So, National’s transport policy for Auckland was rushed out early yesterday, to hot takes by the NZ Herald (which ran with the story), Greater Auckland (cautiously positive, especially about the NW busway), and The Spinoff (hilariously critical).
While there’s more information to come, what struck us immediately was the absence of any mention of National’s Urban Cycleways Programme and the impact it is having on transport choices in Auckland. We’re mad fans of the way the UCP has transformed the landscape for urban bike travel. So it was noticeable by its absence in the initial reporting of National’s plan for Auckland.
To be fair, this may be an artifact of the way National’s policy was prematurely launched. But at this point in the 21st century, cycling simply has to be part of any big urban transport policy announcement.
Transport is a chewy subject, and often discussed in terms of big ideas and big projects: congestion, the economy, and big infrastructure – roads vs trains vs light rail. But fundamentally, transport is about connecting people: with work, school, opportunities, and with each other.
And, rather urgently as New Zealand has been discovering, it’s also about resilience and sustainability and efficiency and value for money.
Given the way other major international cities are racing to add bike infrastructure to their transport plans for the coming century – and exceeding their targets by leaps and bounds – it’s a glaring omission if cycling isn’t treated as a key urban transport policy, especially for our largest city.
There are bound to be cycling-focused announcements in weeks to come, from National and from other parties – and sure, it’s always nice for cycling to get its moment in the spotlight. But treating it separately sends a perhaps unintentional message: that it’s an add-on, an extra, not ‘real’ transport. And don’t even ask about walking.
So, when we saw Labour’s teaser, with a promise of an ‘ambitious plan for a 21st century Auckland transport system’ and a commitment to making Auckland a ‘world-class city with a world-class transport network to support its growing population and economy’… well, our ears pricked up.
We’ll be watching Labour’s announcement on Sunday to see how truly 21st century it is. And we look forward to more forthcoming bike-specific policies – and more bike-friendly urban policies – from all parties.
In the meantime, here are five reasons any credible 21st century transport plan for Auckland needs to take cycling into account. Like, apart from the obvious one, that bikes are fun and versatile and a city just looks prettier with bikes in it… eh, London, NYC, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Vancouver, Melbourne, and increasingly pretty much everywhere?
1. Bikes are booming in Auckland
Where the cycleways are good, new, and connected, more and more people are riding. According to recent stats from AT, bikes are now one in ten vehicles coming into the city via Upper Queen St every morning. One in three Aucklanders rides a bike at least once a month, and 46,500 new Aucklanders hopped on bikes last year. Half of Aucklanders say they’d ride in the city, if it felt safer to do so.
And, while we all love a good Sunday ride on a smooth new path, the growth on the new city-bound cycleways isn’t not just weekend cruisers.
Just to give one example: the weekday/ weekend breakdown of the impressive growth on the NW cycleway – which has more than doubled since 2013 – tells you that bikes are taking a bite out of the motorway traffic alongside.
2. The electric vehicles are already here
In a short few years, e-bikes have changed the nature of the debate over who can cycle, where, and how. Auckland hills bow down before them, and their ease and range is opening up bike transport to whole new populations: the beyond-city-fringe suburbs, more and more women, parents with kid cargo.
With e-bike sales doubling year on year – e-bike imports are on track to pass 20,000 this year – and a new bike-subscription company promising to unleash 10,000 e-bikes onto Auckland’s streets by 2020, the city will have to make space for them, ready or not. Let’s be ready!
3. Bikes catalyse great public transport
One of the most striking images to come out of the new 10-year Cycling Programme Investment Case for Auckland was this map, showing that half of Auckland’s population lives within a 15 minute bike ride of train stations, rapid bus stations, and ferry terminals.
To put it another way, that’s a parking-hassle-free commute PLUS a free half hour of fresh air and exercise whenever you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be every day – you could go Friding, once a week, for the fun of it – but it’s a significant, meaningful choice. If the streets were more welcoming for bikes, how many Aucklanders would take this option? If the public transport options expanded, how many more?
And not only is bike-and-ride a healthier way to start your daily commute than park-and-ride, it’s also a mighty efficient use of public space. Check out this comparison of the car-parking vs bike-parking at Devonport Wharf.
4. The future is coming
Y’all love the Congestion Free Network, right? You know, Greater Auckland’s brilliant vision for a fully integrated rapid transport network with rail to the shore, and extensions west and east, and that deliciously attractive subway-style map?
We love it too. We love it so bloody much, we added walking and biking to it…
If that gif isn’t working for you, try this wee movie version…
Public transport and active transport: two great tastes that taste great together. This could be our future, if we plan comprehensively, holistically, cleverly.
5. It’s got kids in it
The future, that is. And Auckland. Over 300,000 of them. Do they count in transport policy?
According to the MoT, children of all people spend the largest amount of travel time as passengers in cars: 2/3 of their travel time, on average, is spent literally sitting in traffic. This is a hidden cost of congestion and car-centric planning.
When kids can’t walk or bike safely to school, to their friends’ houses, to the damn dairy as is their Kiwi birthright, because of traffic – they’re missing out on the joy of living in a big city. Is that fair? Are we cool with this? Look at these figures on how well we’re doing at encouraging our kids to enjoy all that fresh air and outdoorsy lifestyle we’re so proud to say is one of our most attractive features:
The good news is, good people are working to turn the tide. At least one onto-it Local Board has built Safe Routes to local schools. And Auckland now has 25 Bikes in Schools programmes up and running, equipping schools with bikes and bike training, to address the ‘lost generation’ who haven’t grown up confidently riding. It costs about $50,000 to set up one Bikes in Schools programme.
Coincidentally (and thanks to Patrick Morgan of CAN for this comparison), that’s also about what it costs for a year of dialysis for a person with kidney failure due to advanced diabetes. Surely there’s a parable about stitches in time in there somewhere.
Look at these faces and tell us you forgot to mention bikes in an ambitious 21st C transport plan.
These kids are going to need safe routes to school. They’re going to need traffic-calmed neighbourhoods to kick around in. They’re going to need the freedom to get out and move around.
They’re going to need, frankly, an even bigger investment in bike infrastructure than even the $635m that the 10-year cycling business case is premised on. As well as highways for bikes, they’re going to need bike-friendly streets. (The design guide for those exists: it just needs activating).
And, if they start biking and walking again in historic numbers (historic being within living memory of their parents), you’ll get an instant ‘school holiday effect’ all year round. Plus, y’know, happier, healthier, more independent young human beings, better equipped for a low carbon future.
We walk and bike amongst you
There’s an old canard about how ‘cycling’ is a minority pursuit. So is swimming in rivers. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to – it means the conditions have talked most of us out of the idea. More than half of Aucklanders want to ride; they’re just waiting for it to feel safer.
According to the MoT’s 2009 Household Travel Survey, ‘one-sixth of household car trips in New Zealand are under 2km long and almost half are less than 6km long’ – eminently bikeable, if you want to. Which political parties will recognise this huge latent potential for unlocking Auckland’s road space by rescuing a few more of us from sitting in cars for daily commutes, accessing public transport, and random daily trips?
Will the Urban Cycleways Programme be re-upped by National before the election? Will it be expanded, by National or others? Will the other parties’ big ideas for Auckland bid even higher for this efficient, cost-effective, and attractive transport mode? Will there be a policy that takes cycling next level – beyond the cycleways and out into our residential streets? Will anyone come out with a way to make SkyPath happen sooner?
What else would you do for bikes if you were writing a 21st C transport policy for our biggest city?
One way or another, let’s do this.