Photo 01By Pippa Coom

In early March I travelled on a private trip to Melbourne with the Velociteers who performed at the Melbourne Bike Fest. I took the opportunity to check out why Melbourne is considered to be one of the world’s most liveable cities. The first thing that struck me was the number of people using bikes for transport, especially young women.

Melbourne suffers from similar issues to Auckland with car-centric city design, excessive speeds and road congestion. However unlike Auckland there is connected bike infrastructure that makes cycling pleasant and safe. It wasn’t perfect but there has clearly been investment in a whole variety of different approaches to encourage cycling – painted green cycle lanes, shared paths, contra-flows, traffic calming, intersection treatments and separated or “Copenhagen” lanes (see the photo below of a lane under construction along the route of an existing painted lane).

Photo 02The Melbourne public bike hire scheme introduced in 2010 has also increased the visibility of cycling. Over the four days I was there I used the service for all my trips. I found it to be convenient, cheap (registration is $2.40 per day with the first half hour free ) and took me to where I wanted to go around the city centre. I was able to make the compulsory helmet requirement work by taking over my own helmet and being willing to carry it around between trips (not an option that suits everyone – although helmets are for sale for only $5).

However experiencing the Melbourne bikes also convinced me that in Auckland we should not make a public bike hire scheme a priority until we can offer connected and safe routes.

I totally support the aim of public bikes being available for transport in Auckland and will continue to work for this (it is a priority in our Local Board Plan) but I don’t think a publicly funded scheme can be justified in the short term when the infrastructure doesn’t exist to send locals and visitors on short A to B type trips around a variety of locations in the city centre and fringe.

Ideally a public bike hire scheme should be funded as well as investment in cycling infrastructure and we shouldn’t have to wait for either but as we have to prioritise right now (from a very limited walking and cycling budget) I don’t think a Melbourne type scheme is top of my list for Auckland Transport to deliver.

[Pippa Coom is a former CAA Committee Member and is the current Deputy Chair of the Waitemata Local Board]

Editor’s Note: The comment about the public bike hire is an interesting one – because it comes back to the chicken-vs-egg question that we often discuss in CAA – are more cyclists needed to get more cycle infrastructure, or do we need more cycle infrastructure to get more cyclists? Will promotion work when the groundwork on the road hasn’t been done yet?

On the other hand, overseas schemes where the city went all-in (such as Paris, or London) have been credited with creating a lot of new cyclists, sometimes even in the absence of other new infrastructure. What do you think? [Note that Pippa’s comments above regarding the Bike Hire scheme have been updated with more context since the initial version of the post.]

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36 responses to “Melbourne – Cycling around the world’s most liveable city [Updated]

  1. Auckland needs public bikes to totally integrate our transport system –it’s a no brainer-it’s common sense- it’s no/low risk -we had one and auckland Transport has spent it’s last 2 years doing feasibility studies on public bikes with no ‘trial’ in sight.
    We don’t need expensive feasibility reports, we don’t nee a trial – we need bikes at Britomart so I can bike round town to my meetings. i won’t have to bring my bike on the train and the CBD can reduce it’s car numbers.
    what a liveable AkCBD that would be.
    What’s the problem?
    what are the issues?
    How long do we have to wait until we have public bikes like melbourne, london etc etc

    1. I have a 7:45am meeting in town on Friday morning 1.5km from Britomart. I want to bike. I need to be in a suit. I can carry the suit on my bike from home…public bikes at Britomart or showers at my meeting place?

      1. Hi Sarge – I have cycled in suits / business dress clothes. It works, especially if you leave yourself a bit of time (to not get sweaty) and even better if you have a European-style bike that has chainguards and mudguards.

      2. Roll suit jacket and shirt in pannier, wear old t-shirt, take facecloth + perfume, ride at sensible relaxed pace – duck into toilet, do facecloth wash of torso, put on shirt/jacket and bobs your uncle.

  2. I was also impressed with the extent of cycling on a recent trip to Melbourne. It seemed that it was normalised in lots of different contexts (e.g. bike racks inside cafes).

    I agree that in Auckland we should not make a public bike hire scheme a priority until we can offer connected and safe routes. We shouldn’t need more cyclists to get more cycling infrastructure. All that is required is more imagination and foresight from transport planners – planning for the future (what our city needs) rather than the present. Clearly we need to move a large proportion of car trips to active and public transport – so cycling levels will need to increase several-fold. The only way to do that is to develop the infrastructure – it is the lack of infrastructure that represents the greatest barrier to cycling for Aucklanders. Build it and they will come!

  3. I love Melbourne and I love the idea of the bike hire but until we start to connect far more areas up with off-road cycle paths along urban roads and create residential areas where the young and old feel safe to ride around the roads we will not see the growth that we all would love to see. Look at the NW cycleway and the Twin Streams paths as an example. How many people used to ride downtown from way out west in the early 90’s? Only the brave. Now you regularly see young children with their parents and plenty of those who would qualify for a Super Gold Card. Sign of success? You betcha!

  4. Maybe it’s just the lazy fatty in me but I can’t help but note that Melbourne is a reasonably flat city. Apart from cycling on the road completely freaking me out, I would find the sheer hilly-ness of Auckland a huge cycling turn off. Who wants to arrive everywhere all puffed and sweaty?

    1. Hi Kate

      Its a fair point that cycling in Auckland CAN involve hills. But not only are there many routes that don’t (or only very gentle climbs) – we also DONT see Auckland cycling correlating with hills. In some parts of Auckland that are quite flat, like around Manukau Central or big parts of the Howick Ward, cycling numbers are extremely low. Whereas the Waitemata Ward – one of the hilliest outside of the Waitakere Ranges Ward! – has the biggest cycle numbers in Auckland.

      As I said, obviously hills will play a role – I just rode up one to get home, and I certainly would have preferred a flatter grade! But as we can see in various parts of Auckland (or many hillier towns of places like Switzerland!) other factors are much more important.

    2. Kate, I have lived in Melbourne and it is not that flat. There are quite a few hilly parts especially in the North of the City. Probably not as hilly as Auckland but it is a big place so I am sure there are hilly parts in the ‘burbs where I never went.

      Also, have you considered an electric bike? I have one and it is a real game changer in terms of hills and head winds.

      Max is absolutely right that cycling is popular even in places where hills are a factor. In Norway they have ski lift type facilities for bikes on hills, so it is really just a matter of priority on spending.

  5. As Nigel has pointed out above the helmet law is a turn off for bike hire and many who would utility cycle. When I was in Melbourne last I noted the hire racks were full of bikes and there was a sign pointing out you could buy a cheap helmet at a shop along the road. Hardly encourages hiring a bike you would walk there quicker by the time you purchased a helmet then I suppose you throw the helmet away afterwards if a “casual” hirer??

    1. At $5 you could conceivably throw the helmet away after a few rides, and I presume tourists will do that… but it certainly reduces the convenience public hire bikes are supposed to provide.

  6. This is the problem with Auckland.
    A lot of sitting around and doing nothing. Of course we need a bike scheme because tell ourselves we live in a world class city.,While there is clearly an issue with infrastructure the main issue is inaction. Last time I looked outside I saw a lot of roads. Bikes can go on roads. They’ve been doing it for years. It won’t happen overnight but by putting a bike scheme in the number of cars will reduce. If we wait for infrastructure to change or (worse) for attitudes to change before doing something we will end up as one of the most congested cities in the world. A bike scheme is the easy/cheap part so let’s do that now and work out the rest as we go. Putting a scheme in will actually cost less than doing a feasibility study on whether to put a scheme in!

    1. Hi Neil

      Query for argument’s sake: How BIG a public bike hire are we talking? The London and Paris bike hire schemes were enormously expensive (have a look at the Wikipedia articles if you are interested to read more) – and that was extremely expensive on a a per-bike basis, not (just) overall.

      Its fair enough that we don’t need to go that expensive – NextBike operated (comparatively speaking) on a shoe-string basis, so it can be done. I guess what I personally (not CAA opinion) feel is that we should not spend the money on a bike hire scheme if the money was taken from the infrastructure fund for cycling. It has to be additional.

  7. Great post Pippa
    Clearly we urgently need both infrastructure and hire bikes – and it’s frustrating given the size of roading spend by Auckland Transport that budget is so squeezed we can’t prioritise both. I wonder if there could be a creative solution short term – could Council part-subsidise hire bikes but use them to carry advertising messages so the cost of the subsidy is at least part attributable to council comms budget? Alternatively could Council part subsidise but on a matching-funds basis with a corporate that is committed to a sustainability agenda and wants to get that message across through naming rights/advertising? And perhaps has a large HQ downtown where their staff could get free/discounted bike hireage..?

    1. Yes definitely agree we need both and we need more budget! Short term we(the Board’s transport portfolio team) have asked AT to consider how bikes can be made available to hire as we roll out our greenways routes. I also understand that AT will provide free or subsidised bikes for a short period to businesses taking part in their travel planning programme (which is proving very effective at getting commuters to give cycling a try)

  8. Adelaide’s experience with their free public bikes is that the main target audience (commuters) do not use them. The primary issue is likely the same as Aucklands. To encourage people out of their cars you need an effective service that starts at their front door, i.e. you are unlikely to get drivers onto bikes once they reach the city centre. With 600 bikes avaliable to visitors to Auckland, the on road demand obviously exists for tourism cycling (and safety is not a huge disincentive) but unlike London (for example) Auckland’s primary infrastructure issue is that in order to have a cost effective ancilliary public bike hire scheme (servicing commuters rather than tourists) an effective/ well utilised public transport network needs to precede such a scheme.

  9. There are enough connected safe cycling routes in auckland to get this started and started now. If we want a to increase cycling and the use of public bike hire is a huge part of that picture then get on with it – It has been proven that it will be used thanks to the vision of the team at NEXT bike. I fear that politics will get in the way of this yet again and we will still be talking about it in 10 years time. As for the so called helmet “issue” you simply need a weather proof helmet rack with each in its own cubby hole that can be unlocked with the code given when you pay for the hire. A credit can be given for the safe return of the helemt. Stop putting up barriers and get on with it… Please ….

    1. Your definition of safe and my definition of safe must be quite different I think.

      1. And by safe I mean the kind of facilities s 10 year old or a 65 year old could easily ride without having to share space with motor vehicles going at more than 30 km/h.

        1. To be fair to Greg, he probably means “safe enough not to use the state of the network as an excuse to NOT provide a bike network” – especially if the funding was coming from, say, car/truck funding, rather than be a reduction in cycle infrastructure funding.

          And I agree, and probably, Pippa would agree as well. But some people, when asked whether Auckland should fund such a scheme, even with “free” money, would probably argue that it shouldn’t be done until we have a much better network. Is that what you were trying to say, Greg, or am I missing your point?

  10. For me, the most important insight in this piece is how the public scheme in Melbourne has raised the visibility of cycling per se. Life for all cyclists in Auckland will only improve if there is an attitude change towards cycling – in short it needs to be normalised in our culture. We simply can’t wait for infrastructure to start this process of normalisation – it will take too long.

  11. Face palm.

    We are slipping behind all other major cities by not investing in cycling and it is making us look bad. Actually, backward. Cycling is considered a chic healthy and smart way for all sorts of people to get around cities, and New Zealand looks like we are stuck in the 60s with our continued investment into tarmac, ignoring the obvious decline in oil availability.

    We need to redeploy funds for new roading infrastructure into cycling ASAP – to make it safe and easy and enjoyable to get around our city on bikes. It is the responsiblity of our elected individuals to do what is maybe currently unpopular or challenging to prepare our people and shift the culture for the changes that we will need to make in the years ahead. The price of everything that has a transport or oil element will rise exponentially (so, pretty much everything!) and personal cars will become a luxury.

    This is no radical left wing fearmongering – this is just perfectly rational supply and demand facts.

    The time to act is now. Pippa – time to take on the councillors! We are behind you!

  12. “A journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step”. We need to stop debating and start taking positive actions. We seem to be heading in the right direction with infrastructure. Cycle lanes on our roads are becoming more common, and cycle and pedestrian dedicated pathways are springing up. We need to “normalise” cycling as a valid transport method as well as a leisure activity. A bike hire system would a great a step on this journey.

  13. A great article about two cities I love!

    Culture change (at any level)is slow, and in my experience requires courageous leadership to make it happen. Everyday I take my life into my hands here in Auckland to commute 7 km along a congested arterial route to ‘work’. I save financially, and I save time. I don’t have anywhere to store my bike safely, I don’t have a shower (or locker) to freshen up in (poor work colleagues!). From a health perspective I am much better off on a daily basis ( if you exclude the two shoulder reconstructions I have had from commuting/cycling related accidents).

    Whanau ora considers the whole person benefit, and integrated approach to social and health services…this would probably translate well to the per $ benefit of having safe cycling infrastructure (positive health benefits plus reduce commuter accident costs). This is a tricky local and national government issue that Nick Smith and Len Brown need to negotiate.

    I’m for infrastructure first – then schools will let my kids bike to school, and generation by generation we are better off.

    1. I am 100% behind you on all your comments, Sarge. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    2. “I’m for infrastructure first – then schools will let my kids bike to school, and generation by generation we are better off.”

      This is where AT and NZTA should be working really hard. At the moment AT are spending time on cycle training for the kids but this alone is not good enough. Bring on the Dutch style 30 km/h zones and then link them via off-road paths to enable kids to get around safely on their bikes. The same grown ups who wont let their kids near the road because they believe it to be dangerous are the same grown ups that resist any changes to slowing traffic down or lane removal to make the roads safe to use for all.

  14. Did London, Paris, Montreal, Berlin, New York……………. and several hundred other cities, all fret over ‘connected bike infrastructure’ before building public bike schemes. No. As someone else notes we have roads.

    And it’s not necessary to launch a city wide scheme in one go. Start modestly in areas where it will it will clearly work well, waterfront and lower city, and grow a public funded scheme ( as all schemes are globally)from there

  15. Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Perhaps I should clarify that I am thinking about prioritisation in terms of the small funding pot that is available now. We have to decide on our top priorities so where should we rank a bike hire scheme? Of course I want Council (the governing body and Mayor)to allocate a much larger budget and for AT to be delivering ASAP a fully connected and safe cycling network with integrated transport choices including public bikes. This is what the Waitemata Local Board is committed to achieving.

    1. I have got to commend the Waitemata LB on their work with the planned greenways. I do have to ask why AC and AT are not taking these ideas and running with them on a regional scale. Well done Pippa.

  16. Yes about time we caught up with the rest of the World when it comes to biking around our cities . I see some bikes for hire dotted around Auckland so maybe that Company could be given some help from Council to get further established

  17. I recently visited Auckland and cycled to and from the city to Greenlane. Auckland has a great climate and beautiful views while cycling, but it doesn’t promote cycling. I shared the lane with the buses (encouraged me to go faster), had major difficulty finding bike parking, and hardly saw any other cyclists on the road. I also could not get a printed copy of the inner Auckland cycle map. Conversely, my melbourne commute consists of on road bike lanes (off main roads), cycle priority crossings on shared paths, advance crossing lights for peds and cyclists, and locked cycle storage at work. Auckland needs more ordinary people on bikes, and more cycle infrastructure to encourage this, before it can be considered anywhere near cycle friendly.

    1. We would not disagree with any of that, Kev! Bring it on. Shame we can’t make all AT bureaucrats cycle to work for a week!

  18. Biking along waterfront in Auckland is very nice. Tourists would be happy to use them.

  19. HI
    the city that I think has done the best on both public cycling infrastructure and routes is Montreal. If they can do it, when its a city lost under snow for part of the year, then we can do, hills are just red herrings.

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