A cycle path adjacent to the Northern motorway?

One of our members, Chris, asked our opinion of cycling on the emergency shoulder of the Northern Busway.  We had safety concerns re this proposition, but it was just the incentive we needed to ask NZTA about their long term plans for the corridor.  Here’s our reply.

Hi Chris

Cyclists have looked enviously at the gentle grades of the Northern motorway corridor for many years, and through Cycle Action we’ve been applying steady pressure for a cycleway adjacent to the motorway, not dissimilar to the hugely popular cycleway adjacent to the Northwestern motorway.

An overbridge on the Northwestern cycle path

Two factors to consider regarding your busway idea:

  • Safety while using the busway corridor
  • NZTA plans for a separated cycleway.

I’ll go through each of these in turn.

Cyclist and passenger safety
The busway and its bus stations have been designed for buses, with pedestrian interaction at the stations.  While the corridor is owned by the NZTA, AT (Auckland Transport) assume operational responsibility for the busway.

The emergency stopping shoulder is exactly that – a place where buses can pull over quickly in the event of a breakdown or emergency.  I know that both AT and NZTA would take a dim view of cyclists impeding this important function, as it would compromise the safety of both passengers on the buses, and cyclists should there be conflict when a bus is forced into a sudden action.  This is exacerbated by the relatively high speeds of the buses and slow speeds of the cyclists, particularly uphill.

There is also the issue of how cyclists would navigate through the bus stations.  With buses pulling in and out, coupled with pedestrians crossing the roadways, there is a heightened chance of conflict should cyclists be added to the mix.

We’ve also seen in the past that AT has been very protective of the busway, and is unwilling to share it with any other potentially worthy transport modes, citing prioritisation and safety for bus operations.

Another factor to consider is that Cycle Action has been lobbying hard for AT to separate buses and cyclists as much as possible.  We reject AT’s assertion that a bus lane can be a de-facto cycle lane, and always argue for separated infrastructure as much as possible on the basis that buses and cyclists just don’t mix well, particularly where the facility is not designed for separation and coexistence.

NZTA plans
So let’s turn our attention to what Cycle Action and Shore commuter cyclists would really like – a dedicated cycle path the length of the Northern motorway, from the Harbour Bridge to at least Oteha Valley Rd. Here we do have some hope.

The NZTA IS planning a cycleway adjacent to the Northern motorway, and has initial budget provision for it.  It is broken down into three sections:

  • SkyPath over the Harbour Bridge is now endorsed (if not financially backed) by the NZTA, and SeaPath from Northcote Point to Esmonde Rd, Takapuna is being actively planned.  Cycle Action is a key stakeholder with both the SkyPath Trust and NZTA to ensure this link is provisioned as effectively as possible, and provides linkages further north in due course.
  • The Akoranga to Constellation section is in NZTA’s 5-10 year program.  It is proposed to run along the western side of the motorway, however this is only at the early feasibility stage so further work will need to be done to confirm this.
  • The Constellation to Oteha Valley Road section is being looked at as part of the Northern Corridor Improvements project currently out to tender for the Investigation stage, where new and improved cycle options form part of the scope.  NZTA will have a consultant on board in June to begin the investigation.At this stage NZTA hasn’t done any work on where a cycle link would go – their consultant will be doing that over the next 18 months – however there may actually be more room on the eastern side of the motorway than the western, given that they will have to acquire land for the busway.

    The timing for the corridor upgrade is a 2017 start subject to funding, planning and consent approval.

And no, NZTA do not have any plans to extend the busway for cyclists.

So planning is in progress, albeit slowly.  Cycle Action will continue to lobby for the early completion of this link, and we are certainly regarded as key stakeholders.  However NZTA’s motivation and financing comes from the Government, and for as long as cycling infrastructure comes a distant second to Roads of National Significance (RONS), it will be a struggle.  A change of Government later this year would certainly change the focus though.

And while a north-south link would be brilliant, equally important are the east-west feeders, where we would need to engage with AT.

Summary

So in summary Chris, I can see where you’re coming from and in concept I like the idea of using an existing corridor.  However the potential hazards are such that from a safety perspective it’s not going to fly unless there’s some sort of physical separation between buses and cyclists.

I believe we should continue to lobby NZTA for early completion of a cycle path adjacent to the Northern motorway, and see SeaPath and the Constellation/Oteha links as good places to start.

Meanwhile, check out AT’s Northern cycling map – we’re seeing incremental improvements along some of the Shore’s arterials with marked cycle lanes and share with care paths being created.  Not nearly fast enough, and not along the preferred corridor, but at least it’s a nod in the right direction until NZTA deliver what we’d really like for commuter cyclists.

Feedback

We’re always keen to hear what our blog readers think of our opinions, and welcome your feedback.  Like us, are you looking forward to the day when you can ride from the upper North Shore all the way to Westhaven without having to run the gauntlet of heavy traffic or wait for a ferry?

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