We all share a love of bikes and the joy and freedom of riding around Auckland.  Cycle Action is about celebrating and evangalising this lifestyle, of course. But we’re also about the gritty grind of advocating for better street design, so that the 60% of Aucklanders who say they would ride if there was safe infrastructure can enjoy the city on bikes as well.

And that sometimes has to happen one neighbourhood and one street at a time.

Here’s an update on a small but very significant project for Auckland’s bikeable future: Auckland Transport’s proposed $10m upgrade of Franklin Road in Ponsonby. Best known as the city’s premier street for Christmas lights, Franklin Rd’s strong sense of civic pride is well known through Ponsonby and beyond.

The street is well overdue for an upgrade, with potholes and bumpy footpaths and a dangerous intersection halfway down at Wellington St. In revamping the street, AT aims to (indeed, is obliged to) address the needs of everyone who uses it – motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, whether they be locals or regulars or just passing through.

In the course of the process, some of the residents have decided that their street is unique – in that it is completely unsuitable for cycling. Their proposed solution: that cyclists should just use College Hill as an alternative (College Hill connects to Ponsonby Rd by a route almost 1km further along – talk about taking the long way round).

Unfortunately, the rhetoric about why bikes should be excluded from the street redesign gets a lot worse. I quote from a note sent to the Waitemata Local Board: “Mix the visibility and speed issues on our street [with people on bikes] and you have a serious safety issue and one which will end with blood on someone’s hands. Don’t make that blood be on yours.

Ouch and gulp, I think it’s our blood that they are talking about. It’s hyperbolic, very, very emotional, and upsetting that it’s directed specifically against people on bikes. Apparently, the meetings and consultations have been very intimidating, with local residents who are more than happy with a bike-friendly street upgrade finding it difficult to add their voices in public.

JSK - On an electric bike we are pleased to see!
Janette Sadik Khan heading up Franklin!

Connection-wise, Franklin Road has been an unsung hero of the cycling community. It’s one of only a few key links between “the ridges” (Ponsonby Ridge, that is not Sally or Matthew) and the flat part of downtown Auckland. When Janette Sadik-Khan was in town, the Frocks on Bikes crew chose to bike up Franklin Rd, to showcase how easy it is to get from downtown to Ponsonby and back around in a loop along K Rd.

With all the bike infrastructure happening elsewhere in the central city, Franklin Road is a vital link. Indeed, we understand Auckland Transport has recorded 200 cyclists a day, which is pretty high considering how bike-hostile the street design is currently, and that so far, there aren’t any cycleways at either end (at the bottom end, they are coming soon with the Urban Cycleway Programme routes into town!). An upgrade that’s friendly to bikes is inevitable – and we have to get there sooner rather than later.

Frocks on Bikes heading down Franklin

One of the residents’ arguments against Franklin Rd’s suitability for cycling is the gradient (as if that’s ever stopped people biking, anywhere in the world). It’s a climb, for sure, but I use Franklin Road a couple of times a week (on my electric bike) and I get up there at 25kmh with barely a bead of sweat. On the way down, I take the opportunity to recharge my battery, travelling well below the speed limit. I often see hardier types than me grinding up the hill, some using the footpath, while others hop off to walk their bikes if they need to. With proper cycle facilities allowing everyone to go at their own pace (instead of combining an uphill climb with a nagging feeling of insecurity while being overtaken by speeding cars), the hill will become what it was once before we made it all about cars – a key route that Aucklanders use to cycle from Ponsonby to town and back.

Freeman's Bay School bike track (pic via NZ Education Gazette)
Freeman’s Bay School bike track (pic via NZ Education Gazette)

And not only do plenty of people bike here now, this number will only increase. Nearby Freeman’s Bay School has just opened a Bikes in Schools bike track, encouraging kids to bring their bikes to school not just on schooldays but on weekends with their families. As the chair of the Board of Trustees said, “We are always encouraging our community to use the school grounds on the weekends, as a safe community hub.” And with the liveliness of Ponsonby Rd, the green space of Victoria Park, and the nearby Wynyard Quarter increasingly beckoning people to visit, we all need to be thinking ahead about safe and connected routes for walkers and bikers.

Not only is Franklin Rd a direct link between the ridge and the park, it’s also unusually wide. So it seems like a no-brainer that we go ahead and improve this handsome boulevard for all transport modes, not just for motorists passing through. Adding bike lanes – rather than detracting from the quality of a street – helps calm traffic by ensuring traffic lanes are narrower, and this makes drivers more attentive, which is a positive thing for pedestrians as well as residents trying to get cars in and out of driveways. No parking needs to be lost, either. All around, this could be a win / win.

There’s plenty of space to work with, as this picture shows…

And as recently noted on Twitter by Patrick Reynolds, there are beautiful examples from Sydney that show us what it could be like.

So what are the handful of very opposed local residents so concerned about? Beyond concerns about cyclists on footpaths, the key safety concern seems to be around visibility when reversing out of driveways. They are worried about hitting a cyclist, or a cyclist hitting them… which I guess is where the blood comes in. Given the volume of traffic on the street, though, surely car on car collisions must be a bigger concern?

This die-hard opposition seems concerned that if you build bike lanes, more cyclists will show up (in the same way I guess that if you put up Christmas lights, you’ll get more foot traffic). But this is happening anyway, so we need to plan to accommodate it, not put a paper bag over our heads. And obviously what obscures vision for residents reversing their cars isn’t the cyclists themselves (nor the pedestrians on the footpath), but the large plane trees – a glorious feature of the street, and something we can all agree needs to be worked around – and the cars parked on the road.

A design that prioritises the best safety for all is, surely, what we’re all after. Slower speeds and a careful attitude help everyone.

Unfortunately, it now seems that the extremely strong opinions of the group of opposed residents may find some sway within AT, against the larger questions. With four designs under consideration, AT had an independent road safety audit conducted. The latest news since is that options A & B – which were the only ones with real dedicated cycling infrastructure – may not go forward into further design.

Check it out for yourself here: https://at.govt.nz/projects-roadworks/franklin-road/

We don’t know why Options A & B were deemed problematic. We have asked AT for a copy of this safety audit, as it seems inconceivable that this can be a reasonable result when the remaining options leave serious safety issues unresolved. We have had no luck yet, and may have to make an Official Information Act request (if the audit is not shared at an upcoming meeting – hopefully it won’t come to that).

Those further stakeholder meetings will be kicking off next month, and the team at Cycle Action will be working hard to try and keep high quality cycling amenity on the agenda for Franklin Road. This street could be a shining example for how our neighbourhoods can be positively transformed so they’re not just about speeding cars on their way to somewhere else.

We are hopeful that if we can sit down with Franklin Road residents and listen to their concerns we can contribute towards a solution that keeps everyone happy. But at the moment, anybody interested in making local streets friendlier for people on bikes and on foot should be very concerned with where this is heading.

— Bruce Copeland

Auckland Transport Bikes in Schools Cycle lanes Cycling safety Franklin Rd General News Infrastructure Traffic Calming
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13 responses to “Franklin, my dears: we do give a damn

    1. Hi George, yes it’s tough, I think AT is trying hard to change but it’s difficult turning the big ship around. Maybe what’s broken is our communities democratic processes. We typically have a small number of very intimidating residents, passionate about their views, presenting that they act for everyone. In my observations Resident Associations find it difficult to represent a diverse range of views which any community will have and also balance that with the broader views of people in the wider area. Often the only thing everyone agrees on is they don’t like AT but then we need a happy AT to get things done.

  1. Yes that old objection to separated cycle lanes, it will make it less safe than having none.

  2. Saying Franklin rd is too steep to cycle up is bascially saying Auckland is too steep to cycle in. Any route from Victoria Park or the Wynyard quarter to Pnsonby and beyond requires going up hill. There is no nice easy slope and I prefer Franklin Rd to College Hill (College hill has steeper section that Franklin).

    Is there anything the wider CAA community can do to help get better servie on this street?

    1. Well David, thanks for your concern, supporting CAA is a huge help because we can say we stand for a significant community. Then there are the usual; contact the Local Waitemata Board and tell them of your enthusiasm, talk to friends etc who can help spread the word, write a letter to the Herald or as I did the Ponsonby news, try and engage with people in Freemans Bay and encourage them to come forward with support

      Really upsetting thing about how bad this thing has got when you’d think its a win / win. It’s really a mystery why residents are so focused on stopping separated cycling infrastructure when to our eyes there is so little compromise required. This is a vital link we must win and we have to improve process and communication with the community or else we risk the hundreds of millions committed to new cycle infrastructure, it won’t be spent.

      1. Been a CAA member for years so already have that part covered. I’ll write a few letters as you suggest.

        And agree with you on residents’ associations — they are far from representative. I’ve recently been resident of Grey Lynn and Herne Bay and found both res assocs pretty annoying in the sense that they claim to speak for residents.

  3. I would imagine upgrading Franklin road is not going to be cheap so hard to believe the final designs will have no provision for cyclists!!

    When i worked in the area i cycled Franklin Rd 5 days a week and continue to use when visiting Victoria park & Westhaven marina area.

    Franklin road is more direct that using College Hill road but critically for cyclists it has a number of features that make it the safest option.

    Downhill cycling Franklin Rd involves taking the lane at 40-50km/h (to not impede traffic)

    It would much better for cyclists and motorists if cyclists have their own dedicated lanes so we can travel at lower speeds and motorists know where to look for cyclists!!

    Personally i think AT are negligent if they don’t provide for cyclists on this popular route!!

    1. Hi Damian, the budget is $10m which is a handsome amount. The road and footpath are rumpty, I think the impetus is planned Vector work and after its complete they can get the entire road spruced up. Yes I much prefer Franklin Road myself. What’s aggravating is how Option A & B have been removed from further consideration. It’s very difficult to believe that this is the result of the Safety Audits leaving the only other conclusion is that it’s because of pressure from residents. Thanks for your input

  4. If residents are concerned about vision when reversing from driveways they should exit their drives forwards.
    Vehicles should be turned on the property or if not possible reversed in and exit forwards. This is law in some enlightened countries and i suggest the practice of reversing out is one reason we have so many child driveway deaths

    1. Heh Richard, great point, I will be sure to mention that in the consultation. Maybe the residents that are particularly worried about this point will make the effort to reverse in, alternatively they could install vehicle turntables. I do notice turntables occasionally and maybe the Council has made them a condition for a resource or building consent?

      1. I think you’re right Bruce. I’ve heard that new developments or substantial renovations require vehicles to exit properties forwards. So, if there is no space on a property to turn a vehicle around the only option really is a turntable.

        I am very keen on the cycle lane but do wonder what we do when we get to the top (Ponsonby Rd)? The traffic environment along Ponsonby Rd is about as cycle-unfriendy as you get (high speeds, 4 lanes, lots of parked cars, and distracted drivers).

  5. Franklin Road is a much nicer grade to cycle up that College Hill. As for AT taking advice on cycling safety from a local group who, as far as I can tell, don’t ride bikes, this is an absurd position.

    1. Heh Bryce, nice to hear from you. Yes its an interesting Democratic argument, justifiably residents feel a great affinity with the street they live on and their day to day experiences give them insights that are vital for street design. On the other hand, it seems in many places around Auckland this is amplified by a sense of entitlement to the public realm that can be very difficult if you happen to have an alternative viewpoint. Its difficult to balance immediate community concerns with the rights of the broader community. Before I got involved in advocacy I didn’t realise how offensive people on bikes are to parts of our community.

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