They say people overestimate what you can achieve in one year, and underestimate what you can achieve in ten. Same with cities. A decade feels like a loooong time in bike advocacy – and yet it’s also the blink of an eye.
If you'd told me 10 years ago that Blackfriars Road would have a wide segregated bike lane, wide pavements, dozens of hire bikes, lots of bike racks, 'continental' outdoor seating and planting, bus stop bypasses…I'd have said dream on. Well…… pic.twitter.com/UHf5X92mOD
— jamiewallace (@jamiewallace) January 21, 2020
As we peer ahead (through recent smoky bushfire skies from across the Tasman) at what the 2020s might bring, it’s a good time to look back at what the 2010s brought us, and what they taught us.
The first half of the decade: big visions, big plans…
Auckland was working on a plan. The Auckland Plan, to be exact, which would be adopted in 2012. Among its commitments was the Auckland Cycle Network (ACN), which did what it said on the tin: a citywide network of bike routes. With a “best before” date, even! The ACN was set to be delivered by 2026, and 70% completed by 2020. Talk about aspirational!
In 2012, in what was then a quantum leap for the bike budget, Council backed the vision by “front-loading” an extra $5.5 million for cycling into the first three years of its 10-year transport programme, resulting in approximately $10m/year for walking and cycling. At that stage, what was envisaged was largely painted bike lanes.
As we know, paint ain’t protection, and it doesn’t cater for all ages and all abilities. But a basic, bare-bones approach was probably the only way the full ACN could be delivered within the proposed timeframe and budget.
Quality of infrastructure aside, you couldn’t fault the vision: as of the early 2010s, Auckland seemed to be off to a flying start in at least marking out space for people on bikes all over the city.
By 2014, Council was aspiring to spend $30m per year to make it happen, and proposed boosting that even further to $55m a year to ensure the ACN could be finished by 2030, and 70% complete by 2024.
You’ll notice that in just two years, the timeline for completion had
become a bit more pragmatic slipped by four years. And as significant and welcome as the budget felt to us then, it still amounted to a tiny percentage of what the city was spending on driving infrastructure. The race to catch up with decades of neglect was only just beginning, and already encountering head winds.
… the second half of the decade: big investment, and big delivery?
Then, in 2015, a potential game-changer arrived: the Urban Cycleways Fund. Riding on the success of Nga Haerenga/ the NZ Cycle Trail, the National government announced it would match Council funding two-for-one with Crown funds and the National Land Transport Fund, to kickstart world-class cycling infrastructure in NZ cities.
Auckland pitched an ambitious programme of protected fit-for-purpose bike routes (woohoo), to be built from the city centre outwards and around key local hubs in a staged roll-out.
Auckland launched into action via a burst of worldwide fame with Te Ara i Whiti/ Lightpath, and bike numbers surged upwards. But it turned out the transport agencies, designers, and construction industry had a lot of gearing up to do, and initial estimates of time and budget were soon outstripped.
Construction costs went up, and there was some predictable bikelash once it became clear that making streets safer for walking and biking means removing the odd free parking space. Despite rafts of international experience showing the benefits, it seemed it would take Aucklanders a while to get their heads around the economic and social value of of bike-friendly, kid-friendly, people-friendly streets.
Those benefits were spelt out in the detailed Cycling Programme Business Case (CPBC), a ten-year strategic plan for rolling out cycling investment, which was adopted with alacrity by AT’s Board in 2017. The colourful annual Auckland Cycling Account (1, 2, 3) tracked steady progress towards the vision, celebrating milestones and growing ridership.
However, there were further speed wobbles to come. The funding provisions in Council’s 2018 Long-Term Plan didn’t quite match the stated aspirations, and a sudden restructure of AT’s cycling team in mid-programme didn’t exactly speed things along. Some flagship bike projects became inexplicably stuck in design limbo; others were sent back for full redesign; others evaporated completely. The original 2015-2018 UCF to-do list is now heading into a second three-year phase, set for completion by mid-2021.
Looking and planning ahead beyond 2020
Amidst all of this, in early 2017 we drew up our Bike Blueprint 2020, a strategic overview of key routes and areas where NZTA and AT could reasonably fill some gaps and deliver progress by 2020.
It’s certainly interesting to see what has progressed – and what hasn’t – in the last three years.
Officially, the ten-year Cycling Programme Business Case is still the overarching vision. And the original ACN still underpins the planning – for AT; for the NZ Transport Agency’s motorway-adjacent paths (including over the Harbour Bridge); and, at the local level, for Local Board greenway plans and road safety projects.
Still, despite words like “acceleration”, the goalposts for a full citywide network keep marching towards the horizon. As things stand, most areas across our city won’t see safer streets for cycling until well into the 2030s.
On paper and in speeches, Auckland is still officially set to become a fully bikeable city, criss-crossed by safe, consistent, continuous routes, connecting healthy walkable bikeable neighbourhoods.
And there are signs of hope and growth. Although AT builds only around 10km of bike path per year, a pace that has barely changed since the early 2010s, we’re seeing NZTA extend the wider network along the motorway corridors. We’re also seeing more and more collaboration between agencies, local government, and utility companies – see for example Watercare’s involvement in the Tirohanga-Whanui bridge, and the cooperation that led to the astonishingly beautiful Te Auaunga Oakley Creek Restoration project.
It’s also enormously encouraging to see Council, Panuku and Local Boards working together to build local links into their planning for housing and development, as in the upcoming Henderson project. We’re also frequently contacted by housing developers and business associations asking how to play their part in creating a properly networked biking city.
And of course, we’ve upped the call for a swifter, tactical approach by Auckland Transport. With support from friends in Generation Zero, in 2019 we kicked off a campaign for pop-up protection on as many of the painted bike lanes as possible. We hope to have some good news to share on that front, very soon.
Maybe we overestimate what can be achieved in a day, but underestimate what can be achieved in a week..?
The fix is in! Pop-up protection on Ian McKinnon Drive where New North Road joins the main drag. Achieved well within a week. Quick smart work by @AklTransport! ???
Let us know how it feels for you. And naturally, our thoughts turn to: where else in the city can AT do the same? pic.twitter.com/3RGT8KJpgo
— Bike Auckland (@BikeAKL) February 22, 2020
Learning by example
The great thing is, there’s no shortage of overseas examples that show how Auckland could take things up a gear:
- Seville, which famously built 80km of protected bike lanes in just 18 months (now the network is 180km and still growing), and saw an eleven-fold increase in the number of people riding in just a few years…
- Ghent, where a rapid roll-out of low-cost changes saw the city hit its 2030 cycling target of 35% mode share, 11 years early!
- London, where neighbourhood-scale ‘mini-Hollands’ have seen a rapid rise in walking, biking, shopping, and public health.
- Paris, where a go-ahead Mayor has put an ambitious bike plan at the heart of her legacy, and where bike use is up 54% in the last year alone.
- The City of Vancouver, which hit its goal of 10% of travel by bike four years early.
- Melbourne’s plan to become Australia’s leading cycling city by 2030.
Auckland’s proposed Climate Action Framework calls for action “at scale and at pace”, to make it easier to walk, bike and scoot around the city. And the next RLTP ten-year budget will be set in 2021. That means 2020 is wide open for bold leadership and smart, nimble moves towards becoming a city where anyone can bike for everyday trips.
Proof of Concept
The other way to look at the 2010s is: this is the decade that brought proof of concept. Several concepts, in fact!
Firstly, “if you build it, they will come“. In a dramatic turnaround after decades of decline, the number of people riding on the city’s busiest routes rose steadily over the decade, notably on paths that saw improvements and new connections.
Secondly, the network effect, Every new or improved link, no matter how humble, brought a corresponding burst of new riders on all connected paths.
Thirdly – plot twist! – unexpected developments changed the game overnight. In particular, e-bikes (including cargo bikes) tripled the distances people felt confident to ride, expanded the biking demographic by age, gender, and family status, and answered the age-old question, “but what about hills?” And micromobility and bikeshare entered the picture, both showing that you can teach old Auckland dogs new tricks, and that people are quick to work out the shortest and most efficient way between two points.
The Northwestern Cycleway offers the perfect illustration of all of the above. Ridership on this cycling superhighway quadrupled over the decade, from monthly highs of around 10,000 trips/ month to 40,000 at the end of 2019 (with this summer’s peak yet to come).
In 2010, we were freshly celebrating the new link through Kingsland, and anticipating further improvements which duly came to pass. The SH16 causeway upgrade – and the e-bike boom – opened the floodgates from Te Atatu; the Waterview Shared Path opened up new catchments to the south and west; and at the city end, protected cycleways expanded access to and through downtown: Grafton Gully and Beach Road, Quay St, Lightpath, Nelson St, Ian McKinnon Drive and more.
By the end of 2019, NZTA had extended the western end of the NW cycleway to Westgate, and in 2020, AT will strategically widen the bottleneck along the oldest, narrowest section, as we’ve been calling for to keep pace with numbers and improve safety.
Extrapolating simplistically from the last decade suggests that in 2030 there’ll be 160,000 trips a month on the NW Cycleway at summer peak: over 5000 a day. Of course, lots of things could change that number. More safe paths to and through neighbourhoods along the full length would lift it; alternative protected routes to town might spread the load. Either way, as bikes, e-bikes and scooters are used by more kinds of people for more kinds of trips, the boom is guaranteed.
Lake Road offers an equally compelling portrait of the decade.
At the beginning of the decade, in early 2010, we were celebrating the news that the painted bike lanes would stay in place – after two years of ignominious argument, Council made the call to keep the lanes thanks to a petition of 4000+ supporters, the sheer power of logic, and the prospect of having to pay back what it had cost to install them.
In the ten years since, the route has seen a few minor upgrades, no meaningful connections into nearby neighbourhoods like Takapuna and Akoranga and some pointless dithering on critical safety fixes… and the bike lanes are all still paint-only.
Yet local demand continues to grow: local schools have high bike-to-school rates, Devonport originated Bike to Football, Bayswater is jumping on the Bike Train, and the parking at the ferry terminal is full. Like the Northwestern, this key arterial has seen a growth in bike numbers across the decade, but much less so. Looking at the graph below, you can feel the numbers trying to surge, but constantly bumping up against the limitations of paint and insufficient connections.
Will Lake Road see its promised full-scale revamp featuring proper bus lanes and protected bike lanes by 2030? Will the bike lanes get interim safety treatments in the interim? What will the numbers look like in a decade’s time?
Plus A Whole Lot Else to Write Home About
Any way you paint it, the build-out of bike routes and bikeable streets across the city remains frustratingly slow. All decade, AT’s pace has hovered at around 10km a year, which simply won’t get us where we’re going in time.
And yet. Here’s a list of safe bike routes that didn’t exist before 2010, and which is impossible to imagine the city without:
- Grafton Gully Cycleway
- Beach Road
- Lightpath/ Te Ara i Whiti
- Nelson St Cycleway
- Quay St Cycleway and extension
- Westhaven Promenade
- Ian McKinnon Drive cycleway
- The improved NW cycleway, which now extends from Westgate to the city
- Waterview Path
- The SH20 cycleway from Hillsborough to Maioro Road, and the link to Waterview
- Extension of the Te Auaunga paths through Wesley and Mt Roskill
- Onehunga Foreshore recreational paths
- Te Ara Mua/Future Streets in Mangere
- SH20A cycleway through Mangere
- Northcote Safe Cycle Route
- The beginnings of GI to Tamaki Drive in Glen Innes (GI2TD Stage 1)
- Orakei Boardwalk (built early in the decade; recently widened to welcome the flood of riders from GI2TD)
- The Tamaki Path greenway
- Seabrook Ave Cycleway in New Lynn
- Upgrades to intersections all over the city, from Papatoetoe to the North Shore, where we’ve pushed for better.
- And more – what have we missed?
- The NCI paths on the Shore
- Karangahape Road protected bike lanes
- Victoria St cycleway
- New Lynn to Avondale railside cycleway
- AMETI’s cycleways from Pakuranga to Panmure
- SH1 path from Takanini to Papakura
- New protected cycleways in greenfields housing areas such as Whenuapai
- And we’re bound to have missed some!
And, glimmering on the horizon…
- Tamaki Drive cycleway extension, from the Strand to Ngapipi Rd
- Auckland Harbour Bridge Shared Path, and SeaPath onwards to Takapuna
- The rest of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive path
- Local links for the inner west, from Grey Lynn to Pt Chevalier
- Local links in Glen Innes
- Great North Road cycleways, from Ponsonby to Grey Lynn, as one of the first ‘Connected Communities’ projects reshaping key arterials for better public transport and active transport
- SH20B shared path west of Papatoetoe
- Te Whau Pathway awaits proper funding
- Local links for Henderson
- And more!
And, looking beyond infrastructure to data, policy and more:
- The 2010s was when public cycling data became truly public.
- Auckland got a Greenways/ Local Path Design Guide, developed to support Local Board greenway plans
- Plus the new Transport Design Manual
Also, after a major safety review in early 2018, by the end of 2019 AT had adopted both Vision Zero as a safety framework, and a Safe Speeds programme. Both will be a crucial component of bike-friendly local streets – especially those 30kmh zones, as we noted early in the decade. Also at the end of 2019 came a government promise for safer speeds around all schools.
Also, the Government Policy Statement on Transport now prioritises climate-responsive planning and active modes. And having officially acknowledged there’s a climate emergency, Auckland Council is now working on a Climate Action Plan which includes delivering safer walking and cycling “at scale and at pace.”
There remains some unfinished business from the Cycling Safety Panel, especially a mandatory safe passing distance rule. The road code currently recommends 1.5m for safe passing, but this should be enshrined in law – a point made by the Cycling Action Network’s petition. That topic should be coming to the public for consultation very soon, as part of the Accessible Streets package – which we hope will include rules on footpath cycling and priority at side streets.
And Above All, People Power
The other thing we were reminded of all over again in the 2010s – riding on the shoulders of giants and pioneers who have been heroically rallying the troops for decades – was that it’s vital to stand up and be counted!
At the beginning of the decade began, five deaths in five days brought us together and ignited the Bikes for Life campaign, with a huge turnout calling for greater safety for people on bikes. And in the decade since, we’ve seen the continued value of inspiring leadership, a great team, and a growing movement of people willing to speak up and show up in numbers whenever it counts.
Cycle Action Auckland began the decade as a volunteer-led movement funded by membership subscriptions, and has grown into a thriving Bike Auckland, supported by our members, volunteers, corporate partners, donors and patrons.
Our small crew of paid staff now helps us connect with tens of thousands of Aucklanders, via our busy communications channels, community activation via our network of local Bike Burbs, and our popular bike valet parking programme at events across the city.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also record the glad news that the collaborative, constructive, and selfless volunteer work of Barb Cuthbert leading us through this period was appropriately recognised in this year’s New Year Honours list with a Queen’s Service Medal:
Ms Barb Cuthbert has been a professional planner for more than 30 years and has focused her planning work on active transport modes for more than 10 years, specifically road cycling as a form of transportation.
Since 2008, Ms Cuthbert has been the Chair and spokesperson of Bike Auckland. Bike Auckland promotes cycling and is a key stakeholder with Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency, providing feedback on design initiatives and transport strategies.
On a project-by-project basis Bike Auckland has encouraged planners and engineers to cater for the needs of a range of bike users, in road design, transport decisions and urban planning. Ms Cuthbert has been a significant advocate for implementing cycling projects around the city, including securing funding and communicating the importance of relevant planning projects to the Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, local boards and others. She has been instrumental in getting central and local government to work together on cycling projects.
Anyone who’s seen Barb in action knows that’s only the barest summary of her sheer dedication, expertise, and effectiveness at bringing together those who fund, plan and build the infrastructure, and those who want and need it. She’s helped bring the citywide enthusiasm for bikes off the streets and right into “the room where it happens”, in the process, reminding everyone involved of their power and responsibility to deliver positive changes. And in many ways, this shift in Auckland is now setting the tone and pace for the rest of the country.
Barb would also be the first to credit everyone else. All the advocates who paved the way for our work, all the members and supporters and donors who help oil our moving parts, everyone out there who shares the vision. We say it all the time because it’s true: we wouldn’t be where we are without you. Together we’re stronger.
We’re also calling for allies in our cause – organisations, individuals, businesses. Want to be a part of it accelerating change for Auckland? We know you’re out there. Let’s talk!
It’s election year; it’s a climate emergency; and business as usual won’t cut it. Let 2020 be the year of quick smart progress. What’ll it take? And where would you like to start?