After many years of inaction, is 2021 the year Auckland Transport finally makes progress on better biking and better buses on Great North Road, with a new project?

If you have been “along on the journey” previously, as the PR speak has it, you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit underwhelmed. After all, this project has been “in the making” for a good six-seven years. Since Great North Road from Grey Lynn shops to K Road was first mooted for bikeways as part of the Urban Cycleway Programme. Since then, of course, little to nothing has actually happened.

But the one thing people changing the world (or just the city) can never do without is perseverance and optimism! So – once more we ask you to support a proposal. Lets get it over the finish line. A finish line which, in a more positive twist, will be at the completed K Road bikeways, taking you all the way into the City Centre.

Please submit in favour, details at the bottom of this post. Closes FRIDAY THIS WEEK.

The Great New Road?

Back in 2016, at the last consultation for this project, we felt things were pretty good in terms of the design. For 2016. Protected cycle lanes – check. Bus stop bypasses at (many) stops – check. This was grand stuff in 2016 when many bikeways were still being proposed as paint-only. So we cheered it on.

From various contacts, we know why the project then failed to proceed – the original consultant’s design reportedly didn’t impress AT in its thoroughness, then it turned out that actually complying with modern sightline requirements would have required removing many more car parks than the (implied) limit in the original consultation – and of course then the whole Urban Cycleways Programme developed a serious case of gout and slowed right down, back in the late 2010s.

Now Great North Road is back as part of the “Connected Communities” programme of Auckland Transport.

This programme – of which Great North Road is to be the first cab off the rank – is to be the exemplar for how arterial roads across Auckland can be improved for active modes, public transport and safety. It certainly took them some time, because getting to your first consultation three years after the programme was conceived is not exactly a sprinting speed.

Anyway – did they achieve something that would be exemplary? Something worth supporting and rolling out elsewhere too?

The answer is – largely yes.

So what’s happening?

The project extends between Crummer Road and Ponsonby Road / K Road as per the project website.

The length of the project – quite substantial really.
  • Conceptual (simplified) plans are here.
  • More detailed plans are here.

As for what’s happening, Auckland Transport are adding :

  • Protected cycle lanes of 1.6m width, with a (solid) 0.4m buffer along the whole length
  • Placing over 20 side streets on “raised tables” (cars turning in and out will be slowed when the go across footpath & bike lane)
  • Rubber speed humps or similar at driveways
  • Adding / upgrading several mid-block signalised crossings
  • making existing bus lanes more consistent (albeit at some places there will be off-peak exceptions for car transporter unloading zones)
  • Changing various bus stops, a number of them to “bypass” stops where the cycle lane continues around the back of the stop

To find the space to provide this, Auckland Transport is proposing to remove some 115 parking spaces and the flush median. These changes obviously are the ones most likely to lead to push-back.

But the boons of this change will be huge. A large part of western inner Auckland which currently isn’t going to cycle along this road suddenly can, in safety and comfort. Buses will flow better, and road safety will be much improved. There’s also increasing numbers of large apartment blocks along this road, and those people need ways to get around without cars. At least if we want Auckland to become a real city instead of an (at times) overgrown town which still tries to make everything work with cars.

So all good – or just okay?

Those cycle lanes, especially compared to the old proposal from back in 2016: How good are they?

Well, we already know from the very similar design at K Road that as we (slowly) head into a cycling boom, these lanes will eventually (maybe quite quickly) become very narrow for the future amounts of users. They clearly aren’t wide enough to overtake another bike in. And the 0.4m buffer would ideally also be wider for a bit more comfort from passing buses.

An example of a typical section along the road.

Are these bike lanes worth doing? We enthusiastically say yes.

Some faster riders may occasionally be a bit frustrated by people going ahead of them at a more relaxed pace. They may well “dip in and out” into the adjacent bus lane to overtake. But the step-change in safety and comfort – the things that really get people riding – will be massive. And with the onward link to K Road already complete, and hopefully future connections on Ponsonby Road and of course further west into Grey Lynn, this will start seeing network effects like what made the Northwestern Bikeway such a busy route.

We also need to realise that any extra width over those ~4m total allocated to dedicated cycling infrastructure would need to come from the bus lanes or footpaths. Or by making Great North Road car-free. That’s clearly not happening any time soon. So this is, on the width aspect, probably as good as it will get for the near future.

On the quality aspect however, things have improved massively. It would have been great to have been riding this in safety a few years earlier, even with rubber & plastic separators. But certainly concrete separators as per Carlton Gore Road, or continuous separators as per K Road (there will likely be sections of each) are much more solid. More permanent and better looking – so at least there’s that consolation prize for the delay.

It’s hard when you got to stop all the time

So we are pretty chuffed with the design, and just want it DONE, right?

Well, there’s one other aspect where we’d like you to give Auckland Transport a strong chorus of “please do this right!” and that’s the bus stops.

Now there’s quite a few stops where the design looks pretty good, as shown in this graphic by AT.

A “bypass” stop where riders can go behind people getting on and off the bus.

Those aren’t really the problem, because while there may be the odd person not looking closely at the bikeway while crossing, at least it’s pretty clear, and you can hopefully react in time. The problem are those stops that AREN’T bypasses, but where the cycle lane basically continues right past the bus stop – on the passenger side.

These are what are called “bus boarder” stops, and they are what you (may have to) use when the space really gets tight – basically, you wedge a small sliver of standing space between bike lane and cycle lane, to give SOME advance warning / reaction time to a rider if someone’s getting out of the bus (so they don’t step right into the bike lane).

A completed “bus boarder” example from K Road. Could be better, could be worse. If a bus is stopped right there, you’d have to go very slowly through here…

Of course we don’t accuse AT of doing this less-safe, less-convenient design due to lack of skill. Some of these spots are tighter than others, and they also have to fit in a bus shelter for waiting passengers, and keep a footpath. But from general first principles, and anecdotal experience with similar design at the Victoria Street Cycleway, they can be really problematic. An 0.8m boarder width is just very little space to react (or for a passenger to wait out of the bike lane while the person in front of you fumbles for their HOP card).

So we are asking AT to again try and “pull out all the (boarder) stops” in detailed design:

  • Review all “bus boarder” stops and see if more can be converted to bypass stops
  • Where this isn’t possible, look at achieving more than 0.8m bus boarders. We consider that at least 1.5m would be a good solution – maybe as per the below example, by relocating the shelter a bit, or using a narrower shelter design, as allowed for in the AT design guidance for constrained locations

Provide feedback!

This project is well worth supporting for better buses, better biking, and better safety – but may also see quite a few people opposed due the parking removal, the flush median removal, and the construction works that are likely to take a good bit.

So we ask you to support this, enthusiastically and in numbers:

  1. Go here for the feedback website
  2. Ignore the “pin-point” feature (unless you have specific knowledge / comments you want to add that way) – instead head left to the “online survey” side bar.
  3. On “What aspects do you like?”, we recommend you mention your support for protected cycle lanes, improved side road safety, and better bus lanes.
  4. On “What aspects you would change?”, we recommend that you mention that “bus boarder” stops should be replaced with “bus bypass” stops where possible, and where not possible, the boarder width must be more than just 0.8m.
  5. On “What other thoughts, suggestions or concerns do you have about the proposal?” we recommend you ask them to please get on with it – people have been waiting for this for many years.
  6. Fill out the rest of the form with your personal details, and you’ve done your civic good for the day!

Please fill out the feedback by Friday 7 May 2021

Categories
Auckland Transport Cycle lanes General News Infrastructure Isthmus K Road Submissions
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