Cycleway openings are a rare occasion this year, as delayed projects work their way through the pipeline. So it was a treat to roll along to the opening of the renewed Franklin Road last Wednesday.
Of course, this wasn’t formally a cycleway project, even though the results include high-quality bike lanes. This was a massive, full-noise street renewal, undertaken from the ground up. From the underground up, in fact!
This grand old street has had a nose-to-toes makeover, starting with buried utilities – no small thing, as this included separating the old combined public sewage and stormwater pipe, which had led to sewage overflowinginto the harbour when rain flooded into the pipes. The separation is welcome news for all of us who value our sparkling Waitemata!
Next came the full-on reshaping of the kerbs, creating proper tree pits to protect the roots of the grand old trees, with parking pads in between – and reconstructing the intersections, including a spectacular new roundabout that gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
Plus, of course, those smooth new bikeways on both sides of the road, and gorgeous widened footpaths that continue across side streets on raised tables.
The long and winding road
This one’s been a long time coming, which made the opening all the sweeter. In her speech on the day, Waitemata Local Board chair Pippa Coom acknowledged the tenacity and teamwork of the many people involved in bringing this project to fruition – from Auckland Transport, Council’s stormwater team, Watercare, Vector, and Chorus, the Local Board, local residents, and other stakeholders, and the contractors who did the hard yards.
The upgrade of Franklin Road had been put in the ‘too hard basket’ for decades. When I was first elected, I received many complaints about the poor surface of the road. Maintenance had been deferred as costs escalated due to the combo of challenges and costs of accommodating the historic plane trees, ancient underground pipes, utilities, parking and residential, business and transport requirements.
Getting to the right design outcome was an iterative, and at times, painful process that I hope we can all look back on and agree we’ve ended with a finished design that we can share in and be proud of thanks to persistent advocacy of the Freemans Bay residents, Bike Auckland and others. It also took courage from the Auckland Transport team to be open to keep making changes to achieve the best outcomes for everyone.
Quality design, tangible results
The project clocks up several firsts, as Pippa noted. The roundabout at Wellington St, for example, “is the first of its kind in Auckland that is actually designed to slow traffic and prioritise people walking” and biking. The raised speed tables at side streets, for the full length of the street, which are already proving their worth not just in terms of safety, but health as well,
Roscoe [Thorby, of Christmas lights fame] has confessed to me that because of the raised tables, rather than driving he now walks to the gym pre-dawn without fear of tripping up. This morning our kaumatua were able to glide down the street with their strollers. And, as I headed back up after the blessing, it was a highway of active commuters. We hope to see more kids encouraged to walk, cycle or scoot to wonderful Freemans Bay Primary School as a result, too.
This project was also a bit of a first when it came to the community and AT working together to break the deadlock and find a way to install quality bikeways. Earlier designs had offered first, painted lanes (bad!) and then, briefly, no bike lanes at all (worse!). For a while, discussion got bogged down around sightlines and tree roots and how to locate residents’ parking and what would happen to the median strip.
To move things along, Bruce from Bike Auckland commissioned a potential design showing comparable treatments from elsewhere, as a collective focus for discussion. One of the images was so convincing that people thought it was a photoshopped Franklin Road! It was Rotterdam. But it could have been Franklin Road, which reminded everyone of the shared goal – a safe, beautiful street.
Later on, it became clear that the bike lanes would thankfully be included – but wouldn’t have a solid separation as they’d be located outside the parked cars. In response, our Max made the case that AT should at least add some vertical separation, as a key safety feature to reduce drivers drifting into the bike lane while travelling along the road. He provided the design team with example photos (from the US in this case) that – again – are not dissimilar to the finished product.
At the opening celebration, we heard stories of how bike taxis had used the completed sections of lanes last December, ferrying Christmas-light viewers up and down the street. And anyone who’s ridden the lanes at night from Ponsonby down to Victoria Park, especially in winter, knows the delicious surprise of seeing the lit-up city skyline in front of you, one of those secret treats we on wheels take for granted.
We also watched people in mobility scooters and on e-scooters confidently using the lanes to come and go, not just from the ceremony, but just on their way to wherever. To quote Pippa again, “What I really love about this project is that the design puts people first.”
Next task: join the dots
We know there are still regular issues with people parking in the lanes, usually for “just a minute” (which, for the record, is 60x longer than it takes to get knocked off your bike, scooter, or mobility if you’re forced to move out into live traffic). AT has promised more enforcement while people learn the ropes. So don’t be shy about phoning in examples like the one below to AT, with time and location.
And while the new lanes create a handy link between Ponsonby and Victoria Park, the obvious next call is: only connect!
A design for bikeways on Victoria St is in the works (including a safe intersection treatment where Franklin meets Victoria). We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but would be delighted to see some tangible progress on that before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Ponsonby Road is apparently in AT’s proposed “integrated corridor priority programme“, which aims to optimise key arterials for public and active transport. Again, we have no firm timelines, but be assured we will push hard for the best possible results.
To echo Pippa’s conclusion:
This is a significant exemplar lighthouse project that will make us re-imagine the possibility for our streets across Tamaki Makaurau. I am sure it will be an award winner. We can look forward to Franklin Road lights this year on what is the most beautiful residential street in Auckland.