Auckland Transport is very pleased with the response to its latest survey of citizens' attitudes to cycling. It claims a complete turnaround since 2015 when only 22 per cent said they felt "positive about the overall state of cycling in Auckland" and 48 per cent felt "negative" about it. This year 47 per cent registered positive and 22 per cent negative.
AT's manager of walking, cycling and road safety, Kathryn King, notes that since 2015 the city has built a lot of cycling infrastructure. "Cycle lanes, shared paths, around schools, all those things. They make a positive difference to how people feel about cycling."
If ever a survey question looks to be loaded, it is this one. To feel "positive" or "negative" about the "overall state of cycling in Auckland" does not tell us whether people want to cycle.
It invites an objective assessment about the city's cycling environment and it is not surprising that assessment would change now that the city has provided so many cycleways, cycle lanes, shared paths, all those things. Nobody has to be a cyclist to know Auckland today must be a much easier and more pleasant place to ride a bike than it was a few years ago.
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But that does not tell us very much. What Aucklanders want to know — and AT should want to know — is, are enough people using all this infrastructure? It has always been easy to run a survey of attitudes to walking, cycling or public transport in principle and get the result desired but it tells us nothing about the respondents' willingness to leave a car at home.
AT's online surveys have also asked people whether they identify as a cyclist, meaning they ride a bike at least occasionally, and this year 38 per cent said they did, up from 20 per cent four years ago. In the east suburbs, central Auckland and the North Shore the proportions are over 40 per cent.
The operative word must be "occasionally", for if 40 per cent of those populations were riding a bike daily, or even weekly, the cycleways would be much more heavily used than they appear to be.
AT conducted its survey in April, well before the winter had set in. It had just recorded an Auckland monthly record of 430,000 rides during March, 50,000 more than any month before. Those figures reflected the opening of new cycleways at Waterview, connecting southwestern and northwestern cycleways and the extension of the Nelson St cycleway to Fanshawe St.
The figures look impressive but they will be a tiny fraction of the total number of journeys being made on the roads alongside.
Cycling has long been a popular weekend recreational activity. A decade or so ago it was adopted by some inner-city workers for the daily commute but they remain a dedicated few. Dedicated cycleways rather than road-sharing lanes might encourage more commuters to get on a bike but structures such as the elevated path through Spaghetti Junction are not cheap.
AT needs to be recording their use, and asking hard questions about their value.