Cycling highways: The pros and cons

Cycling highways: The pros and cons

Bike Auckland

Guest Blog by Lucy H.

I posted yesterday about how cycling highways get a comparatively large chunk of time and funding in Auckland. As with any type of transport investment, I think it’s worth considering whether that’s a good thing or not.

Here are some of the pros and cons of cycling highways (according to me). Do you agree?


  • They feel safe. Cycle highways are completely off road and so they tend to feel very safe. This is important because we know that feeling unsafe (PDF) is the biggest barrier to cycling in Auckland.
  • Newbies like them. Auckland has (we think and hope, judging from our rapidly increasing cycling rates) a very high proportion of newbie cyclists who are likely to be most concerned about safety and so be more attracted to our cycling highways and/or tempted out onto the road by them.
  • They have less stops. You don’t have to stop as often as you do on roads. This is awesome for those of with a Type A personality who dislike waiting at lights. It also means less physical effort because you’re not constantly having to decelerate and then accelerate again.
  • They’re often pretty. Cycle highways are often much more aesthetically pleasing to ride along because they are separated from traffic. This means cleaner air, less noise pollution and less need to be constantly vigilant for that guy who thinks it is ok to suddenly pull a U-Turn in front of you. They also often have attractive plantings and run next to golf courses, parks and so on. All of this makes for a much more pleasant experience than riding along the treeless, 4 or 6 lane regional arterials that dominate Auckland.
  • Their cleaner air is good for your lungs. Research shows that off-road cycle ways have cleaner air and are better for cyclists’ health than on-road cycle lanes
  • They’re wide. Cycle highways are wide enough that they can easily be shared by pedestrians, recreational cyclists going very fast to get fit, commuter cyclists who are heading to work and those who are dawdling along for the experience. This means you don’t get the same type of conflicts between users we sometimes see on narrower paths, such as Tamaki Drive.


  • They don’t necessarily go where you need to go. Cycle highways are (by definition) off road and in Auckland they often follow motorways. This means that they don’t always go very close to shops, office buildings, or other places people need to go. In fact, in general with most of our cycling highways they can only take you about say 80% of the way to where you need to go. To do that last 20% to get to the library, doctors, or to work you have to go on road.
  • Exits from cycling highways are often scary. Because cycling highways are often next to motorways, their exits often tend to be in the same place as motorway off-ramps. This means they have very heavy traffic and wide roads (think Ian McKinnon Drive or the Sandringham Road extension). So you can have to cycle through very busy, often intimidating roads to get to your final destination.
  • They assume will you make long trips. Cycling highways are, to a certain extent, built around the idea that people will commute really long distances by bike. For example, the North-Western was built with an expectation that many people will cycle all the way from say Te Atatu to the CBD to work. But in practise we know that in most countries, most cycling trips (like 80%) are very short, under 5 km, so this may not be a realistic assumption.
  • They cost more on average. I have no proof for this but I’m 90% certain that cycling highways cost a lot more per km to build than an on road cycle lane. My friend who is a traffic engineer broadly agrees although he says there could be occasional exceptions.

Tomorrow I will look at why we build so many cycling highways in Auckland. In the meantime, do you agree with this list of pros and cons? Do you think it is unbalanced? What do you think the main pros and cons of cycling highways are?

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