In recent years, Bike Auckland has noticed a troubling trend:
When long-term plans for road upgrades are drawn up, the planners and engineers trying to allocate space for moving cars, parked cars, pedestrians, public transport and bikes often decide that bikes are (still) the ones that can be left out of the equation most easily.
Many key urban arterials – on which we desperately need dedicated, protected bike lanes – are also public transport routes of great importance. And we have seen cycling squeezed out on a number of strategic route plans over the last year or two, such as on Manukau Road. These Auckland Transport-internal documents called CMPs (Corridor Management Plans) aren’t actual construction plans – nothing in them is yet agreed, funded or consulted on – but they provide strategic direction for these routes, and on several, as it stands currently, that status is “sorry, nothing for people on bikes here, and there wont be anything in the future either“).
We also saw this in the Dominion Road planning, where opposition to car parking and cost-saving moves meant that cyclists went from getting first cycleways to then getting wide bus lanes only to getting nothing except back road routes (though, irony of ironies, the back routes were mostly completed, while the PT project is still waiting to go ahead, and may now become light rail).
The same issue even stalls shorter-term improvements, where smaller intersection fixes get declined “because we intend to add a bus lane here later”. Sure, a bus lane may make the ride to work easier for a confident rider. And some experience from other cities is that bus lanes are good for that first wave of cycle growth, which creates the argument for more.
But we’re getting past that now – we need to get people on bikes who’d never consider riding in a bus lane, being like “mice running with elephants”, vehicles literally a hundred times heavier and bigger than they are. And the hazards of bus lanes even for confident riders have been looked at, including in AKL.
Interestingly, AT’s recent – and widely applauded – decision to remove bus lanes from the “complete” bike network clarifies the situation and shows the stark choices that are being made (in the past, they were at times obfuscated by Councils arguing that the bus lanes were a form of cycleway after all).
This fight is one that will be difficult, and is particularly painful as Bike Auckland is a great supporter of public transport – it goes together well with cycling, and in any case, it’s one of the key moves to wean this city off its car addiction. But we can’t stand to keep silent when one good thing is argued as preventing another good thing. Almost all our arterials are big enough to provide for bikes AND buses (or light rail). But usually only if we also accept that cars can’t be king anymore. And that trying to make other ways of getting around our city more attractive needs not “balance” – but a clear and deliberate reprioritising of those modes.
AMETI, out east, is one of the few recent examples that swims against this “buses OR bikes” trend. Even in the more confined section of the route between Panmure and Pakuranga, the busway will have a parallel 4m wide shared path (wedged, together with the busway, between the Lagoon and the cliffside). Once over the new Panmure Bridge, cycling will get a fully separated path. It’s a great project – and it’s also stalled for several years now, because government isn’t putting in enough money.
A more promising short-term example may be Great North Road. It’s a major bus route into the city – but also one of the best, most direct and most gently graded cycle routes, on which we have campaigned since (at least) the late 2000s, with Pippa Coom’s “Ride The Ridges” campaign.
Last year, it was confirmed that Great North Road, between Grey Lynn and the City Centre, would be one of the Urban Cycleways routes. The current project was the brainchild of an AT engineer that Bike Auckland has worked with on a previous campaign of “quick fixes” along some other PT/cycle routes, and who then began cycling himself.
In 2016, we will see consultation for the Great North Road project, which is to provide separate bus and cycle facilities. It may still turn out to be a big fight (most of the remaining on-street parking has to go…) but hopefully, in a year or two we will have our first proper urban example of an arterial that serves both buses and bikes properly, at the same time.
And then we will revisit the plans for those corridors where we were told “there will be no cycleways here, it’s just not possible“. After all, “hopeless” causes are the only ones worth fighting for 😉