One of the tenacious grumbles about biking in Auckland is that it’s too hilly. (The other is that it’s too rainy – but that was mythbusted some time ago. Turns out if you bike to work every workday for a year, odds are you’d get wet on 12 of them. Pack a parka, people!). And Wellington and Dunedin could certainly chime in with the same complaint.

Lisbon faces the same issue, in that the city is literally built around seven hills. In fact, that’s its nickname: A Cidade das Sete Colinas (The City of the Seven Hills).

But Lisboa Horizontal, a new proposal by Brussels & Lisbon-based landscape architecture firm BXLX, offers an ingenious way to flatten Lisbon’s hills for most riders, across most of the city, at minimal expense.

What’s “flat”? Well, an acceptable gradient for ordinary people on bikes is anything up to 4%. How many streets meet that criterion? Turns out, about 63% of Lisbon’s streets are bikeable by anyone. A further quarter can be managed by bike-fit enthusiasts, which leaves only 12% best tackled by the truly brave. Or, ahem, the electrified.

Lisbon bike tour. Start here, end up anywhere, if Lisboa Horizontal happens. (Pic by Els Vannylen, via Tripadvisor)
Lisbon bike tour. Start here, end up anywhere, if Lisboa Horizontal happens. (Pic by Els Vannylen, via Tripadvisor)

The next step is to map those easy streets, and here’s the lovely thing: to colour-code them by area, taking inspiration from the existing metro lines. That means red, gold, and blue, as well as the familiar Kermit green. (Perhaps the good people of Franklin Rd could pick a fresh colour for their upcoming bike path?)

Even better, for those of us who follow our noses and sometimes get lost: the writing is, not on the wall, but on the street in front of you, because wayfinding is included on the paths themselves. (A strong lesson for AT, currently working through feedback on Stage 1 of the wayfinding project for Dominion Rd back streets: built-in signage that lets people travel uninterrupted!).

Another thing to love about this proposal: the way car-parking on arterial roads is deployed to protect the new space for cyclists. Textbook stuff.

Pic via Facebook
Pic via Facebook

If Lisboa Horizontal is implemented, 65% of the city becomes accessible to pretty much anyone on a bike. Add in some nifty tricks for the hills (Trondheim-style bike lifts, or simply racks on trams and buses), and suddenly 85% of the city is yours for the biking. See how it works in the video below.

Horizontal Auckland, anyone? 

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6 responses to ““But Auckland’s too hilly” – Really? Ask Lisbon

  1. Augh! How simple and how wonderful! And how committed and deliberate. Keep these overseas examples coming – we need our leaders to see that this kind of thing is not only possible, but good for everyone. Side note: I tried to explore the Dominion Rd Cycle Bypass Pac-Man Experience the other Sunday. I felt sad, and a little afraid. Another completely, utterly half-arsed waste of time and money. And I’m being polite.

    1. “Dominion Rd Cycle Bypass Pac-Man Experience” – the perfect description! Except without the fun ghosts and strategically placed energy dots. Those streets are lovely to pootle around if you live on them, but as a commuter route or shortcut, it’s almost obtusely bonkers.

      Honestly, I look at this Lisbon example and I think: how many pots of paint will it take? What’s the budget for that? And can we start tonight?

  2. Great article, Jolisa. BTW, Chris and I fell in love with e-bikes doing the 7-hills tour of Lisbon with http://www.rent-a-fun.com/. Arlete and her crew were just amazing. It persisted with rain, was dark, and dang dodgy with them trams running up and down the way, but WHAT! a fabulous fun time we had.

    1. I agree – this is SO sensible. Those of us who ride bikes know how to use Auckland’s topography to get on the ridges and connect to our destinations without having to lose too much height.
      But it would be a useful exercise for Auckland to reply to the naysayer councillors who live in cars and know zilch about cycling in Auckland. Pippa Coom did a great project while on Cycle Action’s Committee on getting Council funds to signpost destination local centres that were built on the tram route, and which therefore have easy gradient. It’s time we boosted Pippa’s initaitive and expanded it with a map of this type.
      I’ll send the idea to AT.

  3. Thank you for the article and for the positive feedback – never thought the idea would be picked up in New Zealand ! Would be nice to be able to do this study for Auckland as well.

  4. I’ll take Auckland’s interesting, challenging and fitness-improving hills over a pancake flat city like Christchurch any day!

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