Cyclists and pedestrians using the northwest shared path that runs alongside the northwest motorway have a new hazard to contend with. It's Auckland Transport, blocking the way like a possum stuck in the headlights.
Newton Central School in Arch Hill, near Grey Lynn, has announced it has stopped its walking bus on that path because the cyclists are making it too dangerous for kids to use. Other pedestrians have chimed in with their own concerns.
Why has this problem been allowed to emerge?
The school is absolutely right to complain. The first principle should be: safety for the vulnerable. On shared routes, pedestrians have a right to safety from bikes and scooters; bikes and scooters, and motorcycles, have a right to safety from cars; cars have a right to safety from trucks.
The solution, wherever possible, is separation. Dedicated cycle lanes and cycle paths that free the footpaths for people walking and allow cyclists to go about their business without fear of being run down by motor vehicles.
Can't be done? Nonsense. Can't be done everywhere, sure. But take a look at that northwestern shared path. It's been the route of the Newton School walking bus for years. It's also been used for years by people walking their dogs, walkers and runners out for exercise and others. It's a pleasant and very popular pedestrian route.
For years, also, there has been a slow build up of cycles. It's a commuter route. And because AT has been expanding the network of cycle lanes and shared paths to the west, it's got busier every year. That shared path is now the principal commuter route for cyclists from a wide swathe of suburbs including Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, Henderson, Waterview and Avondale, and offers a good safe route for cycling into the city from the likes of Mt Roskill, Hillsborough and Onehunga.
Cycling is the fastest growing mode of commuter transport in Auckland. Nowhere in the city is that more obvious than on the northwest route: along with Quay St, it's one of the two cycle routes experiencing the largest user growth in the city. At the end of 2010, just over 108,000 cyclists per year went past the counter at Kingsland. That number is now up to 323,000.
Also, many of the cyclists are on e-bikes, which often go faster.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone, least of all the transport planners. The conflict on that route between cyclists trying to get to work, and children and other pedestrians has been entirely predictable for a long time.
But did AT predict it? There's no evidence for it.
What's more, the solution has always been to hand. The shared path could be widened and divided into pedestrian and cycling lanes. There's open flat space on one side, for quite a lot of the route, and a scrubby bank between the path and the motorway fence on the other. Between them, more than enough space to created separated paths.
The total length needed to create a safe route for the walking bus is about 700m.
This is classic Auckland Transport. As it happens, they've just opened a really good, long-awaited, cyclists-only new section at the city end of the Western route, joining to Ian McKinnon Drive at the top of Dominion Rd and taking out a nasty hill. Lots of fanfare, the mayor and the minister and the AT bigwigs all came out. Bravo.
But that new section does nothing for the children of Newton School, because that's not the problematic part of the route for them.
Let's be very clear about this. Walking buses, we are told by AT, the council and the Government, are a highly desirable component of the city's transport strategy. Or so they all say.
Cycling to work is also a highly desirable component of that strategy, beloved by all the same groups. Or so they say.
So how on earth did we get this failure? What are we going to hear? Sorry, NZTA is in charge of the motorway so local authorities can't touch the land? Sorry, the local boards have been complaining and getting nowhere? Sorry, the council wants AT to do more? Sorry, AT can't do everything at once? Sorry? Please.
The failure to prevent this problem comes in the context of the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), AT's 10-year budget adopted in the middle of last year.
The RLTP cut spending on cycling. Ostensibly, $650 million has been committed to cycling over the period. But $150m of that is government funding for the SkyPath on the Harbour Bridge and the SeaPath that will attach SkyPath to Takapuna.
A further $150m is deferred spending: that is, money they didn't get around to spending before 2018/19, even while they were crowing about how important cycling and walking have become.
As analyst Matt Lowrie has pointed out at the website Greater Auckland, the $350m that leaves is barely half the money AT will need to fulfil the commitments of its own Cycling Programme Business Case.
A school has had to stop kids walking to school, and cyclists are being unreasonably pressured on their normal commute. Meanwhile, AT is budgeting too little on cycling and walking, and not even spending the money it does budget.
The Newton School problem is simple, was entirely predictable and is easily solvable. If the people running AT – and the council and other relevant transport authorities, for that matter – can't fix it they should hand responsibility to those who can.
AT reportedly says it will look at the problem as part of its "medium-term" plan. No. This is an abject failure of planning and has to be fixed right now.
Because here's another entirely predictable thing: it won't be long before growth in Auckland cycling reaches tipping point. That hasn't happened yet: growth is solid but remains incremental. But the point will come – one summer in the next five years, I would say – when we get a sudden explosion of bike use.
And it will be accompanied by an explosion in other "micromobility" options. It's not just e-scooters, or sit-down scooters and e-skateboards. Many marvellous new inventions are heading our way.
If AT already looks like a small quivering animal, stuck in the middle of the road with destiny bearing down on it and no idea what to do, what kind of a mess will it be in when that happens?