This is a guest post from commenter Sam F
One of the debates that most frequently pops up around improving the lot of bicycle users in Auckland is the priority given to off-road versus on-road infrastructure. On one hand, there’s the popularity of routes like the Northwestern cycleway alongside SH18, which will hopefully grow further with the Grafton cycleway project reaching into town, and further into the future the Skypath bridge crossing project. On the other, there’s the continued problem of making the vast bulk of roads outside of the “cycle superhighways” fit for bike users, with major projects involving meaningful changes to road usage very rare (and where they do, sometimes being scaled down and cheapened up in the design stages to the point of wondering why changes to cycle provision where proposed at all).
As a daily rider myself I can attest to how odd it can be to suddenly come to the end of a well-provisioned “superhighway” stretch and re-enter the Auckland roading network we have all come to know and love – less like a motorway ending in a cul de sac and more like a wasterslide ending in a shark pit. Obviously the ideal solution would be to simply continue the lanes and bespoke provision right through the heart(s) of the beast, but we haven’t yet reached the point where that seems politically viable, and probably won’t until we can increase the numbers and visibility of people getting around by bike – which means making whatever worthwhile improvements that we can to the roading system that we have now.
In that spirit, Cycle Action Auckland and Auckland Transport have been working away since last year on a “Quick Wins” project for cycling focused on New North Road which is now beginning to bear some fruit A user audit by CAA, and another detailed safety audit commissioned by AT, looked at cycle safety for the road from Mount Albert through to Symonds Street, and one of the most significant safety issues in both reports has resulted in proposals which AT is consulting on right now.
These concerns “merge conflict pinch points” – places where a multi-lane road is narrowed down after an intersection by on-street parking, leading motor vehicles to speed ahead to jockey for their position in the narrowed lanes. The likely result for cyclists (probably familiar to most people who’ve ridden onroad in Auckland for a good length of time) is getting squeezed out to the left, to avoid being mashed by motor traffic either rushing up behind or passing too closely on the side.
As a result, four of these pinch point sites on New North Road are earmarked by AT for parking removal – No Parking At All Times, signified by the good old broken yellow lines – to allow more room for bikes and motor traffic to merge safely.
Having commuted along New North Road for the best part of six years, I took the time to fire through a fairly detailed email on each of these locations, which I’ve summed up below. You can find the official proposals and an email link for submissions on AT’s website here . Submissions close on 13 February, so make sure you leave some time after reading this to fire up your email and let AT know what you think…
2A New North Road, Eden Terrace
This site comes just after the intersection of Mt Eden Rd with New North Road and Symonds Streets, where quite a bit of motor traffic and buses starts its journey westward either all the way along New North Road or to the flyover intersection with Dominion Road.
As is apparent from the aerial shot, there’s only three normal-sized parking spaces to be removed, all of which have ready alternatives in side streets and offstreet carparks all around, so it’s hard to imagine any reasonable claims of major negative effects on property owners in the area.
These parking spaces vanish into clearway during peak hours, but even at these times there’s already confusion between road users going downhill from the lights – in a classic pinch point, westbound traffic that is in two lanes at the traffic lights often has to merge into a single lane around the corner (with no lane markings to reflect or guide this), and then out into two lanes again at the next lights. When vehicles are in fact parked here, cyclists who’ve filtered up to the advance stop box at the lights have the prospect of trying to merge to the right in the face of merging cars on the right and frequently also avoiding buses pulling left into a stop just past the parking spaces.
Of all the ones proposed this particular change seems like a no-brainer – removing the carparks here would make a significant difference to cyclists and will have the added benefit of making this stretch of road more predictable and efficient for all road users. Here’s hoping this one at least survives the consultation process. Onwards and westwards…
61-63 and 607-613 New North Road
These are another couple of useful changes both of which should assist cyclists headed eastbound uphill on New North Road. At 61-63 New North, just up from the Exmouth Road Intersection, the combination of a gradual left curve and a fairly steep gradient from the lights make this a difficult area for cyclists and drivers already, and removing carparks from this location will improve the situation further.
Down at Morningside (607-613 New North) this change will make life easier for cyclists moving uphill, particularly as uphill traffic headed away from the lights at Morningside Drive often speeds up rapidly:
I’d expect the Morningside change will have quite substantial objection from retailers, given these spaces are right outside a block of shops – however there is offstreet carparking very close by, which is probably unused as it’s tucked away, both behind the Morningside shops themselves in the aerial photo (under the white text box) and behind the corner dairy at 600 New North on the southern side. Removing the on-street parks here might be more palatable if some moves are made (by AT or by local boards, or both working together) to better signpost or prettify the existing off-street carparks, to make it clear that shoppers are still well provided for and that the changes aren’t about opposing motor vehicles on principle.
895 New North Road
This is a welcome step in the right direction for an area which like 2A New North Road is a major conflict zone between motor traffic and cyclists accelerating downhill. Speaking both as a cyclist and driver, I think the total removal of onstreet parking at these shops down to 875 New North Road would be even better from a safety and traffic calming perspective, as this is a horrendous area for clashes between car doors and passing traffic, even before cyclists join the equation:
That said, it’s another useful small step at least. The big issue in making changes here, probably more so than all three other locations, will be business owner opposition – the offstreet carparking behind these shops is horribly neglected and (anecdotally) prone to theft ex vehicle, and the prevailing “park and grab” retail culture all the way through the Mount Albert shops will probably lead owners to fear (with more justification than in most cases) losing custom to other nearby stores with parking outside. Although the cynic in me would ask whether a business dependent on parking at the door for survival doesn’t have bigger issues to look at, these are real fears from real people, and AT might have to be more creative in finding a solution to allay these concerns and make it clear that everyone will gain from a safer environment at this site – a small step to making Mount Albert Shops a more humane traffic environment.
All considered, one of the striking things about these reasonably minor changes is the benefits they seem to offer to road users outside of just cyclists. All of these changes, for instance, will take place along a major bus route whose drivers are probably just as slowed and impeded by badly placed parking as anyone else. Private motorists could also probably use a bit more predictability when working their way through these spots, a benefit to the majority of drivers which should well offset the loss of a parking spot or two.
I’d encourage anyone with a stake in these changes – which should include anyone who lives on, drives or rides this road – to send their opinion to AT via email at the bottom of the page here (again, by the end of tomorrow. Skypath submissions also close tomorrow so don’t forget to put those in either). Early indications from the team at CAA are that the opposition to these changes will be heavy, so if you find merit in part of all of these changes from any perspective (however you get around), it’s worth letting AT know. It’s not all over until the lines get drawn…
This post evolved from an original announcement at caa.org.nz here. Many thanks to Max Robitsch and others at CAA for their thoughts and additional nformation provided.