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).
The 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.]