Wanted: one fairy godmother on a bike (plus the Essential Transport Budget)

This AT department is celebrating. [Photo credit to nzrailphotos.co.nz]
This AT department is celebrating.
[Photo credit to nzrailphotos.co.nz]
Remember when buses and trains were the Cinderella of Auckland’s transport system, sitting sadly in the cold kitchen, out of the limelight, at the mercy of ugly stepsisters who zipped off to the ball in their single-occupant vehicles. “Why waste money on slow, grimy machines?” went the reasoning. “Especially for a few sad punters who can’t afford cars or are too old or young to drive? Oh, sure, we have some plans on the shelf. Maybe next year. If we have the money. Now go and do your chores.”

Luckily, public transport had some fairy godmothers who saw the light and the potential — and who looked overseas for models of what can happen when you give PT the royal treatment. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Waving their wands with persistence and vigour, they’ve steadily granted trains and buses gleaming new livery, new machinery, and new routes around the city.

“Yes, public transport – you shall go to the ball!”

Pretty pretty princess train! (Pic by Patrick Reynolds)
Pretty pretty princess train! (Pic by Patrick Reynolds)

And not just the ball. Everywhere you go, public transport is dazzling Aucklanders, who are queuing up to put their names on its dance card. Britomart first, then the Northern Busway. Then rail station renewals. Double tracking of the Western Line. New bus lanes. The Link bus service. Better frequencies on rail and bus routes. The HOP Card. Rail electrification.

More people are taking public transport than in decades – and growth rates are speeding up too, especially on the train lines that have been electrified. Some services are packed to the doors, with people crying out for more trains, ferries, and even double-decker pumpkin coaches!

Twice as many princesses as usual can fit into this bus. (Pic via AT)

Build it, and  – well, you know the rest.

But cycling? Cycling is no fairytale. Not yet, anyway. 

This AT department still has its work cut out...
This department has its work cut out…

Now it’s Cycle-cinders who sits by the fireplace in rags, singing a chirpy little song with the friendly mice to cheer herself up a bit.

We’ve had some years of reasonable cycle growth – but the data is thin. It’s limited to a single day’s count in March every year, recorded by people standing on street corners and main cycling routes (with all the fluctuations that entails). We also have access to a small set of 9 automatic counters with constant data (but they record only a few of the most popular cycling routes).

Intermission question to AT: When will we finally start getting the data from the promised new counters? These should have been operating for over 2 years now, but it’s never anything but those 9 old counters!

The story told by the once-a-year manual cycle counts is frankly depressing. On the annual count in 2014, cyclists were down 13% on the year before, and only a measly 19% higher than 7 years (!) before.

What??

Auckland Transport is failing to meet its own (not particularly ambitious) growth targets for cycling.

Can the daily automatic counters help give a clearer picture of the trend? Turns out, they show a picture that is both more recognisable — and yet still troubling.

According to the automatic counters, January 2015 showed a nice increase over January 2014 – a plus of 16.4%. But this comes on the heels of six months of stagnation. In fact, over the last 12 rolling months, cyclists counted at those nine locations increased by only 0.89% over the previous 12-month cumulative total (which could be accounted for by population growth alone). You can see this is a real issue.

Cycle growth in Auckland appears to have flatlined – at least for now, and as far as we can tell.

Sad princess is sad :-(
Sad Cinderella is sad 🙁

When we first identified this trend, many said it didn’t match their perception – more and more people of all kinds are out on bikes than ever before, and bike racks everywhere are overflowing!

Looking at the wider picture, the good news is that cycling hasn’t slumped, and in fact has been growing at a healthy though not spectacular rate… but it seems to grind to a halt about mid 2014. So what does the current flattening trend tell us?

It tells us that Auckland has not been constructing anywhere near the amount of cycleways it should.

In 2013, we noted that only 10km of cycleways were being built per year. Last year, this halved further, to only about 5km!

Unimpressed princess is unimpressed.
Deeply unimpressed Cinderella is deeply unimpressed >:-[

There has been a lot of talk and publicity about new cycleways in recent years. AT’s official documents discuss projects being planned, worked on, pushed forward (including of course on this blog). But the reality is that the actual rate of construction has been desperately poor. The saving grace has been the new projects built by the NZTA, but if they’re not connected to safe local cycling routes, Aucklanders are being short-changed on the value of that investment.

Stop for a moment and picture the city if all the wonderful developments we’re seeing for buses and trains had been talked about and publicised – but not delivered on. Or imagine if short stretches of rail had been electrified, here and there, leaving the rest in its old, grubby, sad, slow state. Or if the Northern Busway stopped at the Harbour Bridge and left people to find their own way to the city! Would punters be rushing to dance with public transport as we now see them doing every day?

That’s the grim scenario that faces people trying to get around the city by bike, every day, everywhere: disconnected, sub-standard, random facilities. And new projects aren’t being completed nearly as fast as they should be. No wonder it’s the most committed who stay out there on their bikes, while the 60% of Aucklanders who want to cycle more are frustrated by the simple lack of infrastructure. No wonder cycle growth is stymied.

It’s time we joined forces with the fairy godmothers of smart transport planning to put pressure on AT to lift their game on cycleway construction. Now.

Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard say 'On your bike, Auckland Transport!' (pic via Pinterest)
Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands say ‘On your bike, Auckland Transport!’ (pic via Pinterest)

There’s never been a better time to move funding and energy into cycling.

  • Some long-delayed and long-desired projects such as Carlton Gore Road and Nelson Street are expected to open for business within 6 months
  • Kathryn King, AT’s new cycling manager, brings a real breath of fresh air to all parts of AT, not just the small walking & cycling team.
  • There are tons of great cycleway plans just raring to go – and town centre cycling projects like Bike Te Atatu and Grey Lynn’s Richmond Rd are ready to be fully activated.
  • Crucially, the government has put up $100m for urban cycleways, which will add $2 to every local dollar put into new central city connected cycleways.

Council needs to put up its local share to access this money for Auckland – because, if we turn our backs on this opportunity, we will be stuck at home like Cinderella.

Council then needs to give Auckland Transport the political mandate to go all-out with that funding.

Here comes the magic bit:

Generation Zero, Cycle Action and Transport Blog have been working through the night to help focus our minds on accessing this funding, and have produced the Essential Transport Budget. We believe a smart city prioritises its spending wisely, and doesn’t pretend we can have it all. We reject the council’s “Basic Transport Network” as lethal for Auckland, and regard the gold-plated “Auckland Plan” as unrealistic and wasteful.

We reckon the Essential Transport Budget – to borrow another fairytale image – is just right. Right for our city, for its budget, and for the transport options that Aucklanders are flocking to embrace.

We know bikes combine well with buses, trains and ferries. And we know Aucklanders WANT more cycling investment, as numerous early returns from the early budget feedback and past surveys have shown!

That’s why the Essential Transport Budget includes a tripling of cycle funding for Auckland.

You too can play fairy godmother, right now! Here’s a super-simple form that lets you say YES to the Essential Transport Budget, YES to active transport, and YES to empowering Auckland Transport to be our coach and team of strong reliable horses to take us to the cycling ball.

Let’s make sure people on bikes in Auckland finally get the level of support they deserve.

Yes to happily ever after on wheels!

Legit actual princess on a bike – a shining inspiration for Auckland's ten-year plan for cycle infrastructure. (Pic of Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands, via http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com)
Legit actual princess on a bike – and a shining inspiration for what we can achieve over the next ten years. (Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands bicycledutch.wordpress.com)

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Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better city. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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