By Jack Leigh

AUCKLAND - There are places no self-respecting bicycle dares to go for fear of being mugged by cars: motorways and busy roads, dense with speeding metal.

It was not always so. Cars and bikes co-existed quite happily when there was room for all on Auckland's roads. And in mid-century, when cars were fewer, the bicycle was an important means of transport.

Weekday wobblers rode to school and work and at weekends ranged far and wide - to Titirangi, St Heliers or even the wilds of the North Shore on a gravel highway leading to some far-off place called Browns Bay.

It was common to see a little wooden seat on the bar of a bike so a small child could ride in relative safety between father's knees. Or a seat was rigged behind him. Would we risk it now?

Urban change has been largely a growth of intensity. And while some cycle on regardless of increasing traffic, others crave special bikeways safe from the motorised onslaught.

Well, things are looking hopeful with Auckland City's transport committee last week approving a 5.5km extension of the northwestern cycleway from Waterview to Upper Queen St. It already links with Te Atatu. Cyclists and walkers from eight suburbs get the benefit and such side destinations as Pt Chevalier shops, the Auckland Zoo, Motat and Western Springs.

Most of the cycleway follows existing footpaths, walkways and streets on the south side of the motorway and there will be 2km of new pathway in Chamberlain Park, Kingsland and Newton Gully. An overbridge across Great North Rd at Waterview is part of the plan.

The planning report to the transport committee admits there are "few opportunities for off-road cycling in Auckland City" and sees the new trail's use for commuting as well as recreation.

Whether it will ease road congestion remains to be seen. True, 95 per cent of the 635 people who returned questionnaires said they would use the cycleway, but it seems only 4 per cent of them currently drive to work.

The important thing is that people who want to walk and pedal for whatever reason will have more freedom to do so in safety, as the ideal of a city-wide network which first flourished back in 1977 comes a step nearer.

The new $1.1m extension, which the report calls "a priority project ... a key component" in the city's cycling and walking strategy, is not quite cut and dried. Transfund has to be satisfied next month on a few requested details, and final costs will have to go to the transport committee.