The Northcote/Birkenhead areas are primarily residential suburbs dominated by arterial roads catering for motorists travelling between home and motorway.  There is minimal cycling infrastructure, and cycling numbers are low.

But good news – times are changing.  The Kaipatiki Local Board is making a strong push for their Kaipatiki Connections Network Plan, which aspires to connect transport nodes, town centres, schools and community facilities through a network of walking and cycling paths.  Meanwhile, AT is under pressure to deliver the Auckland Cycle Network, particularly where this ties in with SkyPath, cycle commuter routes, and local schools.

So it’s great to see the Northcote Safe Cycling Route conceived, which addresses both organisations’ requirements.  Running between the Northcote Point ferry terminal in the south and Smales Farm in the north, the Safe Cycling Route offers 5.2km of near-continuous cycling infrastructure on both sides of the road.

Route map

Cycle Action has had an opportunity to provide early feedback on the plan, and in general we’re delighted with its overall thrust, though we do have some concerns.  But first, let’s have a look at the route itself.  Initially looking like an ideal cycle commuter route between Northcote Point and northern Takapuna, we also need to acknowledge that the route passes:

  • Two Primary schools
  • Two Intermediate schools
  • Sports Grounds/Netball Centre
  • Northcote Shopping Centre.

The design therefore needs to cater for a diverse range of cyclists – from existing urban warriors, to residents accessing local facilities, through to school children needing to safely travel between home and school.  With limited road reserve, compromises need to be made to satisfy all transport modes, and it’s here that we believe AT has struck a good balance.  Through a combination of buffered on-road cycle lanes, Copenhagen-style protected lanes, and shared paths, the AT design generally provides a safe cycling environment for inexperienced cyclists, and we believe it will serve its purpose in getting more local residents out and about on their bikes.

Here’s a profile of a section on Lake Rd in the vicinity of Northcote Intermediate School.

Copenhagen-style profile

Parked cars form a buffer between cyclists and moving vehicles, improving safety and substantially reducing the “fear-factor” that prevents so many people cycling at all.

Unfortunately the road reserve isn’t wide enough for this type of design for the full length of the route – and this lack of consistency is one of our concerns.  But we understand AT has neither the budget nor the will for large scale property purchase or removal of general traffic lanes, so we accept that at times an adequate “share with care” path is the best we’re going to get in some sections.

But our biggest concern is lack of continuity.  The area in the vicinity of the Onewa Rd dog-leg linking Queen St with Lake Rd is devoid of any planned cycling infrastructure at all.  So just while you’re cruising along enjoying your cycle path, you’re spat off into one of the most hostile and heavily congested intersections on the Shore.  And to make it worse, it’s right next to Northcote Primary School.  So while we give great marks to AT for the overall initiative, we mark them down to “Must do better” in this location.  Like a chain, a cycle route is only as strong as its weakest link, and here there’s no link at all.

But like us, you too have the opportunity to tell AT how to improve an otherwise good design.  Visit AT’s website on the Northcote Safe Cycling Route and tell them what you think.  Feedback is from Monday 28 July until Friday 22 August 2014.  And tell us what you think too.

Perhaps as a PS, you may be wondering how this ties in with SkyPath/SeaPath.  Our understanding is that this is a practical cyclist route which can encompass SkyPath users in the future, particularly if their destinations are Northcote or Birkenhead.  However a separate SeaPath link is envisaged to proceed in a more north-easterly direction and be more closely aligned with the motorway corridor, to link to the southern side of Takapuna.  Like you, we wait with bated breath.

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