Let’s be honest – those of us who already ride bikes and understand the freedom they offer can be a bit dismissive when we hear other people say ‘Aucklanders will never get out of their cars’. We wax lyrical about all the advantages of biking, whether statistical (health gains! longer life expectancy! cleaner air!) or the personal (the fun! the freedom! the wind in our hair!). We’re puzzled by those who just don’t get it, and who steadfastly insist that they and their neighbours will never leave the car at home.

But then you see what’s faced by people living in places like East Auckland – and suddenly it’s not so hard to see why many Aucklanders struggle to see that there could be another way, if only our transport network provided free and fair choice.

For a sense of what it’s like to ride out east, take a deep breath and hit play…  (it’s sped up, but still!).

Starting at the Botany end of the future AMETI busway and bikeway, the current ride on-road is hair-raising. Riding through giant intersections while cars whizz past you and across you is scary enough to deter all but the most determined or thrill-seeking riders.

Occasionally the challenge shifts to navigating past long queues of waiting cars, struggling to get anywhere without wobbling between wing mirrors and the gutter. Then, after the intersection, it’s back into the fray, being overtaken by articulated trucks (of which Ti Rakau Drive has plenty).

The surroundings get prettier as you head into Pakuranga – but then, parked cars are added into the mix, so now you face the constant risk of an opening door throwing you under that traffic. There’s a brief respite with some slower-speed local access lanes through Pakuranga, then the scary narrowness of Panmure Bridge, and like a nightmare video game – but for real – the hostile conditions just keep coming.

Indeed: Ti Rakau Drive (and Pakuranga Road / Lagoon Drive) is almost an advertisement for why people on bikes will continue to be an endangered species in East Auckland – until AMETI arrives, and offers some real change.

Until then, locals will be divided into those who understand what could be, and those who can only imagine what’s there now… as Jo Clements from Bike East Auckland tells us below.

Two Local Perspectives

Earlier this year I rolled on down to the Bucklands Beach Yacht Club, the setting for a community meeting on the AMETI project hosted by Simeon Brown (National MP for Pakuranga) .

It was here that I got my first taste of what the backlash to AMETI might look like. The locals weren’t happy, and the crescendo of negativity peaked with the funny-not-funny opinion from one local woman who took to the mic to staunchly announce, on behalf of all of us, that there was no way you could ever get East Aucklanders out of cars.

‘We’re not going to use public transport,’ she said. ‘We like our cars”.

As a daily commuter cyclist, I certainly didn’t feel this way and I knew many of my fellow Bike East Aucklanders didn’t agree with it either. So I boldly went where I hadn’t before; I not only used a mic for the first time, I spoke up in a room full of strangers who quite clearly had opposing views to mine.

Of course there are many in East Auckland who are excited about the improved public transport  – and indeed I knew that there was a big bunch of people ready and waiting for the much needed bikeways this project promised. I took it one step further and asked if AMETI could be extended the full length of Pakuranga Road to Highland Park…  but the mic was promptly whipped from my hand by the Minister and I was left with shoulder shrugs from the AT project managers.

I left that meeting both excited and deflated, but also curious as to how a project so grand could have what I consider to be a major oversight – connectivity to the whole community, connectivity for public transport users, people on bikes, and public transport users who are people on bikes.

Within the first minute of AT’s AMETI promotional video, we’re given this marketing gem: ‘AMETI, getting East Auckland moving. Imagine getting from Pakuranga to the CBD in 30 mins. With AMETI this is going to become a reality for the 120,000 residents of East Auckland.’

Well, to that I say, ‘kind of’.

For those of you not familiar with the project, AMETI has two key starting points, one centred around Panmure, the other at Botany Town Centre. But East Auckland isn’t just these two suburbs, it’s a huge area which includes Howick, Bucklands Beach, Cockle Bay, Highland Park, Golflands and Flatbush, to name a few – and all are highlighted on the map on the AT video. If you live in one of these areas and bike or use public transport, it will take you some time just to get to the starting points of AMETI during rush hour.

The bikeway and busway will run the full length of Lagoon Drive, Pakuranga Drive to Pakuranga Town Centre, and then Ti Rakau Drive, which connects to Botany. Being a commuter cyclist who currently runs the rush hour gauntlet that is Ti Rakau Drive (that’s me in the video above), I’m impressed by the well-considered safety aspects of these upcoming bikeways. East Auckland is going to go from having no commuter cycling infrastructure to some of the best in Auckland; we’re getting Dutch-style cycle separation along a route that is clearly being built for commuting!

Ti Rakau Drive traffic jam – no wonder people don’t want to bike here. [Though after decades of this, we wonder why anyone would want to drive here either!]
So what’s my worry?! Cyclists are being teased with the promise of an easy run – but as already explained in last week’s Bike Auckland blog on the current feedback process, we won’t be able to safely reach the AMETI bikeways. Even the most direct and major arterial routes that feed into AMETI will have no safe cycleways. Pakuranga Road, for example, will stay looking pretty much the way Ti Rakau Drive looks in my video above, and Botany Road – where my ride starts – will be unchanged.

My question to Auckland Transport: if you’re not going to improve safety on the direct arterial links to AMETI, how do you expect commuter cyclists to get there? Should we:

  1. Risk our lives on unsafe roads to reach the safe cycle lanes?
  2. Use our cars to ferry our bikes to the starting points?
  3. Not use AMETI at all?

I’d suggest that what we all really want and need for this project to reach its full intended potential is for AT to map out and commit to building connecting routes so that we have a seamless cycling network for East Auckland.

Or at least one that is a tree with a few branches, rather than just a bare if majestic trunk!

Yes, we have the Rotary Path along the river – that’s a lovely leisure ride but it’s full of blind corners, dogs off-leash and pedestrians going for slow morning strolls. It’s just not suitable for the commuter cyclist. Nor are many of the other leisure rides that are the focus of the newly developed Howick Local Board Greenways Plan.

I am happy to say that our Local Board does appear to understand we need direct cycle commuter connections – Pakuranga Road from Pakuranga Plaza to Highland Park (this currently horrid section – video) has been earmarked as a priority route, with an aim to tie in with AMETI. However, this project is still in the budget/estimation phase, we don’t entirely know what the design intends for people on bikes, and there’s no time frame mentioned either. It’s possible that any improvements will only be for buses. Recently for example, bus lanes appeared at the intersection of Bucklands Beach Road and Pakuranga Road, with no consideration for cyclists – creating a whole new pinch point. 

Another key connecting route would be Botany Road, ideally heading South from the Cascades Road intersection. There are intersection upgrades in the pipeline, one of which (Millhouse/Botany Roads) lies within just 1km of AMETI – but there is resistance to adding any safety for people on bikes. One of the arguments, ironically, is that any improvements here would be isolated and would see cyclists ejected back onto a busy Botany Road. I say, isn’t this exactly what AMETI will also do – eject cyclists onto busy main roads? We really need AT to see the bigger picture here.

I’m sure the woman who so proudly announced that you’ll never get East Aucklanders out of their cars will be one of the first to spot the lack of cyclists on the world-class AMETI cycle lanes. Let’s encourage AT to give her a reason to reconsider – and maybe one day she’ll find herself on a bike too.

–Jo Clements, Bike East Auckland

Act now and change some minds!

To help AMETI get the best bikeways  – and to ensure the pressure is on for AT to plan and build connecting bikeways to be ready for when AMETI opens – see our handy submissions guide for submissions here. Feedback closes Friday 16 November.

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AMETI East Auckland
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