Cycling rates tend to be higher near the city center. Such bike-friendly neighborhoods are usually located within close cycling distance of university classes and downtown jobs and feature a mixture of residential and commercial land uses. For example, the bike mode share exceeds 10% in several of the central neighborhoods of both Toronto and Vancouver compared to less than 1 percent in most of their outlying residential districts. (City Cycling, John Pucher).
One of the myths used to explain Auckland’s abysmally low levels of cycling is that it is “too hilly”. This doesn’t seem to be a significant barrier to cities like Seattle and Portland with similar terrain (and climates) but higher levels of cycling mode share (4.1%, and 6.1% respectively). I find getting around town is fine with a 7-gear bike, especially since I stick to the ridgelines. There are situations when terrain does become a factor in Auckland especially in the center of the CBD around midtown and the inner-west side. Since there are so many jobs and destinations here it’s a massive opportunity to grow bike mode share, and more importantly to provide useful connections from places to destinations. According to the 2013 census there are over 90,000 jobs within the motorway noose. It would seem easy enough to improve connections to the city-fringe since there are so few left due to motorway severance. This post considers connecting the CBD to the city-fringe West and South.
From a network (and low hanging fruit) perspective I consider the above routes as required connections to support cycling (and walking) trips. The following is a comparison and discussion of the elevation profiles of these routes.
The cbd-west connections to Ponsonby Road are both long, steep, but steady climbs. Franklin Road seems marginally better, but I would guess both are well used routes. Queen Street seems to be a real challenge uphill though friends tell me they use it. Interestingly it may have more utility as a one-way bike route into the CBD since it will soon connect-up with the new Grafton Gully cycleway. (Using the term connect-up loosely here).
Greys Avenue is also quite steep but has a nice connection from Aotea Square and beyond from places like Rutland Street and AUT. Vincent and Hobson seem to be gentler grades than Greys Ave, though depending on the trip origination may require a bit of a climb to get to that elevation. Of course navigating Hobson Street currently is a nightmare.
The Union/Pitt route has a long but gentle slope which can be relatively comfortable when using the footpaths. Because it is mostly one-sided along the motorway edge this route has some interesting appeal for its potential to serve as a separated south-north connection from K Road to Victoria Park. Because it is one-sided however, also means that it doesn’t serve a very rich catchment along the way.
Interestingly all these routes combine on Pitt Street leading up to K Rd. It is clear that improvements to this small segment would serve a bunch of routes and help to wind back lingering motorway-scaled setting.
After a long day of work or a few beers, I would say that many of these routes may not be the most appealing way home, and as I said, I tend to avoid the Aotea area of town especially if my next destination is K Rd, GNR or Ponsonby Rd.
So what else can be done to solve this problem of elevation and serve the abundance of jobs and destinations? Here are two realistic ideas:
1. Outfit the City Link bus with bike racks so that people near Aotea can get lifted out of the basin to K Road. Two bike racks will not serve a regular amount of people expecting to use such as service, but it will help to support a growing population of people who may need to use such a service irregularly for example when it starts raining or in the event of a flat tire.
I can hear the mono-modal whinging already. This will add boarding delays; insufferable boarding delays. Currently the City Link is a real dog along Queen Street. I’m not suggesting that this is ideal or should always be the case, but that there is an opportunity here (bike racks) to deliver wider transportation outcomes, specifically by serving as a sort of cycling escalator out of the CBD.
In the longer term there will be increased cycling demand created by the Grafton Gully cycleway, Westhaven promenade, Skypath, and waterfront improvements. Bike racks on the City Link are inevitable and perhaps with rear door boarding and other bus lane priorities this could be implemented in a period of time that actually improves reliability and shortens overall trip travel time for City Link users.
2. The other reasonable option I see is to provide secure overnight bike parking near Aotea. This would allow people to avoid the short and steep trip out of the CBD until the timing is better or perhaps when the next destination is along a shallower incline. HOP enabled bike cages could be placed in the AT car park under Aotea Square.
For a bit of fun, here is a more fanciful solution to the elevation problem from Trondheim Norway as recently profiled in Atlantic Cities. This mechanised lift carries paying riders 130m and an elevation of 25m (compare to the steepest bit of Queen St at 375m, and 29m). It is apparently the small town’s number one tourist attraction and cities in North America are considering this technology.