I’ve just returned from 10 days in Brisbane and Byron Bay catching up with our adults sons and their girlfriends, 2 of whom are based in Brisbane. It feels like a more attractive, engaging and liveable city than it appeared when I visited 5 years ago. Our sons and their partners saw it that way as well, which is interesting, given their demographic as young professionals. I’m now more impatient than ever for Auckland to move faster, before we lose more of our well-educated kids and smart businesses to Australia.
Brisbane’s success is not just about cycling – the city is densifying housing in inner suburbs, such as New Farm, while still retaining historic local commercial areas, interesting little shops and businesses, corner cafes and superbly well maintained heritage houses. Brisbane is investing in attractive useable public spaces like squares and parks as well as integrating public transport and active modes so they are the easy, obvious choice, especially for young and retired people.
New Farm is connected to the city by a wide walkway/ cycleway that extends along both sides of the Brisbane River, connecting inner city suburbs to Downtown with the university, Botanic Gardens etc and all the South Bank attractions. A section of the pathway damaged in a major flood in the Brisbane River was recently replaced and upgraded. It is fabulous!
I loved the easy connections made possible by the two Downtown walking and cycling bridges, (the Goodwill and the Kurilpa Bridges), which were full of walkers and cyclists all day and into the evening. The 470m long Kurilpa Bridge was built in 2011, cost $A63 million and was judged World Transport Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival. Imagine a city where city leaders build world class infrastructure for walkers and cyclists and where cyclists don’t have to fund it themselves as we are doing for SkyPath!
Our Kangaroo Point apartment was well designed, with big sunny balcony and wide city views. It was opposite a park overlooking the river to downtown Brisbane and the Botanic Gardens, with cafe, public artworks and open air performance space also used for morning and evening fitness classes. The Point has a long frontage onto the river, bus service, free ferry to downtown, as well as the City Cat and City Ferry which service suburbs along the river. The river pathway extends around Kangaroo Point with numerous CitiBike installations at ferry stops and public gathering places.
I used the pathway, CitiBikes and free ferry every day, setting off from the Point’s Thornton Quay. The archway sculpture by the Quay was one of many public art installations along the riverside path and City and recalled the days when rowboats used to connect Kangaroo Point to Downtown.
Much as I enjoyed the CitiBikes, it’s obvious they’re a big ticket item if done properly. Bike stations need to well supplied with bikes and spread conveniently around central and inner city major intersections and public transport stops. They also need an on-going budget to be well serviced and maintained. The bikes are heavy because of the docking gear, and have only 3 gears. They rely a good network of easy- grade cycleways. (I never saw a CitiBike used on a regular road.) I consider the priority for the next 2 years in Auckland is to build more high quality connected cycleways (SkyPath, SeaPath and Tamaki to Glen Innes) before we are ready to invest in CityBikes.
Kangaroo Point ends with a park and the Story Bridge, surrounded by a mix of attractive 4- 5 story townhouses and multistory high- end apartments. These have river and city views and easy walking and cycling access to the city, so are sought- after and expensive. The Story Bridge has 2m wide walking and cycling paths on both sides and is loved as a major landmark by many Brisbanites.
The downside of the Story Bridge for Kangaroo Point is that the Point has constant streams of fast- moving, noisy traffic, including heavy trucks. Many skilled cyclists, including men in lycra, rode on the footpath rather than use the road. (I noticed this occurred across the city, and that pedestrians were amazingly generous in sharing footpaths with cyclists. ) On my last day I was given a lift to the South Bank train station and found that, even by mid-morning and despite good public transport networks, Brisbane’s roads are hopelessly congested with queues of cars creeping through series of traffic lights.
Finally, I need to comment on the superb way-finding signs. I love cycling maps, so grabbed some from the from the Brisbane central library. They were good to have, but the real joy were Brisbane’s street and riverside signs which I noticed all around the city. They direct the way and give distances to nearby transport landmarks, eg bridges, public transport stops and major walking and cycling routes.
Best of all were the regular use of signs with maps identifying your location and showing the full extent of walking and cycling routes and how to connect with ferries and train stations along the way. Drool, drool!
I would give anything to have these spread throughout Auckland cycleways – a couple of years ago we pleaded with AT to install these around the NW cycleway as we know people have trouble using this, and knowing how they connect to it from nearby major roads and train stations. The completion of the Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways makes this request even more urgent.
Brisbane’s signs reminded me of our requests to AT to change ‘No Exit’ signs at roads ending in walking and cycling paths to direct the way to these paths.
This sign does exactly that, and also shows where the nearby ferry stop, if you want to pop your bike on it.
I was also impressed by the number of people who had bells, and used them. It was a pleasant surprise to note how many lycra-clad cyclists tinkled their bells before passing me and other slower cyclists, as well as pedestrians. Isn’t it time for us to adopt bells and their use on shared paths.
And pedestrians seemed very practiced at listening out for the bells and promptly standing to one side when walking as couples, with wide pushchairs or with dogs etc.
I want Auckland to copy Brisbane in prioritising accessibility and integrated transport for our signs, as well as provide maps to show the full extent of networks. My timing in becoming fired up about this is good, as last week Cycle Action was asked to give our feedback to AT’s ‘Way-finding Manager. She has been leading a big project to review and improve way-finding signs on a comprehensive basis across the City and is ready to work with key stakeholders.
I’m keen to invite her to our October public meeting (5.30 pm Thursday 30th) as I know this issue has major public interest. Would you like to come?
To finish, I confess to being very wary of involving ‘style police’ in the design, placement and colour of signs. I developed this caution after I was involved in a project to instal way-finding sign for Devonport to Takapuna’s Green Route. I was horrified to find the signs we’d spent hours planning and consulting on were ‘adjusted’ by Council staff – the signs were shrunk, changed to North Shore corporate ‘tasteful’ dark colours and sited so they could not be seen by people who were unfamiliar with the route.
I don’t support swamping areas with badly designed signs, but I do admire Brisbane’s brazen provision of useful signs everywhere that the public would logically expect to find them.
Brisbane sign people can even take the mickey out of themselves on this!