UCF projects: Transforming K Road and Great North Road…

The GenZero campaign for K'Road cycle lanes was key in moving the project up the list.
GenZero’s campaign for K Road cycle lanes was key in moving the project up the list.

…and transforming the City, from the Centre outwards!

So far, the poster child for the Urban Cycleway Fund has probably been the Nelson Street Cycleway – and no wonder, seeing that it was not only much more “shovel ready”, but also the kind of very obvious project politicians like to do ribbon cutting-style events at.

But the K’ Road and Great North Road cycle project now announced in the UCF programme is arguably both more “urban” – and more transformative for cycling in Auckland – in the long run.

Nelson Street will, at least for the immediate future, remain extremely transport-( and very car-) focussed, despite one lane’s worth of space being re-dedicated to the cycleway. Unless you live in one of the many apartment buildings along the street, you will probably use the new cycleway more for “travelling through”, than “travelling to”.

Overflowing bike racks on a typical night on K Rd.
Overflow bike racks on a typical K Rd night.

Karangahape Road, by contrast, is home to numerous destinations, from shops to cafes to venues. Great cycling conditions here will not only be good for the commuter rider coming into town, they will also make it attractive for people to just hop on their bike and meet up for a coffee in one of the liveliest parts of town.

In fact they already do – look at all the bikes that tend to be leaning against railings, posts or bike stands. And look at the fact that several of the busiest cycle count locations of Auckland are on K Road (over 1,400 cyclists daily at K Road / Symonds Street, and over 900 daily each at the intersections with Ponsonby Road and Queen Street).

This is a street that, even with current Auckland conditions, is already hopping with bikes – and the K Road cycle lanes announced by the Urban Cycleway project will only make that better.

The enthusiasm here extends to local retailers too – as GenZero found when they actively campaigned for K Road cycle lanes a while ago. In contrast to nearby Ponsonby Road, where the cycle lane idea was received much more like lukewarm tea, the prospect of becoming actively bike-friendly hit K Road like a doubleshot of espresso.

So many new options for riding well.
So many new options for riding.

So. Now that funding is confirmed, what will K Road cycling look like in just a few years? Well, we don’t know that much yet, as AT have been a bit coy with plans (though we do have it straight from the walking & cycling manageress herself that these future cycle projects WILL feature more engagement and more “let’s just trial it” attitude than before).

But there’s one aspect that we know will make this one more transformative in the long run: unlike previous shared paths or painted lanes, or even projects like Beach Road and Nelson Street, the K Road project will take a lot more cues from Copenhagen lanes overseas and from what works (and maybe also what doesn’t work that well) on smaller projects here in Auckland (like Carlton Gore Road).

In short: protected lanes, one-way in each direction. This kind of facility can be rolled out much more widely than two-way cycleways, which really only work when you have few (or no) side roads or driveways, and when all your bigger intersections are already signalised for optimal bike passage.

An earlier K Road bus stop cycle lane concept - don't be too worried about there only being a painted buffer away from the bus stop. This drawing is out of date.
A possible K Road bus stop concept (and don’t be too worried about there only being a painted buffer away from the bus stop – this drawing is out of date).

One key difficulty on K Road is the bus stops. It is likely to be difficult to fit in the “behind the stop” cycle bypasses  planned for other routes. This is why some of the earlier concepts have the cycleway going over short raised sections at bus stops (as shown in an earlier concept for the cycleways; see also image at the right). Certainly, this would a new thing for Auckland roads, and both bus users and cyclists would have to get used to them.

There’s also the fact that a cycle lane on K Road wouldn’t really be much use if you can’t easily get to it. K Road isn’t that long after all – only about 1km.

But here, the more ambitious side of the UCF programme comes through (plus the upside of concentrating mainly on the City Centre to begin with) – via a connecting cycleway on Great North Road, all the way west to Grey Lynn, where it will tie into other great projects we’ve yet to talk about.

In a very pleasing manner, getting this crucial connecting project into the UCF emerged out of an old CAA project – with thanks to a newly minted cyclist in the AT public transport team who also shares a history with us (…something old, something new…).

That old project was CAA’s “Ride the Ridges” campaign from several years back (CAA wasn’t so flash on the web in the olden days, but we managed to dig up this). It was one of our earlier campaigns to overcome one of those typical cracks at why “cycling in Aucland just can’t work” – the hills.

Ride the Ridges (brainchild of now-Waitemata Local Board deputy chair Pippa Coom, and supported by NextBike’s Julian Hulls) was a snazzy way of pointing out that cyclists had already worked out the best routes across Auckland’s hillier territory – ridgeline routes like K Road and Great North Road. We just needed to make those routes friendlier.

The new twist comes from a certain AT project manager who worked with CAA on several (in retrospect rather modest, but at the time highly contentious) improvements to cycling conditions on New North Road. Despite all the flak he got from local property owners for daring to touch the odd car park, something of his work with us must have left a mark, because he eventually bought himself a bike and became one of those middle-age bike rider converts we are getting more and more of in Council departments.

Several years later, he moved on to a different Auckland Transport section – this time public transport. And hearing about the new cycle moves afoot, he approached AT’s walking and cycling team with the idea of doing something great for bikes on Great North Road. Something that hopefully will be a good example of how to overcome the conundrum of “you can have either good public transport OR good cycling OR a useless mix of both in a shared lane”.

An earlier design for protected cycle lanes on Great North Road.
An earlier (long term) design for protected cycle lanes on Great North Road.

Again, as with K Road, we haven’t seen the Great North Road plans yet – but it’s clear they aren’t going to be shared bus lanes (yay!). An earlier concept (which you can see at the right) proposed removing the painted median and adding trees and protected cycle lanes in return. We’re not sure whether decision-makers are that courageous yet; and certainly, at least at major intersections, right turn lanes would still be required anyway.

But maybe we can have cycle lanes on the footpath side of the bus lane, on their own raised kerb (without the fancy tree-lined buffer), especially if that gives us real, workable protected lanes in 3 years, rather than a dream outcome in 10-20?

It’s clear that the project has a certain minimum bar to hurdle. No use digging up the road if the result isn’t going to be great. And we’re confident it will be.

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