AT takes the “safe” out of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route

AT takes the “safe” out of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route

Bike Auckland

Cities around the world are rolling out protected bike lanes as fast as they can, be it London, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton or even the traditional auto dystopian city of Los Angeles. It’s encouraging to see Auckland joining the roll-call, with Auckland Transport rolling out promising efforts in parts of the inner west and a fantastic design for the much loved K Rd.

You’d almost be fooled into thinking that there’s been an epiphany high up in AT’s ivory tower, a realisation that we need to (re)design our city according to the 8-80 philosophy. Almost.

Thing is, AT isn’t the only one who has changed over the last three years. As they’ve gotten better (and bolder) with their designs, we’ve come to expect better from them… and so we tend to get a little stroppy when they sometimes slip back into their old ways.

Which brings us to the Northcote Safe Cycle Route [NSCR]. This is a 5.2km project designed to create a safe route from Smales Farm to the Northcote Ferry Terminal.

AT has been working on this project since 2013, with several redesigns and public consultations along the way, at considerable cost. The design phase was supposed to finish mid-2016, with construction complete in 2017.  Now construction won’t be complete until mid-late 2018. Here’s the rationale for the route, in AT’s own words:

There are currently limited or no dedicated cycling facilities along the route, which services many attractions that could be accessed by bike, including schools, places of employment, public transport interchanges, leisure and shopping centres.

The walking and cycling improvements along the route will improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and implement this section of the Auckland Cycle Network.

The longer this project has taken, perversely, the worse the design has become: safer options for people on bikes have been watered down in response to the protective feelings residents tend to have towards on-street parking, in the southernmost section in particular. (And no doubt the situation has been exacerbated by the drumbeat of the at times hyperbolic bikelash against Skypath by a small band of guardians of Northcote’s heritage).

skypathresistanceposter
A cyclist or pedestrian every five seconds? Sounds like a pretty sweet neighbourhood to us!
skypathresistanceposter2
Good to see safe cycling on the agenda, at least.

And yet. Over the same period, in response to the promise of NSCR, SkyPath and SeaPath, the city has been investing in an impressive programme of cycle training in the area, via North Harbour Sport and other initiatives. (Takapuna Normal Intermediate, for example, is being sponsored by NZTA for a Bikes in Schools project, on the basis that this safe route is going ahead). Much of the work is focused on schools and sports venues, which makes sense. This is a heavily congested corner of the city, with many children being driven short distances to school – and many adults driving short distances to sports facilities.

As the image below shows, there are 5 schools on the Northcote Safe Cycle Route and 5 within 1km of it, which gives a total of 7229 school students within 1km of the route (2015 figures). Add in AUT’s northern campus, the major sports clubs, and shopping centres nearby, and you can see the huge potential for safe cycling to unlock the roads (think of Devonport’s Bike to Soccer initiative).

School populations along the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (2015 data, via Justine Martin of North Harbour Sports).
School populations along the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (2015 data, via Justine Martin of North Harbour Sport).

Let’s be clear: the full corridor design – while a bit dated and at times short of best practice – isn’t terrible. It provides a combination of separated and buffered cycle lanes and shared paths, and while we have ideas for improvements (especially at the Onewa Rd intersection), we can mostly live with it.

But there’s a big hairy rat in weasel’s clothing that AT expects Aucklanders to swallow, and which it is currently consulting on (again!): the design of Lower Queen St, from the ferry terminal up to the Bridgeway Theatre.

The Background

The original design for this section featured buffered (and at times parking-protected) bike lanes. Great! However, these were dropped after AT capitulated to NIMBY concerns about the loss of car parking, and replaced with ‘traffic calming’ in the form of sharrows and the occasional bump-out. Not great.

You might think we’ve got the following two images the wrong way round… but indeed, this is the Before and After.

Pre consultation: some parking-buffered bike lanes.
Before consultation: the design has some parking-buffered bike lanes, with people on bikes in them!
postconsultationqueenstnorthcote
After consultation: sharrows with a bit of traffic calming. No people on bikes in sight; no wonder.

Given the high speeds, tidal flows of traffic, and aggressive driver behaviour on Queen St this was obviously a terrible decision – but also perhaps a pragmatic one, given that (at the time) the project as a whole was under threat from the local MP, one local Councillor, and several Local Board members.

Roll the clock forward two years to 2016. Just as the truly world-class designs emerged for K Rd last week, showing how far AT has come – the Northcote Safe Cycle Route came up for yet another round of ‘consultation’, which is to say, watering down.

The current consultation focuses on three (not-so) different options for traffic calming along this straight road.

queenstnorthcoteoverview-map

Option 1: two lanes, two speed humps
Option 2: one lane, one hump
northcote-option-3-street-view
Option 3: one lane, no humps

If forced to choose, we’d reject Options 1 and 3, and go for Option 2 – one lane with a speed cushion. (And we’d ask for the treatments be spaced no further than 70m apart, plus extra traffic calming on side roads, especially the excessively wide King St intersection.)

But we’ve already heard that political influence is leading AT to settle on Option 3, which we consider the worst option for bicyclists. Given the heavily tidal traffic flows here, drivers will likely sail through the bump-free one-ways, with little to no speed moderation.

So we’re taking a stand. This is just not good enough.

With SeaPath under development, SkyPath just on the horizon, and locals already itching for safer travel on bikes, this section needs to be match-fit from day one. What’s currently proposed is the equivalent of building a dirt track for cars coming off the Harbour Bridge. And once it’s built, we’ll be stuck with it for 10 years.

Are we really going to dump people of all ages out of Skypath… and onto this street to mix with traffic?

hillsanddarby
Our friends at Gen Zero reckon Crs Hills and Darby are about as good as it gets when it comes to walking, cycling & public transport.

Our call for a revision here is neither cavalier or vexatious. The lay of the land has significantly changed in the last few years.

  • The number of local people (especially young people) who are ready to ride is increasing every day.
  • SkyPath is looking ever more certain, with all but one appellant having dropped their fight; the Environment Court hearing finally begins this week.
  • Lightpath has shown the huge potential for both commuter and recreational riders, a harbinger for SkyPath.
  • SeaPath drew powerful public support.
  • AT’s own figures show that if you build safe separated infrastructure it’ll attract people in droves – for example, the NW cycleway at Te Atatu is up 76% on last year and Grafton Gully is up 52% on last year.
  • Central government is backing more people on bikes thanks to significant investment via the Urban Cycleway Fund.
  • Local government elections saw the departure of George Wood and the re-election of Councilor Chris Darby alongside fresh-faced progressive Councillor Richard Hills, as well as a strong bike-friendly team on the Kaipatiki Local Board.

Moreover, the original parking-related arguments for dropping the bike lanes on Lower Queen St are, on closer inspection, highly questionable. To take just three extracts from the consultation report:

“[There are concerns that ] a large number of homes don’t have off street parking… and/or that elderly and disabled residents, and families with small children would be unable to find a park near their homes”

Not to sound like a certain presidential candidate, but: WRONG. Our review shows the overwhelming majority of homes have off-street parking or sufficient front yard space to provide off-street parking.  Of the approximately 85 properties on Lower Queen St, only 6 lack off street parking (Nos 28, 30, 47, 58, 116 and No 2 Hall St).

‘People felt that businesses would be negatively affected by customers not being able to park nearby”

Again, WRONG. The Northcote Tavern has plenty of off street and side street parking, and the Bridgeway shops have side street parking. (They’re also not a high ‘drive to’ destination, located on a peninsula a mere 600m walk from most parts of Northcote Point.) And, as a recent survey of retailers on K Rd showed, retailers significantly overestimate the number of customers that arrive by car and underestimate the number that arrive on foot or by bike, a result that is played out in regular surveys around the world.

krdcustomersurvey

“Some raised concerns about a loss of parking in light of plans to intensify housing density and/or thought that the SkyPath project would also require additional parking facilities in the area”

You guessed it – WRONG again! No intensification is planned in Northcote Point under the Unitary Plan.  And Auckland Transport already has plans underway to manage any potential increase in parking demand from Skypath.

Look: reducing this design to an argument about preserving on-street parking is no more justified in Northcote Point than in any other Auckland street. Doubling down on private cars is an expression of blind belief in a system already stretched to the point of failure.

Whereas doubling up on investment in sustainable transport modes is, to borrow a phrase that’s doing the rounds, an expression of confident possibility.

And safer streets for the increasing numbers of Aucklanders on bikes is an imperative.

That’s why Bike Auckland and our local heroes Bike Kaipatiki are calling on Auckland Transport to do this once and do it right. We believe AT is obliged to provide a safer and more appropriate design here for people on bikes and on foot – especially if hundreds more people on bicycles are to be streaming down this road every day.

We expect no less – because we know AT can do better.

Once upon a time, we’d have settled for Option 2. Now, it’s time to put protected bike lanes back in the picture for Lower Queen St.

Help us tell AT to stop kicking the can down the road and show some leadership in Northcote Point. Add your feedback in the quick form below – and we’ll make sure it gets through to AT. FEEDBACK CLOSES SUNDAY NOVEMBER 13th!

 

[contact-form to=’barbcuth@gmail.com, jolisa@quarteracre.net’ subject=’Northcote Safe Routes feedback’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Feedback for AT’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

Stuck for what to say? Here is a suggestion for feedback; but please feel free to use your own words and/or add further thoughts:

“I believe it’s imperative to make our streets safer for the increasing numbers of Aucklanders on bikes, and that AT is obliged to provide a safer and more appropriate design for Lower Queen St for people on bikes and on foot. The proposed design is not appropriate for the ‘interested but concerned’ group of potential bicyclists, and will be totally unfit for purpose should SkyPath be constructed.

AT should make this street safe for all potential users, and at the very least delay a decision on this section’s design until the outcome of the SkyPath appeal is known.

Should AT choose to ignore these concerns and stick with this substandard design, then I request Option 2 is implemented, with treatments spaced no further than 70m apart, and extra traffic-calming measures on side roads especially the excessively wide King St intersection.”

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