Cycling in motorway city

Wellinjgton cyclist rides the Grafton Cycleway under the watchful eye of a Tāmaki Makaurau kuia.
Wellington cyclist rides the Grafton Cycleway under the watchful eye of a Tāmaki Makaurau kuia. [photo: Rob Allely]
From south of the Bombay Hills, we imagine that Auckland is Los Angeles in the South Pacific, with motorways snaking across the land. But rumours have filtered south that cycling is becoming a preferred Jafa mode of travel. I recently checked out the cycling scene when I visited friends and whanau in Auckland (I’m a Westie, from Henderson in West Auckland, although I emigrated before black singlets and V8 Holdens became compulsory) .

Sharrow on Pt Chevalier Rd
Sharrow on Pt Chevalier Rd

I started by accompanying my mate Rob on his commute from Point Chevalier to his workplace on the Auckland waterfront. We headed along Point Chevalier Road, which is busy but not uncomfortably so. Sharrows indicate where to ride: out of the door zone – this differs from the Wellington sharrows, which are placed in the middle of the lane.

Commuters speed along the Northwestern Cycle Route
Commuters speed along the Northwestern Cycle Route

Then we joined the Northwestern Cycle Route, which runs from Te Atatu to the CBD. Although construction work sent us on to some quiet back streets for a short distance, this was virtually all off road. And well used – it became hard to ride two abreast as faster commuters zipped by. I was also noticing the tell tale hum of electric assist bikes – the answer to distance and hills.

Beach Rd Cycleway
Beach Rd Cycleway

As we approached Upper Queen Street, we hit some hills, which earned us the thrill of descending the sweeping curves of the Grafton Gully Cycleway to pick up the Beach Road Cycleway, the two way separated cycle route leading in to the city centre. Rob carried on to his work on the Auckland Waterfront Cycle Ride, having completed 80% of his 11km commute on off road cyclepaths. I doubt that many Wellington cycle commuters have that option.

Pedestrians on cyclepath, Beach Rd
Pedestrians on cyclepath, Beach Rd

The latest addition to the Beach Road Cycleway is integrated into the pedestrian area.  Walking advocates are concerned about the proliferation of shared space, which often seem to be a way for lazy councils to provide cycling facilities by simply declaring footpaths to be shared space. However on Beach Road signs that indicate that the cycle path is not a shared path seem to have little effect on pedestrians! The lesson is that non-shared cycle paths have to look like roads, not footpaths.

Nextbikes await cruise ship customers on waterfront
Nextbikes await cruise ship customers on waterfront

Auckland also has the NextBike public bike rental system, at the moment mostly available on the waterfront.

Westhaven cycleway
Westhaven Promenade

I was a few years too early to experience Skypath, the cycling and walking clipon to the Harbour Bridge, but I was able to bike a possible approach route, the Westhaven Promenade, a wide boardwalk connecting the Viaduct area to the southern end of the Bridge. I wondered how soon I’d be able to bike a similar route along Wellington’s harbour between Petone and Ngauranga.

Canada St cycle bridge
Canada St cycle bridge

On the way back, I snuck a look at Auckland’s latest piece of bike infrastructure, the Canada Street bridge leading to an repurposed motorway onramp and the proposed Nelson St Cycleway – I’ll have to return next year when this elegant curving structure is opened.

It’s impossible not to compare the progress in Auckland with what’s been achieved in Wellington. Although Wellington has had good uptake by people of cycle commuting, to date the Council had trouble following through with cycle facilities. The progress in Auckland is surprising, given its motorway orientation, and the hilly topography (in contrast to Wellington, most journeys in the CBD involve hills). So why have cycling projects gone ahead so successfully in Auckland?

One factor is that cycling is under the control of Auckland Transport, at an arms length from the Council itself, so cycleway designs aren’t subject to direct political pressure. And most of the projects so far haven’t involved contentious issues such as removal of parking. Although it hurts to admit it, motorways have helped – much of the Northwestern and Grafton gully cycleways are in motorway corridor. There is also an energetic and effective local advocacy group. The cunning cycle advocates persuaded the petrolheads to give up space for motorways, then used it to build cycleways!

Lets hope that our council will emulate Auckland, not just in trying to get a long haul airport, but in providing real cycling infrastructure to get more people on bikes.

Advertisements