Running alongside SH16, the Northwestern Cycleway is not only the key bike path from the western suburbs into the CBD, it’s also a crucial local connection to and between Kingsland, Eden Terrace, and Arch Hill. And it’s booming – daily bike traffic has tripled in less than five years, with a daily average of close to 1000 trips registered by the automatic bike counter near Bond St (and 1500 on the last Thursday in February!).

It’s a huge success story – with a major pinch point: the section between St Lukes Rd and Newton Rd. Built in the early 2000s as a shared path for bikes and pedestrians, the width and design here simply haven’t been able to accommodate the growth in both walking and cycling.

Add in the fact that this is also a key school route for many children from Newton Central primary school, both on bikes and in ‘walking school buses’. With a roll of approximately 300, Newton Central is expected to grow strongly over the coming decade as the area intensifies further. Sharing the path safely and courteously is already a challenge, especially at the ‘bottleneck’ section around the Waima Street-Haslett Street overbridge over SH16.

That’s why Bike Auckland and Newton Central School are jointly proposing an upgrade of the path, starting with the ‘bottleneck’. The upgrade would add a dedicated footpath for 1km, separated from the cycleway by a kerb; and upgrades near the motorway footbridge, including a raised zebra for safely crossing the bikeway.

The background

When the NW Cycleway was built through Kingsland and Eden Terrace in the early 2000s, no attempt was made to allow for a separate footpath. This was partly due to limited funding and partly to official scepticism about user numbers: it was thought unlikely the ‘shared path’ would become so busy that sharing it would be a problem.

Famous last words. In reality, there’s been a huge growth in use by pedestrians and by people on bikes. Within the last 5 years, boosted by improvements all along the path and better connections into the city, weekday cycling numbers have more than doubled.

Figure 1: The rolling average of daily riders, based on Auckland Transport data (near Bond St bridge), showing spectacular growth in recent years, particularly for Monday-Friday travel. March 2018 was a record month with 30,000+ trips counted, over 1000 a day.

At the same time, there are more and more pedestrians on the path – people walking into the city, jogging, walking dogs, visiting neighbours, walking to school – leading to unpleasantly tight conditions here, especially at rush hour.

Figure 2: Crowded conditions near the Waima / Haslett bridge during morning hours

Transport engineering guidelines recommend shared paths should not be used where there are more than 100 pedestrian movements per hour. While there’s no official walking counter, our sense is that this level has already been reached or exceeded – especially in the section between Kingsland and Newton. This is the main school catchment area, and also the area where most pedestrians walking into the City Centre join the path.

Both pedestrian and rider numbers will continue to grow in coming years, thanks to:

  • Walkable commutes are increasingly attractive to health-conscious Aucklanders looking to get out of traffic.
  • E-bikes are making riding more attractive and accessible to people formerly discouraged by hills.
  • The Waterview Path (opened October 2017) will bring more riders from as far away as Avondale/New Lynn riding to the City Centre
  • The Ian McKinnon Drive cycleway project (currently underway) will create a new flatter path between Takau Street/Suffolk Reserve and Upper Queen Street, leading to more bikes and pedestrians through this section.
  • More housing in the Kingsland and Newton areas means that even without these new connections, use of walkways and cycleways will keep rising.

The issue

Rising bike and pedestrian traffic on a busy (and sub-standard) shared path like this one tends to have a compounding effect:

  • Walking becomes less pleasant and safe, with pedestrians constantly looking over their shoulders and wary of riders passing too closely
  • Riding becomes less pleasant, with riders dodging pedestrians and less able to maintain a steady pace
  • While actual bike vs pedestrian injuries are statistically quite rare, even ‘close calls’ can be enough to put people off walking, especially older people (as is true of cycling and cars)
  • Parental concern about letting children walk or cycle amongst busier bike traffic, especially alone
  • Traveling side by side – social riding and walking – becomes hard, making the path less useful for parents with children, or people simply wanting to enjoy the journey with company and chat.

Courteous and safe behaviour helps somewhat, but even when the vast majority of pedestrians and people on bikes behave thoughtfully, these issues will persist. Bikes – even without electric assist – have normal gentle travel speeds of 15-20 kph, which is already faster than suitable around pedestrians, and long-distance commuters often set a more cracking pace.

Even with a painted middle line, this section is narrow for people on bikes, with the leafy gutter (R) adding a degree of difficulty.

It’s clear that the current ‘shared path’ design is not sufficient anymore and the path should be improved, beginning with the narrow and congested Newton section.

The solution

The key solution is simple and follows best practice overseas, which is also increasingly used here: give both walkers and bikers dedicated space. Pedestrians shouldn’t have to dodge bicycles, just as they should not have to dodge cars. And people on bikes should be able to travel courteously at normal bike speeds.

We propose the Northwestern Path be upgraded in sections, starting with the areas shown in Figure 3 below:

Figure 3: Proposed sections for upgrade
  • Section A: the NW path between Richbourne St and the Haslett St end of the overbridge: approximately 350m long. This has the highest volumes of walkers and riders, because many coming from the south then continue via the overbridge to cross towards the school or, in the case of riders, towards Ponsonby Road and K Road. It’s also a great starting section for the upgrade, because there is plenty of width available.
  • Section B: Takau Street between Haslett St end of the overbridge and Virginia Ave West: approximately 150m long. This section currently has no cycleway at all, and only a very narrow and often blocked footpath on the southern side, obliging all users to walk and cycle on the street. It’s more constrained in width than Section A, and so more challenging to fix.
  • Section C: The Waima St-Haslett St overbridge, including the short section of path on the northern end up to Partridge Street: approximately 150m long. Concerns here include the low railings and the narrowness of the bridge; and riders coming down onto the bridge too fast, particularly from Great North Road down the steep Waima Street approach.

Proposed improvements – Section A

A new footpath can be built by cutting back the bushes on the motorway side slightly, and building out over the open stormwater drain (piped instead, if needed) as per Figure 4.

The footpath will provide a much safer and more pleasant walking environment on the steep section up towards the Haslett St overbridge, where downhill riders coming south can tend to pick up speed.

Figure 4: New footpath and slightly relocated cycleway near ramp up to the overbridge.

The existing cycle path is retained, but slightly shifted south (by 0.5-1.0m) to help make space for the new footpath. This can be done without removing the connecting single-lane road between Bright St and Alexander Street or the driveway to the end of Buchanan Street. The upgrade would only use land already owned by Council or Crown, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: New footpath and slightly relocated path, looking west from the same spot as in Figure 4.

At the top of the ramped section, under the motorway overbridge, we propose a zebra crossing on a ‘raised table’ (ramped either side of the crossing to slow riders down). This will let pedestrians from the footpath cross over the cycleway more safely, as per Figure 6.

Figure 6: Zebra crossing under the Waima / Haslett bridge to join new footpath & overbridge

The changes proposed for Section A could be implemented quickly and without noteworthy downsides for any stakeholders, including nearby residents. This would significantly improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in a key section, while setting a best-practice example.

Proposed improvements – Section B

Improvements in this section are a little trickier, as Takau Street currently has no pedestrian or cycle facilities, barring the narrow footpath which is blocked by cars, rubbish bins and power poles.

Unless significant retaining walls are added on the motorway side (and some trees removed), this section probably can’t accommodate the roughly 5m width needed to create a separated path.

However, as an easier interim improvement, a footpath could be provided along the existing grass verge, leaving cyclists on-road for the time being. This would still be an advantage for both people on bikes and foot: pedestrians get a dedicated space, riders have more space on-road separate from pedestrians (if not yet from cars, but it’s a very quiet street). This is shown indicatively in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Potential new footpath on grass verge of Takau Street, looking north from Figure 6.

Proposed improvements – Section C

Improvements to the Waima Street – Haslett Street overbridge depend on long term projects in the area – in particular, the proposed light rail line along SH16, which may require bridge modifications some time in the next 10 years. Major improvements – such as bridge widening – are unlikely in the interim, but on the positive side, when light rail happens, improvements may be much more substantial.

In the meantime, we suggest addressing one key issue: riders coming down the steep hills (particularly on Waima Street) and entering the relatively narrow bridge at speeds that are too high for safety. We suggest that this concern could be reduced by:

  • Adding a slight chicane to the path between Partridge St and the bridge. NOTE: this would not be a set of fenced chicanes, which are a dangerous crash risk themselves. Instead, we recommend an S-curve in the path created by landscaping – low shrubs or grass – which can be ridded through without dismounting at appropriate speeds (say 10-20 kph) but cannot be travelled through at higher speeds.
  • Alternatively, or in addition, adding a raised table for bikes, similar to that shown in Figure 6.

The who and the how

The upgrade is a relatively inexpensive project that fits well with the aims and strategies of Auckland Council and the new Government around transport and schools, and falls under the ambit of both council and government (via Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency, NZTA).

AT operates the Northwestern Cycleway and, with NZTA, would be the entity to undertake the upgrade (unless it’s deemed more suitable for NZTA to lead the project – NZTA operates SH16, and constructed several recent upgrades of the path.)

The work could be completed in several stages, and falls fully within Council and NZTA land. Note: most of the project is located in the Albert-Eden Local Board area, though it would also benefit people in the Waitemata Local Board area, where Newton Central School is located.

Next steps

Bike Auckland took this proposal to Newton Central late last year, and it’s been endorsed by the principal Riki Teteina and the Board of Trustees. We’ve since conveyed this proposal to Auckland Transport and they’ve agreed it merits further investigation.

Funding is the next issue: while not very extensive as transport projects go, it may still be too costly for ‘business as usual’ improvements via AT’s minor safety or walking and cycling programmes.

Fortunately, the new government has indicated a much stronger focus in the 2018 transport budget for walking, cycling and safety – and is also explicitly seeking to encourage more active travel to schools. Mayor Phil Goff has also stated his expectation that AT will support safe travel to school on foot and by bike more strongly.

As such, Bike Auckland and Newton Central School strongly ask that this upgrade be investigated ASAP, as a best-practice project that ticks all the boxes.

More examples of separated paths

Amsterdam, in the Netherlands – a typical off-road separated path, with elbow room for people on bikes and walking. (Image: Glen Koorey)
Brisbane, Australia – an off-road path near St Lucia (before opening, hence no traffic!).
Christchurch, New Zealand – one of the first new separated paths. (Power pole placement not ideal, but otherwise, well-indicated separation for bikes and pedestrians.)
A typical ‘school run’ on a separated path in the Netherlands. (Image: David Hembrow)
Categories
Central Auckland Children General News Northwestern Cycleway Off-road paths
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18 responses to “Unclogging the NW bottleneck: A Bike Auckland proposal

  1. It does look like a good improvement. My only concern is the continuing focus on the centre (affluent) city when personally I’d like to see cycling routes in south Auckland become really top notch. I know the numbers and math say you put improvements where the most users are now, but in terms of social measures I think South Auckland could have a much greater impact.
    You folks do great work.
    Can you get a team to apply that talent to making South Auckland a cycling mecca?

      1. Hi Bart and Brandyn – we have spent quite a bit of 2017 advocating for more focus in that area. Search for

        “bermuda triangle” “bike auckland” on Google.

        Sadly, it;s still proving to be a challenge getting investment there, but we certainly are not forgetting those areas.

        For South Auckland, we have been concentrating on Airport / Mangere / Mangere Bridge sections – but also on other areas re specific projects (search “Otahuhu” and “Bike Auckland” and “Papatoetoe” and “Bike Auckland” for some examples).

  2. Excellent plan, bring it on!

    How do you envisage that Section A will actually be built so that disruption is minimised and it doesn’t get a whole lot worse before it gets better? I’ve had enough of complete closures and diversions thanks very much.

    1. The short answer is that, hopefully, the length of these works would be much, much shorter (a few weeks or a month or two at most) rather than the months and years of interchange works. Also, they might be much more able to keep half open while working on the other half (the beauty of wider facilities)…

  3. Seems this approach creates new bike/pedestrian conflicts.
    I.e. Footpath on motorway side.
    Such work would also seem perfect time to address gradient at the intersection of a,b, and c.

    This will mean pedestrians need to cross at every intersection, assuming they don’t do what I like most pedestrians do which is take the shortest/closest route. The blind corner at a/b/c would also not be addressed, but also made worse.

    Surely switching pedestrian and cycle paths at least for section A makes more sense, which alone reduces conflict.

    1. Hi Scott – the footpath on the motorway side is there in part because it is logically the one that sits higher – and it would be weird and un-intuitive if the footpath was the lower of the two elements. Then there is the fact that at some stage people – whether its bikes OR pedestrians need to cross. Put it on the other side, and all you are changing is who crosses who, to a degree.

      More importantly, the cycleway is neither so fast or so busy that it cannot be crossed easily! After all, it is the equivalent of only a single lane (3m) in width, with traffic at 20-40 km/h. Most of our roads are 7m *at minimum* to cross, with traffic at 50-60 km/h. And people will largely cross on and off at defined points (side streets / path entrances) which makes it predictable and quite different from people walking all over / bunching up on a sub-standard shared path…

      As for the blind corner, if you look closely, we DID consider that – by pulling out the path, and putting a (low) planter bed at the fence corner so people aren’t encouraged to short-cut through it. Put some low shrubs or similar in (to prevent people walking through it, and bend the path out by, say 2m – its not a biog detour, and all you need to avoid crashes. But I totally agree with you that the end of Hasslet Street Bridge (a/b/c) needs to be carefully considered.

      1. It’s not obvious in Fig.6 that there is low planting on the green bit but yes, that was the solution that occurred to me too. Only other concern I can see from that figure is the fact that this crossing is on a crest – it might be on a ramp but how soon can a zooming rider see it? (let’s assume they have an e-bike to make light of the uphill)

        Funny to see my good self in the Christchurch photo, but I also recognise the one from Amsterdam – I took it in 2015! (use as you like BTW)

        1. Hi Glen – apologies for not querying your permission first. Its such a great photo – will credit you from hereon.

          1. And fair point re the crest aspect. Maybe that, more than some of the other concerns, is a reason to switch the footpath onto the house side.

    2. I agree with Scott here, particularly for the Haslett St part in Figure 6. Pedestrians will cut across – it should be the bike route that curves around towards the motorway.

      The street hierarchy should be that cars give way to bikes, bikes give way to pedestrians: the one with the greater speed has the greater responsibility to look out for slower users. Even more so because many of these pedestrians are kids. And yes I think pedestrians are even more inclined than bikes to take a shortcut so the plan should work with it not against it.

      At rush hour many people cycle past pedestrians, dog walkers and slower cyclists at uncomfortable speeds. There are the numbers already.

      Swapping around the Hasslett St part would work with Section A because it could have the footpath on the housing side and cycle path on the motorway side; after all there’s a massive slope so the footpath is naturally higher. But really that section needs quite a rethink at some point. It’s an awful gradient (and awful bump to the ramp/kerb on the east side).

      1. Hi Lisa – I agree that cross-overs need to be considered carefully. But the thing is that there are also pedestrians that walk to other places along the path to and from that are outside of this project length – so even after a footpath is added, there will remain long sections without footpaths and where those connect to the separate path, *someone* will have to cross at least in one direction.

        Then there’s the fact that people on bikes ALSO want to get on/off from side streets – so if the footpath is on the house side, then they will have to cross it, whereas they would not need to, if the footpath is on the other side.

        What I am saying is that there’s pros and cons for each side – Bike Auckland isn’t dead-set on any particular side, but so far we feel this is the better option. The final choice will be made by others (authorities) anyway, and everyone will get the chance to provide input.

  4. Ive stopped using the path at weekends – cyclists in packs hog the whole path – riding the route menacingly at breakneck speeds … im pleased a necessary separation is occurring ..

  5. Great to see some thought and attention to this area. As mentioned by others I would question the order of the lanes for the highlighted section A (pedestrians on the left or the right) – but I can see that this is already being worked through in discussion. One thing I would like to question though is why the plan proposes to retain the short stretch of Bright Street next to the path. Looking at the map all other roads in parallel to Bright Street end at the path. There does not appear to be any access requirements off that short stretch. By reclaiming that road area it might make it easier to implement the changes and make a wider section for both walkers and cyclists etc.

    1. True, but road stopping (if it is a legal road) is horrendously difficult, and would also bring out some opposers who might not care otherwise. Quite simply, to not add lots of uncertainty and delay to a bike project, I wouldn’t support pulling that into scope unless it was needed. And I don’t really think it is. Just make the lane narrower…

  6. Hi guys… figure 5 you may run into issues there with minimum width requirements for emergency vehicles. Might not be an issue if mounting the kerb is possible.

    1. Thanks, but yes, that won’t be a problem – would be easily mountable, and both streets are accessible directly from New North Road – it simply connects the ends of two cul-de-sacs.

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