Onewa Rd in Birkenhead is a difficult environment for cyclists. There is no cycling infrastructure at all, and only the bravest and fittest of cyclists are willing to share the eastbound T3 lane in the morning peak, and dodge around parked cars into the westbound uphill traffic in the evening peak. AT acknowledges this too – the link remains deliberately unmarked on their North Shore Cycle Map, and is not recommended for cyclists. Yet the route is proposed on the Auckland Cycle Network (ACN), and just looking at a map you can tell it’s a key connector between Highbury/Birkenhead and the Northcote Safe Cycle Route, SkyPath, and the three schools along the length of Onewa Rd.
So it was with some applause that we greeted AT’s plan in 2012 to implement a westbound T3 lane in the afternoon peak, including cycling improvements to make it safer and more attractive for existing and new cyclists, but we were concerned the proposal was only for a bi-directional shared path on the southern side of Onewa Rd. Cycle Action submitted on the proposal and provided copious suggestions for improvement, the key one being that a shared path should be created on the northern side as well. This would both spread the cycle load to reduce conflict with pedestrians, and importantly it would reduce the likelihood of a crash between cars exiting from driveways and hitting cyclists unexpectedly approaching at speed from the left – a well-known disadvantage of bi-directional shared paths.
The project went on the back burner for a while because a few residents and shopkeepers didn’t like the idea of losing on-street parking in the afternoon peak. This sacred cow rears its head whenever AT attempts to use the roadways it manages for their primary purpose – the safe and efficient movement of people and goods – and can often torpedo projects completely.
Meanwhile the Corridor Management Plan (CMP) for the Onewa corridor through to Birkdale was released for feedback in August this year, and we were delighted to see the shared path referenced on both sides of Onewa Rd. Great – AT is listening! Even better, they agree with us that shared paths are a sub-optimal design option for both pedestrians and cyclists, and are only put in where width and cost are significant constraining factors. AT is looking to provision separated infrastructure in the long term (10 year time frame) as budget becomes available.
You can imagine our mixed feelings to find a shared path on the southern side only when AT announced their decision to proceed with the westbound T3 lane (see this link for the high level plans). As they say on their website:
To provide a safe space for cyclists, the existing footpath on southern side of Onewa Road will be transformed into a shared cycle/pedestrian path. This will require footpath widening and pram crossing upgrades at certain locations.
And that’s it. No other cycling improvements. So let’s have a look at the good news and bad news about this decision.
The good news
- On behalf of bus and high occupancy vehicle users, proceeding with the T3 is a great decision. Our friends at TransportBlog and their readers are also in favour, with most comments requesting a more aggressive implementation
- AT is showing a bit of backbone in refusing to capitulate to demands to retain on-street parking. We need to see more of AT’s resolve in situations like this – especially for cycling infrastructure projects
- The shared path will at least provide a relatively safe, legal and attractive route for those not yet cycling to hop on a bike. We’re particularly keen to see it encourage more kids to cycle between home and school
- It will help existing on-road cyclists a little, particularly towards the western end of Onewa Rd where westbound cyclists encounter dual lanes clogged with traffic on a steep uphill towards the Highbury intersection.
The bad news
- There is a potential for excessive conflict between pedestrians, bi-directional cyclists, and motor vehicles on the single shared path. AT claims the design has passed a safety audit. We wait with bated breath and our fingers crossed that all users of the shared path travel responsibly and are prepared to stop quickly
- There is no integration at either end of the shared path into other cycle-friendly facilities. The path just stops
- It’s difficult to see how the path will cross the side roads, and how conflict and prioritisation will be managed
- The Church St intersection is key for a link to Queen St, but there’s no indication if or how this will be improved
- The westbound T3 lane will be around 3.6m wide. This is just the wrong width to allow coexistence with on-road cyclists as there’s insufficient room to allow buses and cyclists to safely leap frog. On-road cyclists will need to keep a close eye behind them, hold their ground, and be prepared to take to the shared path as and when required for safety
- But the fundamental issue is this. It’s hard enough getting cycling infrastructure over the line due to limited budgets. Often we have to rely on other transport projects with their huge budgets to lead the way, while a bit of cycling infrastructure gets tacked on the sides if we’re lucky. Here of course we’re dealing with a Public Transport project, not a Roading project. According to AT, the scope and budget of this project is so tight, and the conditions to attract an NZTA subsidy so stringent, there’s insufficient remaining to do any further cycling enhancement in alignment with the CMP. Apparently we’ll have to wait until the Northcote Safe Cycle Route looks at the Onewa/Lake/Queen intersection and the Church/Faulkners link to get any sort of connectivity there. As for further improvements, including addressing a shared path on the northern side of Onewa Rd, they’re dissolving into a nebulous under-funded future. Quite simply AT – not good enough!
Cycle Action will continue to work with the AT design team on this project to maximise what can be done for cyclists within the scope and budget constraints, and we’ll relay on any feedback in the Comments section if you see opportunities for small scale improvement. But our biggest job continues at the political and management level – committing sufficient funds to doing the job properly in the first place.