runs along the marina's edge from the harbour bridge through to Wynyard quarter as a recreational "share with care" environment able to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and other users.

Until now, people cycling walking or using other means of transport through Westhaven marina have had to contend with areas that are narrow, congested and difficult to navigate. The $10 million project includes two boardwalk sections that take users out over the water along with street furniture, viewing platforms and a public-access pier within the marina. It incorporates best practice infrastructure design initiatives to accommodate a zero energy lighting solution and a structural design that allows for future sea level rise, storm surge and king tides.

The concept for the walkway and cycleway was ranked by the public as the highest priority for early investment during consultation of the draft waterfront plan in 2011. The route will also form a key part of the wider walking and cycling network in the city centre as well as the Skypath harbour crossing and future plans by Waitemata local board for a walkway to Cox's bay.

Skypath

Interest in the Skypath walk and cycleway across the harbour bridge is building. At the time of going to press Auckland council had received close to 10,000 submissions through the generation zero quick submission form, most in support of the initiative.

SkyPath graphic / Reset Urban Design
SkyPath graphic / Reset Urban Design

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