Things really are on the way up, when it comes to cycling. Not only are there more people on bikes around town – there are more counters to keep track of them.

For a long while, Auckland Transport only reported trip data from 9 initial (and somewhat randomly scattered) automatic cycle counters. But over the last 2 years, AT has installed a large number of new sensors. Basically, whenever a new cycle project is opened, it now comes with a new automatic counter to measure how many people ride the new route – the flashiest of which in the future will also include public displays like the excellent ‘totem’ installed on Quay Street, with the shiny new LED display that ticks over when you bike past, and keeps a running tally of the year so far.

Photo of the counter near the end of the first day (but missing the morning rider's numbers!). Photo by Geogoose.
Photo of the new Quay Street Cycleway display near the end of the first day – and this doesn’t even include the early morning riders! (Photo by Geogoose. Note: Quay Street has had a counter since last year, albeit not at this location)

Together with the new counters installed around the City Centre / Inner Isthmus (i.e. the focus area of the current Urban Cycleway Programme), these will give much better, more detailed and much more up-to-date counts of Auckland bike people.

No more waiting for months and months for one single number!

AT is now also reporting the details of those counts much more openly, here. The summary data for June is not available yet – although we have the data for individual locations, as seen on the graphs below – but we do know that in May 2016, cycle numbers were up 22% on May of the year before!

If this growth continues, Auckland may well be the city in New Zealand furthest along on the way to reaching NZTA’s goal of 30% growth in urban cycling by 2018.

(Of course we’re happy to aim for even more than 30%, because we’ve still got a few decades of decline to recover from. But it’s awesome that for once, Auckland is at the head of the pack.)

In that regard, it is pleasing (if not unexpected) to see where the greatest growth is.

Surprise! It’s where new cycleways have been built… and on the routes leading to these new bikeways. This is the network effect – another way of saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ – and it’s really starting to kick in.

And especially on those routes, we see an interesting change – the usual winter drop-off is much shallower than usual, and in some cases hardly seems to be happening. Can it be that, with better cycleways and more company, riders are happier to keep going when it gets chilly, damp, and dark in the evenings? Is Auckland exhibiting a bit of the ‘Viking biking’ spirit of our Scandinavian antipodes?

Richard Easther, one of Bike Auckland’s associates, has done us all the lovely favour of putting those dry numbers into easy-to-grasp visuals, so we can see how and where Auckland biking is growing. Below, see some fascinating graphs of the flows at some of the counters around Auckland…

[Ed note: if you’re not a graphs or data person, two things to note: the numbers up the left hand side show the monthly total of bike trips; and you’ll notice a dip in the middle of each year as winter arrives. What’s striking about the growth on the new and newly connected paths is that not only is the annual ‘high tide’ getting higher, but the ‘low tide’ is too.]

Beach Rd Beach Rd_histogram

Clearly Beach Road is benefitting from all the improvements, including Grafton Gully and its own Stage II extension. A jump of around a third in many of the months earlier this year!

Carlton Gore Rd Carlton Gore Rd_histogram

Carlton Gore only got a counter relatively late last year, but it seems clear that this key route from the east is also seeing good growth. Almost six thousand monthly users in mid-winter June!

Curran St Curran St_histogram

Curran Street is a key route for both recreational and transport riders from the Western suburbs into the City Centre. Of course, even though the counter is west of the Harbour Bridge, these numbers will be nothing compared to what happens once SkyPath is built…

East Coast Rd East Coast Rd_histogram

Numbers on East Coast Road near Constellation Drive have been static – not surprising, as little cycle investment has occurred in the area in recent years.

G Sth Road G Sth Road_histogram

Likewise, nothing very exciting to see at Great South Road near Cavendish Drive.

Grafton Bridge Grafton Bridge_histogram

While not as spectacular as the Northwestern Cycleway (see further down), Grafton Bridge seems to be getting a nice little boost from the city improvements. And the cycle numbers are very respectable for a route that riders have to share with lots of intimidating buses…

Grafton Gully Grafton Gully_histogram

Grafton Gully, far from declining after getting ‘competition’ from Lightpath on the other side of the City Centre, is roaring ahead.

Grafton Rd Grafton Rd_histogram

While not yet a really busy route, Grafton Road, which brings riders towards the university area from the east, may already be showing some growth, seeing data from the early part of the year. Time will tell, once comparative data for a year or more exists.

Highbrook Highbrook_histogram

Another southern counter, Highbrook is seeing little change and little use – which is not surprising for a short isolated path in the middle of a lot of nothing (cycling infrastructure-wise) each side.

Hopetoun St Hopetoun St_histogram

A new counter, Hopetoun St is another addition to the ‘cordon’, to ensure all riders in and out of the City Centre are properly accounted for – these ones arriving from Ponsonby and probably Grey Lynn. No real trend visible here yet, but definite evidence of life, with a hundred or so bike trips a day across this handy but narrow bridge with no bike infrastructure.

K Rd K Rd_histogram

On Karangahape Road, some tentative growth is visible, but the real boom hasn’t started yet. Still, the base numbers are some of the highest of all the counters – and everyone is waiting for the Great North Road and K Road cycle lanes, which we think will make these numbers take off like a rocket!

Lagoon Dr Lagoon Dr_histogram

Poor Panmure-Pakuranga, declining despite being such an important link! The AMETI cycleways as part of the busway project have been promised for years and years (and have been held up by the lack of public transport funding in this still car-focussed country of ours…), but so far, all that’s been built was a new tunnel road north-south and 100m of busway. Bring on the new bike paths!

Lake Road Lake Road_histogram

Lake Road counts are steady, but not exactly fascinating. Lots of regular riders, but few new converts, it seems…

Mangere Bridge Mangere Bridge_histogram

A similar situation for Mangere Bridge. It’s an important connection and the demand is there and steady, but not exactly showing spectacular growth.

Nelson St cycleway Nelson St cycleway_histogram

Nelson Street (i.e. through the City itself, not Lightpath) is showing very heavy numbers. The REAL growth here is not visible in the stats: after all, before the protected cycleway opened, this route had just some 5-10 incredibly brave cyclists every morning… now there are several hundred daily, even though the route is still truncated and stops at Victoria St.

Nelson St Lightpath Nelson St Lightpath_histogram

Compared to the ‘road part’ of the Nelson Street Cycleway, Lightpath of course gets the glamour boost – even having settled down from its huge early months over summer, it’s still racking up almost twice the numbers as one kilometre further north (no surprise there; as an entirely car-free space, and a magical location of its own, it’s much more welcoming to kids and new riders). Now for getting all those recreational riders onto a bike for other trips…

NW Cycleway (Kingsland) NW Cycleway (Kingsland)_histogram

Here’s where the network effect rubber really hits the road, er, off-road cycleway. You can see how the magnetic field of the pink path boom (and the related Grafton Gully effect) has spread far and wide – even more than 5km away, in Kingsland, where numbers are massively up on 2014 and 2015.

NW Cycleway (Te Atatu) NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)_histogram

And the effect continues at Te Atatu over 10 km away; if the numbers traveling to the city from further out are a bit lower, they’re still really really high (and resisting the usual winter drop-off). Recent cycleway improvements along the causeway will definitely have helped with this. Orewa Orewa_histogram

The popular Orewa Path, sadly, is static, albeit at a relatively high level. More bike funding for areas of Auckland beyond the current central city focus will be needed before this can take off again.

Quay St Quay St_histogram

This Quay St data is from the counter installed before the actual cycleway was opened, so we will be fascinated to see the impact of QuayPath.

SH20 Dom Rd SH20 Dom Rd_histogram

Another location without massive change yet, although the 2016 numbers have definitely popped up. It will be interesting to see whether the opening of Waterview Shared Path next year will bring more substantial growth, despite it being a long way around if you are in the Dominion Road area…

Symonds St Symonds St_histogram

One of the worries among some was that Grafton Gully would ‘cannibalise’ riding on Symonds Street (an important route to the universities and into town). It does not seem to have done so – or more likely, some people will have been drawn off onto the quieter parallel route, while others will have been added as part of the rider growth in the area.

Tamaki Dr (EB + WB) Tamaki Dr (EB + WB)_histogram

We see a slight boost on Tamaki Drive – but the real growth will come from Quay Street (now open), Quay Street to Ngapipi (~2017-2018) and Glen Innes-Tamaki (2018). Until then, though, our busiest cycle route continues to pedal along in huge numbers.

Te Wero Bridge Te Wero Bridge_histogram

Another ‘keeping track’ counter for the City Centre cordon – you can see how busy cycling along the waterfront already is. Expect more with QuayPath, and possibly with new Wynyard Quarter / Viaduct Basin routes to come next year.

Twin Streams Twin Streams_histogram

Steady, but not spectacular (note: the Twin Streams counter is southwest of Henderson, so somewhat more recreationally-focussed than other paths, and probably unlikely to capture a boom here from the new connection to the NW cycleway).

Upper Harbour Upper Harbour_histogram

The new painted cycle lanes on Upper Harbour Drive seem to have created a slight boost, but overall, there is little change on this longer-distance west-east route on the Shore.

Upper Queen St Upper Queen St_histogram

Upper Queen Street is another ‘keeping track’ counter, to identify how bikes are entering the central city. From the low numbers, we suspect that this is actually between the Upper Queen Street Bridge and K Road, thus missing all the riders who head into the city along Grafton Gully or Lightpath.

Victoria St West Victoria St West_histogram

We were recently shown plans for the Victoria St West cycleway designs – we cant share them yet, but let’s just say that with them and the agreed Franklin Road cycle lanes, we expect this currently somewhat humdrum but absolutely key route to take off in the coming years too.

Counter Locations 2015-03
Above, an outdated map of the cycle counter locations. Note that this is missing a number of the city-centre counters that were installed last year. Still, it gives some useful context.
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3 responses to “Build it and they will be counted

  1. >> One of the worries among some was that Grafton Gully would “cannibalise” riding on Symonds Street. It does not seem to have done so – or more likely, some people will have been drawn off onto the parallel route, and other will have been added, as part of the new ridership growth in the area.

    No, the worry I had was that Grafton Gully would be a massive opportunity cost to developing Symonds St. Not that it would literally pipe cyclists away. Clearly it would not (and has not), as I argued it could not be a substitute for Symonds St — even though some tried to sell it as an alternative, going so far as claiming “cannibalizing” would be a good thing.

    Indeed, improvements to Symonds St have become harder lobby for due to the mistaken but popular view now entrenched among stakeholders that the expensive motorway paths already service the area. The lines on a map simply appear too close-by at a bird’s eye scale, ignoring all the critical nuances of frontage exposure or local street grid connectivity. Whether they are protective of road space for other modes or protective of dollars, many people are not convinced that Symonds should be improved, or at least not now. That even includes some with a cycling or transit interest.

    Ironically, suppose Symonds corridor might be upgraded for cycling, Symonds would subsume much of the Gully’s role in the network, though not vice versa. That’s because street grid routes are better at being general-purpose ways to get to places, whether for short or long trips. (At least until its capacity is saturated; only then a bypass route could be a timely optimization for a special subset of users). Moreover, if Symonds St had been improved instead of Grafton Gully (let’s assume NZTA could spend money like that — which they can) then we would of course see a similar or even greater result in its counts than what is shown in the Gully today, as the street grid by its very nature hosts geometrically more potential users and trips. Instead we’re seeing Symonds lag, which is especially disappointing given population growth in the area (some of it manifesting in the other counts). Perhaps more counterproductive is the strategic precedent that cycling ought to be served anywhere in the region first by tacking something alongside a motorway corridor, rather than identifying key streets to improve, and weighting by destination, density or potential, or healing severance. But I digress.

    What I would suggest now is that Symonds St and its forgotten friends — Anzac Ave, Grafton Bridge, Park Rd, Ponsonby Rd, Newton Rd, Khyber Pass Rd, Customs St, Princes St, Greys Ave — be added to the agenda alongside K’Rd, Great North Rd, Pitt St, Franklin Rd and Quay St which are at least getting some attention. The city centre cycling “grid” that AT is presenting relies on cartographic sophistry with the motorway paths, whereas they could and should be developing a real grid connecting front doors to each other via the familiar and well-loved streets of central Auckland, where people already are, and not just cyclists. AT currently refuses to even consider Symonds St — despite the multiplicative benefits it would have with the Ponsonby Rd/K’Rd/Grafton Bridge/Park Rd corridor. But I don’t think anyone should wait for them! Support my call for AT to permit the local community to repair their streets (legally) so people aged eight to eighty can start to use them safely and conveniently: http://bythemotorway.be/post/147023746828/an-offer-to-auckland-transport

  2. For the sites with long term data, it may be easier to understand the ongoing change in numbers by plotting the 12 month rolling total. That way we don’t get too side-tracked by the common reduction in monthly numbers through winter, holidays, etc.

  3. Interesting stats. I had a look at the patronage report for Skypath and if you ignore the ‘visitor trips’ as they are going to be mostly walking, the average monthly trip numbers for commuters and recreational use – expected to be mostly cyclists – this is just shy of 56,000 trips per month in year one. Based on the numbers using existing cycle routes (as above), this seems very pie in the sky.

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