In this recent post Matt collated some stunning photos of Auckland. More than most cities, Auckland is blessed with a wonderful natural environment. But some of the comments on Matt’s post gave me cause to pause, because they noted that all the stunning photos of Auckland were taken from approximately 300m up in the air and/or at night.
“bbc” put it this way:
All cities look picturesque from above at night, the issue is at street level which is where you actually interact with a city. At the fine-grained level Auckland is a particularly ugly city, and has a long way to go.
To which “Steve West” responded:
So true. São Paulo for example looks awesome at night yet it is a bit of a hole too. New Zealand does not have attractive cities – it is only the natural backdrop which offset the harshness of the 1980s era concrete and glass box prefab which continues to this day. Thanks Rogernomics. Recent article in a UK paper to that point – natural scenery nice but Auckland a bit crap.
Having read Steve’s comment I went off scurrying for the article he was referring to. Instead of finding that one however, I uncovered another two recent articles in U.K. that discussed Auckland. The first one was published in The Sun and made particularly positive claims about Auckland being “hobbit forming”. Nice, we’re obviously doing something right.
I then stumbled across this article in the Guardian, which was rather bluntly titled “How cities fail their cyclists in different ways.” It started off discussing Hong Kong, which was interesting, but scrolling down the page a little more you find a sub-section titled “Cities where cycling should be more popular than it is. Example: Auckland“. The content that follows is, I think, worth repeating in full:
Yes, it’s hilly in places and, once you reach the suburbs, very spread out, but Auckland really should be awash with cyclists. It has suitably temperate weather and that same spread out-ness leaves plenty of potential space for bike lanes.
But wander, with the eye of a regular cyclist, around the city centre, and you’re almost immediately struck by the lack of bikes on the road. Outside peak times they’re almost non-existent, barring the occasional cycle courier. Those you do see generally sport the Lycra garb and haunted expression of the cycling enthusiast in a bike-unfriendly environment.
The city is trying to boost numbers and, according to the most recent annual cycling survey, with some success, with 30% more riders on the roads than five years ago. But the numbers remain fairly small – just under 13,500 “cycling movements” observed on one day at 82 monitoring sites. It’s not helped by a compulsory helmet law, in place since the mid-1990s.
I was aghast to learn that the city’s harbour bridge, the main link between the centre and suburbs to the north, has no way at all for cyclists to cross. They must either plonk their bike on a ferry or take a fairly long detour. As an emblem for a city dominated by cars and roads it’s hard to beat.
The more I thought about it the more I found myself agreeing with the basic premise of the above article: Auckland is quite suited to cycling. One of the benefits of our geography is that there are pleasant views (like the ones shown in Matt’s photos) waiting at the top of most hills and around most corners. And it’s not like we have a winter that’s quite as cold as Amsterdam, where I used to live (and cycle!).
I know we talk about public transport a lot on this blog and it is true that Auckland can do much better in this regard. However I’m increasingly wondering if we’re not over-looking opportunities for Auckland to become more of a cycling city.
A recent presentation on the Integrated Transport Programme, for example, apparently made no mention of walking or cycling, instead referring only to major (read “expensive”) road and public transport projects. I know it’s only a presentation and that we should hold fire until the ITP itself is released, but what message does it send when the summary to a 30-year strategic document developed by almost all the government agencies involved in transport planning does not identify one signature walking/cycling project? It’s amazing to me that walking in particularly can be so over-looked given that it still contributes almost 10% of journeys to work.
And the failure to mention walking/cycling projects from the ITP presentation came hot on the heels of this month’s AT business report, which also left out cycling statistics altogether. It seems like Auckland Transport is suddenly afraid of using the “c” word?
As a cyclist myself I’m obviously “biased” – but on the other hand let’s not ignore than a person on the other side of the world felt sufficiently motivated to use Auckland as an example of a city where “cycling should be more popular than it is.” This point is worth ramming home: A journalist in the U.K. – who could have chosen any city in the world – choose Auckland. That’s not something to be proud of my friends, and it’s not something that will help us to become the world’s most livable city. While Auckland has and continues to make progress on many transport fronts, in my view our investment in cycling still lags.
In my opinion Auckland needs to become vastly more welcoming to cyclists before it can lay claim to being the world’s most livable city. And only then might you start to see beautiful photos being taken at ground level.