Earlier this year, Auckland Transport did something we’ve been asking for a long time: they built a bikeway with very little fuss, at little cost, and (relatively) fast, in partnership with the Auckland Design Office. This is the Federal Street contraflow bikeway, connecting Fanshawe Street to Victoria Street, providing more choices where people can safely ride – even up a one-way street like Federal.

Impressively, this project took less than 2 years from inception to construction – when the average in Auckland is around 5 years for permanent bikeways!

Colouful stuff on Federal Street!

How was it delivered at such speed? Partly because it was constructed almost entirely with paint, planter boxes, ‘armadillo’ separators, and other interim and modular treatments. And partly because, although we understand local property owners were consulted with prior to construction, the plan was to monitor the project and consult the public after the result had some time to bed in.

Feedback is open until Sunday 19 August and we’d encourage you to add your voice. Like so many things bike in Auckland, this project has suffered from teething problems – scroll down for our photo tour and full history! – and it could have used more flexibility and iteration and maintenance once implemented.

But overall, we feel it was (is, and will once again be) a good project, and it brings some bright colour and extra amenity to a part of the City Centre that often is still pretty neglected. We reckon AT should be strongly encouraged to build similar pop-up projects around the city, with lessons learned from this one.

A quick-smart feedback guide

Add your feedback here by Sunday 19 August!  The feedback form asks you to rate five design aspects of the project on a five-point scale, and say why you feel that way. See below for our call…

  1. Contraflow cycleway?  I like it.  We feel that for a street with many driveways, and for an interim project, the contraflow bike lane is a great improvement for people on bikes. However, the ‘sharrows’ section between Wolfe and Swanson (where the road is two-way) and the temporary full removal of the bike lane at the corner of Wolfe/Federal due to building construction are disappointing.
  2. Planter boxes?  I like it. We like the bright colour scheme and the tactical urbanism approach. However, some of the contents of the planter boxes clearly could do with more love.
  3. Crossing on Wyndham Street? I like it. Great to see a bike-priority crossing included. However, the two 90-degree turns south of it back into Federal Street are a bit tight, requiring slowing to a crawl.
  4. Painted dots on the road? Neutral. It looks nice, but we’re sceptical about whether it has significant benefits. Narrowing the road via the new bike lane will likely have had much stronger safety effects (by slowing down traffic, including at intersections).
  5. Painted kerb buildouts? I dislike it. Even more so that the dots, we feel that this doesn’t achieve much at all. And with larger vehicles (as well as cars) often travelling over the painted areas, they’re of dubious benefit for people on foot and bikes. A better solution would have been to use something mountable like speed bumps in this area – these allow larger vehicles who need the space to track over them, but still slow them down.

So remember to fill out that feedback form and encourage AT to do it again elsewhere, with those lessons learned! Feedback closes Sunday 19 August!

The neat things that were done

Let’s have a look at what was built…

1. Arriving along Fanshawe (access westwards only). A bit of paint on the footpath to tell you where to hop off the road; a yellow planter box hints of what lies around the corner…
2. …and turn left onto the new contraflow bike lane. Note the a new kerb buildout, reducing the previously extremely wide side-road entry to Fanshawe Street and making it easier for pedestrians to cross here.
3. Travelling up Federal Street. Sky Tower ahead, and colourful planter boxes and speed bumps guarding your side.
4. Top tip for the urbanist foodie on a budget: Federal St is not only home to top restaurants, but also hosts the back entrance to the famed Food Alley. Like Diagon Alley, but for food.
5. The intersection with Wolfe Street. The polka dots (as seen on Shortland Street) are intended to increase intersection awareness for drivers…
6. That unreal moment when the real thing looks like the render.
7. A short section of two-way street, and the bike lane reverts to just sharrows. True, a contraflow bike lane is not needed to allow uphill cycling here, but…
8. …if you look backwards along it, you kinda wonder whether they could have kept the protection going, maybe by removing those car parks!
9. You can bike through the picturesque Wyndham Square and past the Cathedral (not shown), and then a new combined bike / pedestrian crossing carries you over Wyndham Street. Then, two relatively sharp bends to reenter Federal Street…
10. …where the second section is similar to the first, with blue and green planter boxes. Very pretty, but the planting is looking a bit anemic already…
11. Looking back down to the Cathedral. (Dots and stripes, no longer a fashion no-no!)
12. And crossing Victoria St brings you through to the SkyCity shared space part of Federal St, which is technically not part of the project anymore. No official contraflow lane here, but some more placekit sets to hem in excessive car use and speed…

The good news: Riding it feels safe, and it’s both cheap and cheerful (an important factor when the bike budget remains only 50% funded). True, the project hasn’t added protected two-way cycling (going downhill, you ride on-road), but it has added the neat ability to legally go against the flow, buffered from cars. It works. But.

…there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?

So why has this nifty pop-up project received a bit of a mixed reaction among Auckland bike advocates and urbanists?

Because of something that happened a few short weeks after the original opening in March: a construction site, thanks to the demolition and new construction of a building at the corner of Wolfe and Federal Street. One day, hoardings appeared, and the brand new bike lane… just disappeared into a wall.

13. Looking backwards at the area of Photos 3-5 above, some weeks later. A big construction hoarding has interrupted the bike lane. Like Platform 9 3/4, but not magical at all. 
14. And, at the Fanshawe St end, you’re now greeted by a ‘bike lane closed’ sign.
15. It doesn’t look prettier from the other direction. Traffic can still travel south, but no sign of contraflow bikeways here anymore.

Unsurprisingly, this did not sit well with locals, especially when it looked like the bike lane could have been retained:

In June, Bike Auckland contacted AT to ask for the bike lane to be reopened, asking AT to show some flexibility in their approach, so as to not undermine their own fancy new project.

AT’s staff were apologetic. They noted that the project team had looked long and hard at how this unpleasant outcome could have been avoided – but since the resource consent and construction traffic management plans had been signed off a while before, they were not able to modify the developer’s conditions.

And, while they agreed that it looked like there was still enough space to run the bike lane around the construction, this was only a very temporary state – the majority of the works would take up even more road space, leaving only a footpath and a single, narrow traffic lane.

To show this, they provided us with a copy of the traffic management plan for the later stages. Indeed, the road will become even narrower than in our photos above:

16. The yellow space is the construction site , Federal Street runs top down to bottom on the plan. Not much space left.

At that point, we sighed painfully, and agreed that, at least at this late stage, nothing much was likely to be done.

In the future, for situations like this, construction traffic management plans like this should require the bike lane to be retained, and the contractor required to find a different method to arrange their worksite and the 40-ton digger intended to go onto the site. Better coordination between the authorities in AT signing off such plans, and those planning other projects would also help.

But for this case, it was too late.

However, others on social media argued that since the project team knew of the consented construction site (albeit only a short time before beginning construction of the contraflow bike lane – a task that was completed in miracle time despite three massive storms), the bike lane project should simply not have proceeded at all, should have been be deferred until after the construction of the building had completed enough to not require the road space.

We respectfully disagree. So often, we’ve asked AT to work faster, be more flexible and not delay projects to the never-never. After all, many consents for construction sites happen, only for no diggers to turn up because the financing falls through, or something else delays the building construction. If any potential or planned future works are a reason to cancel or defer a bike project, we would see even fewer bike projects.

Also, while it is frustrating – and rather in-your-face – that the bike lane has been interrupted, the reality is that about 75% of the project remains perfectly usable. This isn’t a major through-route like Nelson Street Cycleway. This is, and was always intended to be, mainly for local access and flexibility. And south of Wolfe, that aspect remains.

So in the end, we think that AT made the right call in a bad situation. And, as we noted above – we think this is a nifty example of the kind of quick project that can transform bike access around the city. The lessons learned should empower AT to deliver more, faster, quicker, cheaper, and cheerfully.

Central Auckland Quick Wins
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3 responses to “Keep calm and carry on up Federal Street?

  1. Are you allowed to bike the wrong way up the Federal St shared space? It feels dangerous because there’s lots of traffic, the taxis just treat it like a normal road and I end up in the gutter. It makes sense to be able to bike up there though because it would complete this bike route.

    1. Tricky. The formal legal answer is probably: not legal – as bikes count as vehicles and there is no formal contraflow lane or signage. At the same time, shared spaces generally have been – in practice if not in this legal matter – been treated differently on this matter.

  2. Did anyone else spot the scooter parked in the cycle lane? The best thing about contraflow cycle lanes are that if drivers open their door into you, the door shuts back on their leg. The worst part is that peds don’t look in the opposite direction of traffic before they walk out into your path.

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