With increasing improvements for people on bikes, we sometimes hear concerns pedestrians might be getting a raw deal. These often fall into the category of “Cyclists are getting better treatment than pedestrians” or even “These new cycleways are dangerous to pedestrians!

This is a particularly ironic kind of “bikelash” – setting foot traffic and bike traffic at odds with each other in a world that’s built around cars.

How to respond? Well, we could talk about how untrue those statements are, given that investment in footpath construction and maintenance have massively exceeded cycleway funding for all of Auckland’s history. We could remind people that serious pedestrian-cyclist crashes are incredibly rare (we have heard of a *single* case of a cyclist-pedestrian fatality in NZ – in Hamilton, over 10 years ago – whereas car driver crashes kill hundreds of people in NZ every year).

We could, but enough of that for today.

Amiable Amsterdam. Pic via Flickr
Amiable Amsterdam. Pic via Flickr

What we need to discuss now is how to avoid being driven into a marginalised corner together. And on how to join forces for a better city. Because pedestrians and cyclists, while not always suited to sharing perfectly in urban situations, really want the same thing: a better, safer, more urban city.

A city where cycling and walking both work well. A city in which we switch between walking and riding a bike effortlessly, with the joy that comes from a city that frees us, that loves us, and that we can love back. A better Auckland.

And if we buy into the idea of a zero-sum fight between a better pedestrian environment and a better cycling environment, we risk losing both.

By way of example, at the moment, AT is proposing a “sort of shared path” (actually, a cycleway alongside a footpath) on Franklin Road. Some residents are concerned that this design endangers pedestrians. And yet, the paradox is that this particular design was a response to the desire of residents to keep a lot of roadside car parking and a wide flush median in the middle of the road.

The implicit message of the trade-off we’re all currently being offered: car drivers are king; we’ll design around the car – everyone else, here’s your sweepings, squabble amongst yourselves.

We are better than that.

Cyclists and pedestrians are natural allies in pursuit of a liveable city. As Gil Penalosa points out, every journey begins and ends with walking. We walk to our bikes or buses or trains; we walk from our bikes, buses and trains to our destinations. Even drivers walk to and from their cars.

Making a city walkable renders it more bike-friendly; and a bikeable city reinforces a pleasant space for pedestrians. A recent article from The Atlantic’s CityLab sums it up: “It’s safer to walk and bike where more people walk and bike.”

If we have to share travel space occasionally, we should do so with grace. We should also be attentive to the ways our journeys overlap and intersect, and we should use that shared experience of the city to demand more and better for all of us.

Here are some semi-random examples, from my own experience:

  • As a CAA committee member, two years ago I turned up at an AMETI stakeholder meeting via walking and PT – to meet the Walk Auckland committee member who had cycled there!
  • Before I moved out of the City Centre into the ‘burbs two years ago, I regularly joked that I was the CAA committee member who cycled least – because most of my trips were usually so short, I walked everywhere instead.
  • Now I cycle daily along the Northwestern Cycleway – a project created out of whole-cloth by advocates including from CAA, and pushed forward ever since. These days, that cycleway is full of pedestrians the closer I get to the city. They, too, find it great to have a car-free route. But it’s getting more and more difficult to share, because parts of the path are bloody narrow, having been built with no concept of future demand – or indeed with the idea that pedestrians would walk several kilometres into the city. We’ve been asking NZTA and AT to start dropping shared paths from the menu, and build more separated paths and protected cycle lanes instead. Until then, I try to always overtake with space left over, and give a friendly “Thank you” to people stepping aside when I ring my bell.
  • A few years ago, Cycle Action started a project with Auckland Transport to review existing cycleways across Auckland for deficiencies. The project very quickly morphed into a walking AND cycling project instead – because when you see how shoddy some of our streets and intersections are for pedestrians, why would we begrudge adding those fixes to the list? I’d be ashamed, as a pedestrian and traffic engineer, if I ignored those issues. And AT’s new walking and cycling boss may have cycling as her public flagship – but she’s not ignoring pedestrians either. She’s a bright light for both of our groups.
  • For SkyPath, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists joined forces to support a project that the naysayers pilloried for being unsafe because it is a shared path [Full disclosure: I am the traffic engineer who led the traffic design of the project, and while I would have loved separate paths, we made the call that it just wasn’t doable yet at this stage of Auckland’s transport funding and climate – but maybe one day in the future we’ll get two paths. Here’s to dreaming big!]

It’s worth watching again the Skypath Trust’s video clip of travellers on Vancouver’s Sea Wall. What we see is pedestrians and people on bikes, coming and going; talking, breathing, getting somewhere. A community in motion. Our future lies in both pedestrians and cyclists coming together – ideally, separated by a kerb; but where needs be, connected by a smile and a friendly wave.

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5 responses to “Common cause – we’re all in it together

  1. Max, I agree that cyclists and walkers are natural allies and should fight tooth and nail to take more space from roads. I say fight tooth and nail because as I see it the road designers have spent too long providing wide roads for cars and other vehicles without considering that where, say, residential intensification is occurring then road space for cars, trucks, and buses must become smaller and speeds much slower. This may even include re-designating arterial roads as residential streets (e.g. Lake Road on the North Shore) and banning cars in certain areas – easy places to start might be Devonport village, perhaps parts of Te Atatu, and maybe the very popular sections of Tamaki Drive.
    However what my view also means is that things like the Beach Road Cycleway need some substantial redesign because they lead to much more conflict between cyclists (the cycle lanes are very narrow) and between cyclists and pedestrians (because pedestrians have to look both ways before crossing the equivalent of a narrow vehicle lane) . As an experiment the cycleway has been a useful learning experience which, to me anyway, strongly suggests that Beach Road should be made narrower for cars (after all the cars should be on the motorways, not in city streets where people live) and much more space given over to walking and cycling. However with the benefit of hindsight I think that the experiment shows how pedestrians can feel like cycling opponents because of the installed cycling treatments.
    Perhaps the answer for Franklin Road is to make it single lane one way for cars, trucks and buses while retaining two way for pedestrians and cyclists.

    1. Hi Tony

      I would like more comment regarding your concerns about Beach Road – I have heard criticisms regarding it being impractical because “on the wrong side” and because it is bi-directional, but haven’t heard issues about it being too narrow (3m between buffers for cyclists only) or a problem for pedestrians. Nor have I experienced those issues myself – could you explain a bit more? Cheers

      1. Hi Max,
        I guess, if nothing else, more width on both sides of the intersection with Te Taou Cres would allow riders crossing diagonally to wait to the right of that lane with an island and a button for the light (or a sensor pad???) while riders going straight through can pass them on the left.
        The current design encourages those crossing to sit well left because that is where you have to go for the button for the lights and people approaching from behind to go straight through and on to custom street don’t always anticipate bikes waiting at the lights crossing on the green.
        While this should be improved as the cycleway continues on to Britomart there will be a number of users who will continue straight ahead to use Anzac Ave, Emily Place and similar.

        1. Yes, that’s a fair point. Side “pockets” for turning at cycle signals have been used in many other places overseas (not sure whether in NZ). I will keep an eye out for locations that could use it in other projects too.

      2. Hi Max,
        It’s a major first world inner city problem 😉 ……….., so lower in terms of priority than the lack of cycle infrastructure in places like Great North Road Avondale and along roads like Greenlane, Balmoral, and St Lukes. I hadn’t noticed until very recently that clearly way more money gets spent on cycling for my selected inner city routes than is parsimoniously doled out out in the ‘burbs where many of my workmates cycle from.
        For me one of the Beach Road issues is that as you come out of Churchill St heading north onto the bike path the marked width available changes to 1.5 m from 5 -6 m for the Churchill St shared path. In Churchill St it’s easy to ride 2 abreast and share with the pedestrians. As you bear left onto Beach Rd (particularly at dusk) you must go single file because it’s difficult to see cyclists coming towards you amidst the glare of car headlights.
        The 1.5 m width is about half metre too narrow for 2 abreast unless you’re used to racing in close company and even that might not be enough for 2 abreast when you go past the storm water grates and the concrete surrounds in the kerb.
        It seems like a problem for pedestrians who don’t realise the cycleway is 2 way. It’s noticeable that they look in the direction that cars are coming from when they cross the cycleway, but not the opposite direction where cyclists may be coming from too. That’s why I think that narrowing the road for cars and having a cycle lane on each side seems a better option, similar to the Carlton Gore Road approach. Cheers

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