We have long said that there are a few (maybe quite a few!) people within Auckland Transport who would love to do a lot more to make walking and cycling safer – and all they really need is senior leadership backing them… and providing funding.

We’ve also long known many passionate individuals and local groups who are keen to achieve the same things in their neighbourhoods. This blog is about what happens when those people in AT meet those people in the community, at a time when safety is finally given priority for available funding.

A place full of people, opportunity, and… too much car traffic

The (Western) Victoria Quarter is a ‘sub-suburb’ of the city centre, located in the triangle of Nelson Street to the east, State Highway 1 to the west, and Victoria Street to the north. But it’s not very suburban: a stone’s throw away from the Sky Tower, it’s home to a mixture of old commercial buildings, increasingly supplanted or towered over by high-rise apartment blocks in the south and east, and mid-rise office blocks and housing towards the edge of Victoria Park.

Before the motorway viaduct came through town – a 1925 photo by James D Richardson, looking south up the centre of Union St (centre) from Patterson St, later Victoria St. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-2004)
Looking east along Cook St: a 1928 photo by James D Paterson. The houses and lanes are roughly where the City Works Depot now stands. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries)

Once upon a time a bustling urban neighbourhood, in the second half of the twentieth century it became a mixture of commerce and industry, an uninhabited and largely unloved part of Auckland, especially for people on foot or bike.

Busy with traffic on all sides, bisected by the Cook Street motorway off-ramp that funnels into a massively wide Cook Street, and with little in the likes of good footpaths, it has none of the amenity you’d expect of an area that’s now sprouting apartment buildings left and right. And yet thousands of people live here already, and many more are on the way – the eastern edge of the Nelson/Hobson Street area already has the highest residential population density of the country, and more people are moving in as developments edge towards Victoria Park.

David R is one of those passionate locals. He’s written about the huge potential for improvement in the quarter in a series of extensive, in-depth and fascinating articles over on Greater Auckland (Article 1, Article 2 and Article 3). In particular, he’s become increasingly fired up about how unsafe the area is for walking and biking –  exemplified by how hard it is to simply cross Cook Street on foot or travel along it on a bike.

Green space is a trade-off when you live in an apartment – like these new ones nearing completion west of Nelson Street. So it is only fair that local residents should be able to safely and easily walk and cycle to their nearby park and other destinations!

Knowing that blogging alone wouldn’t win change, David also began contacting local politicians and Auckland Transport with his concerns. And late last year, at a meeting where he was expecting them to offer a few meagre pedestrian improvements across Cook Street, AT suddenly offered a lot more. Not only a new signalised crossing… but also a new bikeway along Cook Street!

Taking advantage of Cook Street’s excessive width, where a single motorway off-ramp somehow becomes three full lanes travelling into the City Centre, they’d found a way to improve connectivity for biking, while also reducing traffic speeds for safer walking. Hey presto!

In part because of its mature trees, Cook Street has massive potential for urban quality of life – but until now has been preserved as a drag strip of up to five lanes worth of tarmac. (Looking east. Photo: David R)

Voila: the proposed new bikeway

This is where we came in. Late last year David contacted us for comment regarding possible designs for the new bikeway between Victoria Street and along Cook Street, which we were happy to assist with. Some weeks ago, Bike Auckland also met with AT directly  to discuss the more developed plans. And now, it’s public for consultation so you can all see what AT proposes to build:

Red – the new bikeway proposed between Victoria Street and Nelson Street. Blue – Franklin Road (currently under construction) and Victoria Street bikeways (coming soon). Green and Pink – Nelson Street Cycleway and Lightpath.

As you can see, the new bikeway provides a link right through the middle of the Victoria Quarter, linking the new housing with the surrounding areas – and with various other bikeways, creating a real network.

So let’s take a closer look at the detailed proposal (the Plan PDF is located here, and here’s the project website).

Victoria Park on the left, with the new bikeway initially following the line of the motorway up the hill on Lower Union Street.

As you can see, the new bikeway starts at the plaza under the Victoria Viaduct, and then travels up Lower Union Street. Interestingly, it will be a separated path – i.e. the existing footpath will be kept separate by really narrowing the excessively wide Union Street down to one lane instead of two uphill lanes. (Wheelstops or similar will be needed to make sure cars don’t overhang the footpath when parking here).

The narrower, single-lane Lower Union Street will also be easier to cross. And that’s not all: the design adds a new raised table zebra crossing, and makes another existing table into a formal zebra crossing. Add kerb build-outs and a refuge island over Drake Street, and the area is instantly massively friendlier for pedestrians.

Transforming the motorway off-ramp environment to something more human-scale.

As we get closer to Sale Street, the available width shrinks a bit – partly because of a big signage gantry for the motorway. But by realigning Lower Union Street to swing it around towards Sale Street, instead of merging directly as a high-speed ramp with the actual motorway off-ramp, you can find enough space to keep the bikeway going. And you can keep the trees next to the car park area too.

The motorway off-ramp, instead of widening out as it enters the city streets (message: ‘Hello, welcome to where people live, please speed up!’) is narrowed instead, gaining a threshold treatment that emphasises the slower-speed area of the City Centre (not officially 30 kph yet, but a good start).

The walking/biking path across the exit from Sale Street is via another raised table zebra, with a bike-crossing. The connection into Sale Street itself is, at least for the interim, a shared path (shown in blue in the image above) – in part because AT is still reviewing what Sale Street might look like in a future street upgrade. While shared paths are not ideal, this is a short distance and provides a good link to and from the area for people on bikes, as well as another zebra crossing at the start of Sale Street (not raised, again because of the not-yet-completed Sale Street plans).

Coming into Cook Street, to the new signalised crossing – which also serves to transition the two-way bike path into two one-way paths.

On Cook Street itself, the two-way cycleway along the footpath will have Nelson Street-style concrete buffers, with speed bumps at driveways. Reaching Morton Street, there’ll be new signals giving pedestrians and cyclists a safe crossing.

Importantly, east of the new crossing, the two-way cycleway changes to two one-way paths, both protected by concrete buffers. We understand that this switch (one-ways instead of continuing the two-way path all the way up to Nelson Street) is mainly because of safety concerns related to the high-volume City Works Depot car park entrance further up the hill –  difficult to make safe without also removing some of the adjacent bus layover parking that’s crucial to the City Centre services.

One limitation of this option is that it requires a short section of shared path westbound (see the blue bit above). However, drivers also have a limitation: exiting Morton Street will become left-turn only.

The last section up to Nelson Street, linking to the Waterfront and Lightpath.

On the last section, up Cook Street to Nelson Street, the one-way sections are, at 1.8m wide, reasonably generous. The 1.0m concrete buffer between bikes and traffic here makes space for rubbish bins (south side), and so bus drivers from the layover parking can safely exit their buses without stepping right into the bikeway.

It would be nice if we could change some of the proposed wide concrete separators to planter boxes (with a commitment to actually maintaining the planting; the Quay Street planters are currently not looking too flash). But even if we can’t get planters here, Cook Street has lots of mature trees just waiting to be properly appreciated by people traveling at human speeds. The bikeway – and the footpaths newly buffered from heavy traffic by that bikeway – are the perfect places.

The new bikeway connects to the existing one at Nelson Street, giving people two key directions to continue in safety, a hallmark of any real bike network. While the proposed design above shows the northwest corner of the intersection as a shared path corner (in blue), we know AT is keen to explore whether that could be avoided. That detail of the design wasn’t able to be confirmed in time for consultation but is definitely worth looking into more closely.

Wait a minute, what’s this?

Updated: There’s always something! As spotted by Patrick in the comment below this post, in an inset on the plans: Upper Cook St gets five brand new parallel car parking spots, right before the point people on bikes are expected to join the new bikeway. We strongly think these aren’t needed – because in a project that’s explicitly aimed at safety for people on bikes, creating a brand new dooring risk zone is quite frankly at odds with best practice for safer streets.

Instead of adding these new parking spots, we’d encourage AT to extend the proposed painted bike lane here, thus ensuring that future (consistent) bike lanes on this block will be easier to do later. Win-win.

When and how?

We understand the ‘surprise bikeway’ is to be built in the next financial year, i.e. July onwards – although detailed design, especially in the motorway off-ramp area and for the new signals, will take a bit of time, so don’t expect construction within the next couple of months.

Since the project doesn’t require any big new structures, just limited parking removal (~24 spaces; without any new car parks built elsewhere) and much of it is ‘interim’ quality (i.e. using concrete separators, rubber bumpers, etc), the costs won’t be as high as for some other bikeways. Most importantly, this proposal is coming out of the recently increased road safety funding, not the walking & cycling pot, because it deals with a number of existing safety issues while adding these new links. No need to tap the (still limited) bike funding. In other words, this is one of the first boosts for walking and cycling from the newly strengthened safety direction.

I love it – where do I sign?

It would be lovely if we could get a rousing round of support from you all! While we don’t expect any massive opposition to this new bikeway, we have seen other common-sense projects hit snags. So we suggest you hit the following notes in your submission to AT:

  1. Support the bikeway and the new pedestrian crossings (both zebras and signals)
  2. Support the parking removal proposed to enable safety for walkers and bikers
  3. Add physical separation between the bike path and the footpath (using a slight kerb or similar) on the Lower Union Street section
  4. Intersperse planter boxes between concrete buffers where suitable
  5. Ensure the corner of Nelson Street / Cook Street is not a shared path, but a protected intersection corner (with bikes and pedestrians safely separated from each other)
  6. PLEASE ditch those suggested new car parks on Upper Cook St and make the bike lane consistent on that block.

HERE’S THE LINK FOR FEEDBACK – GO FOR IT! (Closes 28 June) 

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Central Auckland General News
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