The quick version: Otahuhu Town Centre is getting a makeover – but there’s not much in it for people on bikes, and it could be a lot better for pedestrians.
Feedback closes very soon (Wednesday 6 September) – so we encourage you to go to the feedback link ASAP and answer Question 2 by asking for these 3 changes:
- a protected cycleway on Station Road, between the town centre and the train/bus interchange, using one of Bike AKL’s options
- more traffic calming through the village shops – by adding zebra crossings and raised tables to the intersections along Great South Road
- a 30kmh speed limit for the town centre
Read on for more details, and our improvements on AT’s designs…
Why does the inner isthmus have some of the highest rates of cycling in Auckland, and much of the cycling investment as well? The idea is: it’s a busy place, and lots of people means more people on bikes. So, the argument goes, if you want to persuade a car-centric city to embrace the joy and usefulness of bikes, you should target your investment centrally to start with.
But the same argument can also be made for much of South Auckland – equal in terms of vitality and density, and whose people have long missed out on good (or indeed, any) new cycleways. Our Bike Blueprint 2020 called strongly for more investment in the south of the city, and we’re glad to see some of this was confirmed in Auckland Transport’s cycling business case for the next decade.
So, when we heard that Auckland Transport will be giving Otahuhu Town Centre a major street make-over, we got excited…
…hmm. Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten so excited. Here’s the bike-friendly part of the plan:
- A shared path on Station Road linking to the Otahuhu Transport Interchange.
- And some traffic calming on Great South Road.
It’s not good enough – but it’s a huge opportunity. We reckon Otahuhu is the perfect test case for how Auckland can do better – and how AT can bring better cycleways to the South. We’re very glad to hear the Local Board is keen as well.
What’s the problem with shared paths?
A shared path – mixing bikes and pedestrians, in one of the busiest parts of our city? Why?
We’ve long held that sharing space doesn’t work so well between pedestrians and cyclists. Shared paths are “the Hunger Games of transport”, making people squabble over crumbs. You can’t ride at normal speeds when you constantly have to slow down to pass walkers. And, even a small number of fast riders discourage elderly or mobility-impaired people from walking. Nobody wins.
New shared paths work in pretty specialised cases only: for every Lightpath (super-wide, with no shop doorways and driveways) there are ten places where a shared path is the wrong choice. So why do our authorities keep proposing them? We’re not sure – although often, the argument is that there’s just not enough space for better solutions.
What’s proposed on Station Road?
AT clearly sees the need for better walking and biking links to the town centre, especially on Station Road. This important connection to the new bus/train station is currently very industrial for much of its length, home to a lot of truck traffic, and also seven (!) major bus routes. Not a welcoming place to ride on-road, even for brave cyclists.
AT is proposing a shared path on the southern side, 3.7m wide. (Note: that’s a wee bit wider than usual – maybe because it includes some ‘door zone’ buffer space for passengers emerging from parked cars. AT’s clearly thinking of bikes, if not quite in the way we would love to see!).
Here’s a sample cross-section:
To our eyes, this is barely adequate. Sure, it creates an off-road option, and yeah, it’s better than nothing – but it’s a long way from good. Dodging pedestrians will make for a slow and inconvenient ride, while making things less safe for people walking.
Could it be better?
Let’s assume AT is trying to preserve other typical requirements, like wide traffic lanes (for the buses and trucks), and on-street parking for businesses and residents. If we accept those as givens, can we still find a way to make things better for walking and biking along Station Rd?
Yes we can! In two different ways, in fact.
Bike AKL Option I: a protected two-way bike path!
As you can see, using the same width as AT’s design, we can fit a two-way protected bike path, with bikes separate from BOTH vehicles and pedestrians. Even better: it can be built without big squabbles about trade-offs, because it keeps the car parks and the wide bus/truck lanes. The only thing that’s significantly changed are the grass strips.
This option would give people on bikes their own route – no need to share with heavy, dangerous vehicles – and pedestrians also get their own bike-free space, wider than it is today. Win-win!
AT may hesitate at the idea of a two-way bike path crossing side streets – and, to be fair, this is a safety issue that would need to be managed, with dedicated crossing designs.
You could get around that objection by switching our suggested two-way path to the northern side of the road, which has slightly fewer side roads – and in particular, doesn’t cross Mason Avenue, where the seven bus routes through Otahuhu turn in and out along their route.
Or… you could try Option 2.
Bike AKL Option II: two protected bike lanes!
This one’s a bit more ambitious, but also totally feasible in the space available: namely, replacing the off-road path idea with parking-protected cycle lanes.
This option removes the grass strips altogether (although as shown, there will still be trees, interspersed between sections of parking bays). In exchange, you get fully protected bike lanes, the safety gold standard for people on bikes, especially those nervous about biking. The bike lanes also create an extra buffer between traffic and pedestrians.
Our two options show there’s definitely room for better design – and Auckland Transport can fit protected and separated bike facilities on Station Road, creating a huge jump in quality for people walking and cycling in Otahuhu. Join us in calling for a better outcome here!
Meanwhile, on Great South Road, what’s happening for pedestrians?
The proposals for Great South Road focus on the pedestrian environment, with some very sensible changes for a busy shopping street that currently looks like this:
The changes include, among other things:
- building out kerbs and narrowing the traffic lanes to create much more footpath space. To achieve this, about 25 of the 100 existing parking spaces are to be removed.
- changing the Great South Road / Princes St roundabout to traffic signals – not a bad move given the bike-unfriendly sweeping turns of the current design.
With the main north-south traffic route going around the town centre on Atkinson Ave and Princes Street, anything that helps lower traffic numbers and speeds while giving lots more space to pedestrians, whether they’re shopping or just hanging out, is a brilliant decision for this popular shopping street.
… but what’s in it for bikes?
The somewhat slower traffic environment is a start, but adding a cycleway of any real quality (protected & separated!) along here would be a much more massive ask than on Station Road. You’d need to borrow space from the footpath widening, which doesn’t really make sense on a shopping street! Or, you could trade some of the remaining 75 car parks – but that would also be a big ask.
Is there an option for safer bike travel on Great South Road?
Yes! AT’s proposed design puts the side road crossings on raised tables, making it safer for pedestrians to walk across. But we reckon the main road needs even more slowing; and now that most buses no longer travel along Great South Road, this is even more achievable.
So, to make things even safer for pedestrians and people on bicycles, we’d like to see:
- more zebra crossings, especially at intersections, and
- raised platforms for all (non-signalised) intersections
This way, through-traffic on Great South Road is also slowed down, with the raised tables and zebra crossings at all intersections clarifying that in the town centre, people come first.
By slowing down drivers, this will also make it a much nicer place to cycle. And, to ensure the formal changes match the visual cues, we are asking for the town centre to become a 30 km/h zone.
Ready to change the world? Add your voice to make it happen!
To sum up: the current proposal for Otahuhu Town Centre has some good features for pedestrians – but could be much better, and lacks real grunt for bike improvements. We encourage you to ask Auckland Transport for the following things:
- A protected cycleway on Station Rd, separate from vehicles AND pedestrians, as suggested by Bike Auckland
- Better traffic calming on Great South Road with raised tables for every unsignalised intersection and zebra crossings at side streets.
- The town centre along Great South Road should be designed for – and officially limited to – 30 km/h.
So here’s the feedback link again – consultation closes on Wednesday 6 September, so get your comments in quick!
Header photo: Teau Aiturau’s Triple Teez kids at the 2015 Otahuhu Santa Parade, having biked from Mangere (Photo: Quciajay Sakaria)