You build a city — or rebuild it, when the time comes — with boldness and fear. The one to do great things, the other to help you remember you will sometimes get it wrong.

You need vision, without which your boldness will make you a mad anarchist. And you need political skills — to keep making progress and to keep it all from blowing up in your face.

Auckland is rebuilding itself, reinventing itself in the process, and our local politicians and their officials are displaying too little of the boldness, vision and political skill, and too much of the fear.

The little shopping village of West Lynn on Richmond Rd is not important to the rest of Auckland. Except it had a cycle-lane makeover last year, courtesy of Auckland Transport (AT), that went horribly wrong. There are lessons to learn for all of us.


Coming up Richmond Rd towards the West Lynn shops, it's good. A new roundabout has streamlined a difficult intersection and on one stretch new cycle lanes run inside the line of parallel-parked cars, next to the grass berm. All road users are winners.

Turn the corner into the shopping village, though, and suddenly it's what the hell? The bike lane on one side dog-legs awkwardly down and around the front of angle-parked cars; on the other it runs outside the parallel-parked cars, putting riders at real risk of being doored.

Cyclists are disappointed; retailers mourn the loss of car parks, new bus stop locations and drainage problems. The traffic has been slowed but new safety issues have arisen. The village is not more pleasant to be in.

It wasn't going to be like that. But faced with objections to earlier plans, AT lost its way. The greater purpose of making a better place for the community was subverted by the lesser task of traffic management. Not enough boldness, too much fear, not enough vision.

Who's happy that 18 cyclists were killed on our roads last year? Safety is the reason cyclists need dedicated lanes.

And not enough political skill. AT failed to win retailers to the project and failed to support them through the construction phase.

But there's something else. A small protest group has obstructed the process at every juncture, even demanding a stop to all work on cycle lanes and related street makeovers throughout the city.

In Grey Lynn and nearby Westmere, it should have been easy to transform the wide main roads into safe, functional, attractive streets for all users. AT officials and local board members tried to work with residents to do that.

But the result was a set of awkward compromises that satisfy no one and can in large part be attributed to the protesters' obstruction. They are making the city worse.


I know I'm not the only person who sees a placard and is inclined to think, good on you. But I know also some protests are unworthy. I think this is one of them.

Late last year, one of the protesters, Lisa Prager, said to me, "I want to drive them all into the sea!" By "all" I think she meant AT, the local board, the council and everyone who supports the cycle lanes in Westmere and Grey Lynn.

Meanwhile, cyclists ask, is it wrong that kids should be able to ride safely to school, commuters to work, anyone at all to ride all day or tootle down to the shops? Who's happy that 18 cyclists were killed on our roads last year?

Safety is the reason cyclists need dedicated lanes. Safety from the drivers of motor vehicles. The more cycle lanes there are, connected in a network, the more people will cycle.

There were 3.67 million cycle trips counted across the city by 28 recorders last year, up 6.2 per cent on the 2016 total. But that's still slow progress. When we have more cycle lanes they will become busy.

What's the point? Cycling is healthy: as long as they don't get knocked off their bikes, cyclists cost the health system less.


Cycling reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas: riding a bike for a year instead of driving has the same carbon-saving benefit as planting 200 trees.

Cycling is especially good for car drivers. Every person on a bike is a person not sitting in a car in front of you on a clogged-up road.

As Canadian planner Brent Toderian has said, cities designed for cars, as ours was after World War II, fail everyone. Cities designed for all forms of transport, where cars are not prioritised as of right, work for everyone.

That insight informs the reinvention of cities everywhere. They want, as Auckland wants, to attract talent and investment, adapt to climate change, make the most of their growing populations and offer the best to those populations.

Parts of New York are now riddled with cycle lanes and Times Square is a pedestrian plaza. Copenhagen has more bikes than cars, and that's happened in just 20 years. Medellin, in Colombia, once the "murder capital of the world", won the World City Prize in 2016 (beating Auckland), with its overhead cable car leading the transformation.

Our problems are piffling compared to theirs. What holds us back is, merely, us.


"Us" being all of us and especially so many of our politicians and their officials. Us, with the lack of boldness. Us, with our fear of change. Us, with a lack of vision. Them, with the lack of political skills to help.

The opportunities are unbounded and no city in the world is better placed to meet them. Safer cycling is just the beginning.