Quay Street:You could make a shared path here 6m wide - and it still wouldn't work well. [Copyright: Ed Kruger, CC-BY-SA-3.0-NZ]
Quay Street: You could make a shared path here really wide – and it still wouldn’t work well. [Copyright: Ed Kruger, CC-BY-SA-3.0-NZ]
A lot of the discussion among non-cyclist decisionmakers about whether we should build dedicated cycleways seems to come back to whether it’s really worth giving a small group a significant amount of space on our roads. Should a road of 25m width really have 4m of that set aside for cycling (for a protected cycle lane each way, for example)? After all, that’s over 15% of the space, when cycling currently is often still just 1%.

But the insidiousness of the argument is that it leads to low-quality compromises like urban shared paths – which then perpetuate the “there are not enough cyclists to justify more cycleways” circular reasoning.

The reality is that cyclists are not like cars. But they aren’t like pedestrians either. To play to cycling’s strength, a cyclist needs to be able to go at a reasonable speed, at reasonable safety – and without constant conflict with other users. Shared paths risk creating an environment in which such conflicts – with pedestrians – are built right into the design. To be safe and courteous, cyclists need to go slower than appropriate for their mode of transport. Yet even if they do, both the pedestrians and the cyclists get a much degraded experience as a result, leading to frustration in one group, and push-back in the other.

Maioro Street: This shared path in suburbia is a failure.
Maioro Street: This shared path in suburbia is a failure even with no pedestrians on it.

Now if you go through CAA’s blog, you will note that we are actually supporting – cheering on, even – a variety of shared path projects. How does that square?

Well, shared paths CAN work – if pedestrian numbers are rather low for the shared path width. Really, if they are more like cycleways on which occasional pedestrians/joggers are also seen.

The causeway on the NW Cycleway and good sections of the future Glen Innes – Tamaki Path qualify. Distances are too long, and local attractions too sparse to attract crowds of walkers.

Other shared paths are a more of a mixed feast. For example, we would have loved the Waterview Shared Path in its suburban setting to be a separated facility – a dedicated footpath next to a dedicated cycleway. But our infrastructure culture still considers that unnecessary luxury, so we didn’t even push for that when the design was set down back in 2011. And further into town, from about Kingsland inwards, the Northwestern Cycleway is really starting to struggle with the combined pedestrian/cyclist numbers.

But the real issue is shared paths in urban locations, like the City Centre, or on major arterial roads like Maioro Street.

There, shared paths are simply a totally unsuitable solution – if you want cycling to grow. Urban shared paths may have an acceptable safety record. And they will attract the occasional new “cautiously interested” person to cycling – but as soon as that person is riding on the shared paths, he/she will soon feel all the frustrations of the footpath cyclist (and may be exposed to aggrieved pedestrians!).

For those environments, we need more Beach Roads (protected two-ways), and more Copenhagen Lanes (protected one-ways – we still don’t really have much of any of those around Auckland). Designs where pedestrians and cyclists both get a practical share of the road.

Triangle Road and IanMcKinnon Drive overbridge: Even these somewhat flawed protected one-ways offer more potential for long-term cycle growth than shared paths.
Triangle Road and IanMcKinnon Drive overbridge: Even these protected one-ways with their flaws offer more potential for long-term cycle growth than shared paths.

Urban shared paths are a great way to raise cycling’s mode share – from 1% to 2%. And then keeping it there, with a built-in ceiling. Better than nothing, but not much better.

So really, where alternatives are feasible but urban shared paths are proposed – for example to avoid car park removal by squashing cycleways and footpaths into one – sharing isn’t caring. It’s building inherently limited infrastructure.

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29 responses to “Sharing is caring – except on cycleways

  1. As a recreational and commuter cyclist shared pathways are not a solution for me. I travel too fast and they are usually not the most direct route. Therefore I take my chances with roads.

    There are plenty of economic benefits to help sway non-cycling pollies if they care to do their research and make informed decisions. They should take a leaf out of Birmingham’s (UK) play book.

    1. I agree, if I have to slow down to 15-20km/hr I might as well be walking. I avoid any shared path if there are peds on it, unless, to alternative is more dangerous. An example is Tamaki Drive when the wind/rain trys to blow you across the road.

  2. This reminds me of an encounter I had last year with an elderly lady moving erratically down the middle of the northwestern cycleway with a dog on a very long leash (likewise erratic).

    I slowed down almost to a halt behind her and politely tinked my bike bell. No response. I paused and then rang it more emphatically. No response. I coughed politely. No response.

    So I moved in a bit closer and said, “excuse me.” She gasped, shot about a foot in the air, her dog yapped, and both moved to make room.

    As I biked past she shouted, “you should get a bell for that bike!”

    1. haha…this happened to me too where the person was a 5~6 yo kid. She was freak out when “seeing” me slowing to a halt behind her. She then shouted “you should know where you’re going!”. I guess this has nothing to do with a bell or not, some people just do not expect cyclists do exist.

    2. Yeah I was told off by a lady with a dog for riding on the shared paths on Victoria Road, Devonport. I slowed right to a stop so she could get past with her dog in a narrow spot. She was very flustered and aid “you shouldn’t be riding on the footpath!”. To which I replied while pointing to the cycle stencil at her feet “I am not, I am riding on a shared path”. She looked very confused. Shared paths are not a good solution for any kind of volume.

      But is it better than nothing?

      1. Yes. You can’t let the a few bad apple experiences spoil the bunch. Last time I checked the AKL cycling community wasn’t in a position to be choosey. We have zero budget, and practically zero translation from rhetoric to built cycle ways from council.

        1. True, but lets get the next proposed cycle way (GI to Tamaki dr) done right – is it for cyclists or a few dog walkers? If we care about transport solutions it should be built for commuter cyclists & if it is it will be a stunning success. Separate the paths; remove the anxiety and uncertainty and promote cycling as a really attractive option.

    3. I guess it’s possible that an elderly person’s hearing of high frequency sound has deteriorated to make a bike bell’s warning inaudible. Just a thought.

      1. I’m sure you’re right, and it’s what I assumed.

        Basically she was in a similar situation to people with headphones in.

        And, of course, most of the time you can pass them safely. But it’s really hard to know what to do if, like her, they’re zig-zagging all over the middle of the path and can’t be reached .

        Somehow, even a polite but sufficiently resonant “excuse me” sounds either pushy or passive-aggressive.

  3. Good story, Nick. We can all identify with it – and Glen – thanks a lot for your blog link -it’s really helpful.

    I’m v interested in your new Hagley Park signs as we need something similar in Auckland.Please keep us posted on how they work! What do you think about making the use of bells standard – I noticed they worked well on Brisbane’s riverside path when I was there recently, even with the lycra gang .
    We’re thinking lots about the width issue for the new GI to Tamaki Dr path – it will be 4m wide but should it be wider? – stage 2 will include widening the 2,5m wide Orakei Basin boardwalk and hugely popular with people walking and cycling. It was built about 3 years ago and is hopelessly under-width for the demand already. Good lesson for designers.

    1. How wide does a commuter cycle path need to be – two cyclists wide (two abrest max? that’s what we cope with on the roads at all times) each way would allow overtaking in most situations and comfortable two way traffic at all times. (No bunch rides!) It should be plenty for mum and dad and the kids out on the weekend ride too. If we are separate from walkers we don’t need metres and metres of width. What commuting cyclists need is security from ambling and inattentative walkers and their under-controlled dogs.

      1. I think the absolute minima would be 1.8m footpath and 2.5m cycleway for two-way (or 2m for one-way with). That means 4.3m or 3.8m.

        However, ideally, we would want 2m footpath + 3m cycleway, with the footpath wider where volumes merit.

        1. 2m footpath + 3m cycleway would avoid conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists and future proof the cycle-way when usage inevitably rises.

          Unfortunately in NZ cycle we build substandard paths and don’t think long term :(.

          Great pic here of 5-6 meter wide path with segregation of cyclists and pedestrians with paving https://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/2828162303/

          1. Absolutely what should be getting built. If we believe this will be popular then build it once and do it right. The difference in overall cost is worth it.

  4. I think signage and regular markings to educate people and dogs on short leads. I have found a bell to be mostly ineffective as half the people have ear plugs listening to music and can’t hear it. I find a loud call of coming through or on your right to be more effective. Some people do get a fright as they are so engrossed with their music, but what can you do.

    1. You can slow right down and wait for a safe place to pass, that’s what.
      Club signals like ‘passing right’ have no status outside the club and are the equivalent of a blaring horn and aggressive revving. Don’t.

      1. You completely miss the point. It is about letting people know you are coming so they don’t get a fright. There is always plenty of room to pass.

  5. Simple. Build a cycleway and a footpath. Build for what you want not what you have. Saves money in the long term.

  6. The problem is that the politicians (local and central) assume that they are building for the demand at the time of building. Despite roads filling up with cars every time the road is widened (except when drivers have to pay – Northern Gateway), they still don’t understand induced demand – and that rule works as well for cycling/walking as for driving. Build it and they will come.

    As Max often says “don’t assess the need for a bridge by how many people swim the river”.

    In Auckland, every time we build public transport (Britomart, Norther Busway) or cycling (NW Cycleway, Orakei Basin boardwalk, Bayswater pip bride) infrastructure they exceed all estimates of use. On the other hand, car traffic almost never meets projections now, evidenced by the lower than expected traffic volumes on the Northern Gateway motorway and also steady volumes on the bridge.

    And yet money is easily available for car oriented projects but any PT/cycling project will be a “white elephant” and is “lower in priorities”. What PT or cycling project has been a “white elephant” in the last 20 years?

    That’s what happens when policy is made based on faith and ideology, not evidence and logic.

  7. As long as we carry on building compromised infrastructure for cycling, mode share will not climb to anywhere near the heights of Copenhagen or pretty much anywhere in the Netherlands. Easy really. Until Auckland Transport and NZTA get this fact into their organisations, cycling will be a bit part in Auckland’s transport mode share. I’ve seen virtually no effort around schools, shops, PT nodes nor business areas outside of the CBD. The information on how to do this is out there. Someone just needs to act on it.

    1. How far would $30M go towards providing safe bike routes to major PT nodes and would it encourage a much greater mode share? Overseas (Netherlands) examples indicate the difference would be staggering.

      1. We would all love what you are advocating for, me as much as anyone. I agree that $30m would do amazing things for local networks. It could build a lot of good quality Copenhagen lanes and provide great facilities all over Auckland.

        But that isn’t what the money is for. And the main fight isn’t really about money – it is about road space. There are two main problems we have to overcome:
        1. Residents and businesses complaining about removal of parking (the space which will usually be put aside for cycling).
        2. AT taking any criticism of removing parking as grounds to stop any cycling project. That is exactly what is happening now (http://caa.org.nz/auckland-transport/parking-aucklands-sacred-cow/)

        So what should any advocacy group do differently. I understand “advocate for local networks” but you know that CAA does that and is constantly knocked back.

        So practically, not philosophically, what should CAA or any other advocacy group do? Just refuse to engage with AT/NZTA until they bend to our will? We don’t have any firepower – no money and no real political influence other than what AT/NZTA are prepared to give us.

        It turns out that when it comes to on road cycling facilities the opinion of a group of marine industry businessmen means more to AT than all the evidence and research that has come out about the benefits of cycling for local businesses. All they have to do is say “we don’t like it” and POOF the whole project disappears. Same with residents in Carlton Gore Road – they say they have a right to park private property on public land, and abracadabra! The project disappears.

        Should we all just pack up and go to the beach? Is that what happened in the Netherlands or Denmark when things got rough? I suspect not. We have to just keep working on it – mostly trying to convince the people of Auckland that cycling is a real transport option and that removing parking or slowing down cars in some areas, is not the end of the world.

        We need the voters and ratepayers to be more vocal in their support and also AT to have bigger cojones and listen but not instantly react to concerns about parking. How do we get there? I don’t know.

  8. Even with all its obvious faults, I’ve got a soft spot for my favourite shared path in Auckland– the much maligned and disparaged footpath along Tamaki Drive – an advertisement for everything that’s wrong with shared paths. But in some cases a slower-speed shared environment can actually be workable even when far from ideal (or is it just that, like most Auckland cyclists, I’ve got used to making my local routes work the best I can despite the problems?) When commuting along Tamaki Drive on a summer evening, I often choose the footpath over the road, despite the path’s many deficiencies and lots of other users. I’m happy to be a wheeled pedestrian, even though I want to get home quickly. Somehow slower cycling is enjoyable when you’re part of the wonderful playground of Auckland life on the waterfront and many regular cycle commuters seem to make the same choice.

    I loved cycling the great Chicago Lakefront Trail, a 32km long shared path crowded with many thousands of users including recreational and commuter cyclists. Yes, they do have some problems, but it’s one of the world’s great shared paths. Cities with great waterfronts often seem to design for both faster and slower cyclists (BTW, I see Melbourne is likely to introduce a fully separated cycle path on St Kilda’s Rd – even taking parking! http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/m-plan-for-st-kilda-rd-will-extend-bike-lanes-the-length-of-the-boulevard/story-fni0fit3-1227015895556?nk=51a6d10e35f2fca69afbd87486611ff7)

  9. As far as I recall the NW moroway path was originally a cycle pathy and only afrer a couple ouf years formally became a shared path with signs to that effect being erected. Dog walkers and family gropups (already had a number of the latter on the new Lincoln Rd path) are usually good – and even apologetic – if you call out a friebdly “hello” from a hundred metres or so back/font. In my experience, joggers or walkers with their earplugs in will not hear anything, even a close proximity SHOUT! Perhaps signs up on shared paths to advise against use of headphones?

    1. I’m not sure signage would help. If we take Tamaki Drive shared footpath as an example, the pure numbers of pedestrians makes cycling there at times very dangerous. We will always have tourists pulling up to the kerb, throwing open a passenger door, and jumping out to marvel at the view. No amount of signage or education will change this. Lets instead remove cyclists from the seaward side of the road and add/improve the path on the southern side. Even fixing the (off road) section between Ngapipi Rd and The Strand would be a fantastic start. Having cyclists on this side would also mean a smoother path (no tree roots) and easier link to the Tamaki Drive to Glenn Innes proposed route.

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