The Bike Blueprint 2020 – where should Auckland invest in cycling next?

This is a cross post from our friends over at Bike Auckland. It was written by Max

The Urban Cycleway Fund has given a huge boost to new bike facilities over the last few years – but its initial 3-year funding period ends in mid 2018. And well before that happens, both Auckland Transport and NZTA will need to have a strong vision of where to go next, and a programme of projects prioritized and ready to go.

That’s why, over the last six months, Bike Auckland has been working behind the scenes on the next tranche of Auckland’s bike infrastructure, 2018-2021.

With an eye to round numbers – and the “vision thing” – we called it the Auckland Bike Blueprint 2020, and have been sharing it with AT and NZTA to help inform their official plans.

If you’ve been to recent Bike Auckland meetings, you may have seen earlier iterations of the Blueprint – but this is the first time we have shown it online. Read on to find out how we developed this vision, and where and why we want to see more cycleways in the next funding period…

The “Routes” and “Areas” base maps combine together to form the Bike Blueprint (read on for explanations, links, and close-ups).

What is the Bike Blueprint?

The blueprint shows Bike AKL’s proposed priorities for Auckland cycling infrastructure over the ~3-5 years from 2018.

These priorities are set out in two key maps: The Routes, which are new key backbone links; and The Areas, which are coordinated approaches to a whole suburb or sector.

What is it not?

It isn’t a citywide network – that’s a much larger and longer project. Rather, it’s parts of the future Auckland cycle network that we think can and should be prioritized in the next funding and building period.

It isn’t everywhere – because if you prioritise everything (much as we’d like to!), you prioritise nothing. And by scattering your investment across the map, you risk not making the kind of measurable difference needed to guarantee more investment. But be assured that as we cut our strategic cloth to fit the vision, questions like “Is this fair?” and “Shouldn’t this area get something?” were some of the most difficult and most hotly debated.

It isn’t Greenways – but we do see Greenways as a smart way over the coming years to ensure bike-friendly changes in areas that are not being prioritized with major chunks of AT or NZTA funding. We’re also alert to local“windows of opportunity” in areas we haven’t prioritized, which can provide unexpected chances for improving cycling as part of unrelated projects.

How did you develop the maps?

We looked at the following key criteria for investment:

  • Potential users (employment / residents)
  • Gaps & opportunities in the bike network (aiming to Ungap the Map, as our Vancouver mates phrase it)
  • Planned housing development & planned transport projects
  • Positive feedback loops between the “routes” and “areas”

More on all that as we go through…

So, what are the “Routes”?

Continue reading The Bike Blueprint 2020 – where should Auckland invest in cycling next?

Submit on inner west cycle consultation

Auckland’s about to take a few significant new steps towards being a more cycle-friendly city. We’ve gotten the go-ahead for some major off-road cycleways, like Grafton Gully, Pinkpath, the Glen Innes to Tamaki cycleway, and (pending Environment Court appeals) Skypath. Investments to date are paying off nicely, with big jumps in cycle trips along the routes that have seen the biggest improvements in connectivity.

nw-cycleway-kingsland-800x469

But the next steps for the city’s nascent cycling network are, in many senses, more important. In order to get the best use out of existing cycle routes, we need to connect them to things. This means making cycle improvements on local and arterial streets to make them safer and more comfortable for people on bikes.

Auckland Transport is currently running two consultations on cycle facility improvements in the inner west. Our friends at Bike Auckland have the details.

The first consultation is on cycle improvements in Grey Lynn, Arch Hill, and Westmere. This includes the potential for separated cycle lanes on a significant chunk of Great North Road. This consultation has now been extended to 21 October, so you’ve got a week to put in your views.

Here’s a run-down of the routes that they’re looking at:

grey-lynn-area-improvements-all-routes-map

Bike Auckland has a more in-depth run-down of the details that I’d recommend reading before submitting. Here’s their summary of the Great North Rd changes:

Route 4: Great North Road

This changes everything, as you can see from the project page and the detailed plans! As well as the installation of protected bike lanes, there’s a big bus-stop shuffle, improvements for pedestrians, and safer intersections.

Of particular interest to the bike community:

  • 1.5m-wide cycle lane, on-road for nearly the entire length of the route, on both sides of the road, inside the bus lane – separated from the bus lane by a 0.5m physical or painted buffer.

  • Due to lack of space on the road, a small section of raised off-road cycle path on the existing concrete berm (past the library) heading towards Grey Lynn shops, between Coleridge Street and Crummer Road.

  • Narrowing of the central median to 1.7-2.2m along the length of the route.

Bike Auckland member Max has  also written a more in-depth guide to the design issues, concluding with some key recommendations:

  1. Please ensure the cycle lane is physically separated – with a solid, durable divider!

  2. We like the bus stop cycle bypasses – please provide as many as you can, and as much space for them as possible.

  3. At intersections, please provide hook turns for safe right turns – we want this everyday movement to be stress-free.

Down the road slightly, there’s a lower-profile but nonetheless important consultation going on for the redesign of the Great North Rd / Bullock Track intersection. Bike Auckland has the details and the contact form for submissions. Submissions are open until 17 October – so get them done this weekend if you want to be heard:

…at some point – like when an intersection is officially listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Intersections in New Zealand” and “Third worst in Auckland” – you have to hope that something will finally get done.

That’s the case for the intersection of Great North Road / Bullock Track, west of Grey Lynn, which has a very long rap sheet: over fifty known crashes (including one fatality) over the last 10 years, among them one of our own close associates, who had a potentially very bad (but ultimately “lucky”) crash with an inattentive driver last year.

[…] Now, at last, Auckland Transport is proposing to provide traffic signals at this intersection to increase safety for all road users, which will also help cyclists.

Public feedback is invited until 17 October 2016.

Bike Auckland reviews the details of the project, and offers a verdict:

What’s good about it…

  • The intersection is signalised, making it less likely for that Bullock Track driver focussed entirely on getting to the other side to suddenly shoot out and ram you as you pass through on your bike, as in the case of our friend who got hit here.
  • A new pedestrian crossing over Great North Road replaces an old pedestrian refuge that obliged you to dash over multiple lanes. Better crossing options are good for a multi-modal city.
  • A longer section of bus lane into town for those taking public transport (which also functions as a small improvement for very confident on-road riders).
  • New zebra crossings around the motorway interchange to make those drivers pay more attention to pedestrians.

And what’s not so good…

  • No cycle facilities. A brand new traffic signal, just a wee ride away from the growing western cycleway network that is coming for Surrey Crescent and GNR (east of Grey Lynn into town). But no facilities for those riders, no protected lanes. And no connections westward, either – even though AT was going to look into this section after the Pohutukawa 6 were saved, and the design of GNR through the St Lukes Interchange was ‘to be rethought’, including improvements for people on bikes.

  • Those shared paths don’t count. Sorry, but they’re really just signs on a wide footpath (which is crowded with pedestrians when events are on). And the paths don’t lead anywhere, because directly west and east of these sections, it isn’t even legal to ride on the footpath. Sure, some people currently do – for example to get to MOTAT, Western Springs Park, or the Stadium, and the Northwestern Cycleway (and there’s a fair amount of school-age bike traffic to be spotted on the footpath morning and afternoon, an expression of how unfriendly the road space is for anyone other than very confident cyclists). But the fact that some 150m of this informal ‘heavy traffic avoidance route’ will now be legal doesn’t really change much.

  • Riding in the new eastbound bus lane may be better than having to claim a general lane, or riding in a narrower painted cycle lane between two lines of cars. But you’ll still have traffic to the left of you (turning into Bullock Track) and to the right of you (heading eastward on GNR) and of course, buses fore and aft. Rider beware. Would it be a better idea to allow cyclists to continue straight from the left turn lane, instead of making them use the bus lane? (NB this would only work if the footpath wasn’t built out on the northeast corner, so that riders could merge more gradually back into the bus lane once past the Bullock Track).

  • Some aspects of the new signal worry us a bit. Will we have motorists doing (illegal) right turns here? For example, will everyone who currently turns right out of Tuarangi obediently take the back way up the hill instead, to join GNR at the town centre? Or will some continue to risk turning right here, as is their habit? And consider the right turn into Tuarangi – it will still be allowed, but there is no dedicated right turn lane. Will people driving towards town suddenly swerve into the bus lane (where on-road cyclists will be) instead of waiting behind right turners? To be fair, we are bringing up some likely quite rare possibilities here – whereas right now, every single driver coming out of Bullock Track at peak hour is a potential hazard. But at minimum, AT will have to closely check whether such risky behaviour will happen.

  • Two of the three new zebra crossings around the interchange have no raised tables. How can people be sure that drivers off and onto a fast motorway will slow down and give way? Sadly, NZTA is very, very resistant to having raised tables on such lanes at their interchanges.

If you’re a regular (or aspiring) user of the cycle network in the inner west, I’d strongly encourage you to read up on the proposals and put in a submission!

Join the call for a truly bikeable Auckland!

Our good friends at Bike Auckland have launched a campaign for a truly bikeable Auckland. Below I’ve re-posted their blog post introducing the campaign.

bikeable-akl

We’re launching a campaign for a truly bikeable Auckland – and calling on the incoming council and local boards to commit to the vision, with a vital network, more local links, and safer streets.

We’d love you to sign on. Here’s why…

Six weeks ago, Auckland Council voted unanimously to greenlight SkyPath, the missing link for our bikeable future. What gave them the courage to do that? You did! You spoke up ten thousand strong in favour of SkyPath. Our city leaders heard your enthusiasm, loud and clear. And they saw what it looks like on a map when everyone who’s keen to bike in this city puts up their hands.

It was the same when you showed up en masse for the opening of the iconic pink Lightpath. And when you came along on the Sunday Best Ride. And when we flooded into K Rd for a day of Open Streets, where every other overheard comment was ‘Can’t we do this every weekend?’.

The sheer joy of people of all ages, walking and biking happily in a beautiful city, is a powerful thing to witness. It’s a powerful thing to be part of. And a powerful impulse for change.

Now, with the local election just around the corner (voting starts 16 September!), we’re counting on you to help make bikes count again.

Why now? Because our city’s at a tipping point for everyday cycling, thanks to a recent burst of ‘kickstarter’ investment from central government and the transport levy. The network effect is kicking in, as more and more cycleways are built and connected. The CBD and isthmus are the current focus, with links to other transport hubs –  but our vision has always been to get that bike-friendly energy happening all over the city. Ultimately, we want every neighbourhood to be bikeable by every person who wants to bike.

What’s a ‘bikeable’ city? It’s a humble notion. A bikeable distance is not too far. A bikeable route is not too hilly. A bikeable expedition is not too onerous. A bikeable neighbourhood is one where it makes sense – and feels safe and normal– to use a bike instead of a car for short trips.

It’s also a big vision. A bikeable city is a city that’s fully enabled for bikes. A bikeable city allows people of all ages to get around on bikes whenever they feel like it. A bikeable city is accessible without a car (especially when combined with public transport). A bikeable city takes safe streets as read. A bikeable city is all sorts of other things too, as anyone who’s travelled (or remembers the good old days) can attest. Quieter. Friendlier. Fitter. Healthier. More efficient. And fun.

Who’s a bikeable city for? Everyone who says they’d bike more if it felt safer (60% of Aucklanders, according to a 2015 Auckland Transport survey; 92% of people who answered a 2013 poll by the AA!). All of us who go somewhere safe to ride for fun on the weekend, and wish we could do it from home, too. Everyone who’d like to travel further and faster than you can on foot, while enjoying fresh air and the buzz of getting around under your own steam.

A better city for bikes is a better city for everyone. All around the world, cities are realising they can’t squeeze more cars in and still feel like a place you want to live. Bikes offer a cheap-as-chips solution to a growing city’s needs:

  • a fast track to a sustainable future
  • expanding access to growing public transport networks
  • affordable commuting
  • regular activity for over-scheduled folk
  • transport options for kids and teenagers and the elderly
  • handy transport for local trips
  • one less car on the road and one more healthy citizen on the go
  • magical short-cuts around peak-hour congestion

A truly bikeable Auckland is within reach… as long as we keep up the momentum at every level. The budget and the know-how are out there. It just takes political will. That means us wanting it enough to ask our city leaders to make it happen.

So, how do we get there from here?

We shout!

Let’s make some noise. Hop on over to the campaign page to add your name. And share the link with friends and family who’d love to see a bikeable Auckland in their lifetime. The more of us who speak up, the sooner it will happen.

PS Over the coming weeks we’ll dig deeper into each element of our three-part vision. We’ll also track where the candidates stand. Some of the ‘bike burb’ groups are interviewing local board candidates; we’re inviting candidates to commit to the vision so you can see who’s bike-friendly. Watch this space.

PPS Here’s that link again! Let’s go!

The 2016 AT Active Modes Survey: the case for joy

Jolisa from our good friends at Bike Auckland and I decided to both do cross posts on AT’s active transport mode survey results. Here’s their take.

The 2016 AT Active Modes survey is full of good cycling news, as already noted by Matt. Just to recap: firstly, more people are riding bikes. Apparently we can thank the ‘considerers’ for this: folk who were once merely bike-curious are sliding over comfortably into the category of ‘occasional’ riders.

2014-16 behaviour framework

Also, over the last two years, the percentage of people biking once a week or more has doubled, from 6% to 13%. And nearly one in three Aucklanders has jumped on a bike at some point in the past year – compared to one in five in 2014. That’s significant.

2014-16 cycling behaviour

So what’s going on in people’s minds to make biking more attractive? You might remember that last year’s survey floated a theory that traditional demographic factors (blokes on bikes) might be putting ordinary people off riding bikes – complete with a scary photo of MAMILs having coffee.

After we took a closer look at the survey it became clear the spectre of these happy coffee-drinking Tour d’Aucklanders was a big shiny red herring, and that you could in fact see recreational riding (by all kinds of people, in all kinds of clothes) as an incubator for everyday cycling.

This year’s survey reiterates that most Aucklanders who cycle do so for ‘recreation and fitness’, but I’m curious: doesn’t pretty much every bike ride fit into that category? If I do my errands by bike rather than by car, I might well describe that as a trip for purposes of recreation and fitness, with the nice side effect of getting things done.

In any case, it’s good to see that bike trips for shopping, work, education and to public transport are edging up too.

2014-16 cycling trips

Extrapolating the percentages to numbers gives us this pleasing picture:

The survey then moves on to thinking about trips, with the goal of converting a few car trips a week to walking or cycling, to take pressure off the roads. (Bring back carless days! But in a fun way, like PokemonGo). As Matt pointed out, this is where things go a bit haywire and downright binary in the assumption department.

People were asked if they could maybe make some regular trips by bike or on foot, and these were their quite promising responses:

  • 29% reckoned they could reasonably bike to work
  • 10% could walk to work
  • 38% could bike to the shops
  • 24% could walk to the shops

… but don’t. Yet.

So there’s tons of potential there. Which the survey interprets thus:

Wait, what? Even though even more people reckoned they could reasonably bike to work and go shopping by bike than do either on foot… the survey compilers leap to the conclusion that bikes are for work trips and walking is for shopping, and never the twain shall meet.

This doesn’t map onto the actual lived experience of anyone I know who’s ever biked to work. It’s a rare trip that doesn’t involve grabbing at least a bottle of milk on the way home. It’s like they’ve never even heard of quaxing. Or seen a bike basket.

And now we come to the bit that really made me smile. No, really.

This one does map onto actual lived experience. The more you bike, the more you freaking love it – like a grinning, joyful loon – and the more the grumps go away. It’s true. Bikes help you shed the monster!

The survey compilers make the case that AT could help more Aucklanders along that path to joyfully biking to work by (a) removing perceived barriers, so people feel encouraged to give it a go – while also (b) emphasizing the emotional rewards of riding a bike.

I’d humbly suggest that quaxing the occasional bottle of milk is also a great place to start. Dust off the ‘recreational’ bike and pop to the dairy. Take the kids. Take the long way home. Next thing you know, you’ll be biking the kids to school and yourself to work and doing it more than once a week and experiencing a radical uptick in joy. It’s science!

Lastly, a bit of good news for AT and its role in a more bikeable Auckland. Of those who’d heard about what AT is doing for walking and cycling, what most stuck in their mind was… new bike lanes and routes. Yes, Aucklanders are paying attention.

And what’s more, they like what they see.

Keep at it, AT. Keep bringing the joy.

Growth in cycling on new separated cycleways

Last week, Auckland Council unanimously voted to approve the construction of Skypath, the long-overdue walking and cycling link across the Waitemata Harbour. (There is still the hurdle of a potential Environment Court appeal by opponents.) Well done to all the councillors, some of whom had previously expressed scepticism – the city will be better for their votes, and their willingness to rethink an occasionally contentious issue.

In the wake of the Skypath decision, it’s worth taking a look at what’s happened to cycling in the city over the last year. The other week, Bike Auckland published some valuable new analysis of Auckland Transport’s cycle count data. Thanks to AT’s programme of rolling out new cycle counters, we now know a lot more about where people are cycling.

We also know a lot more about the outcomes from recent investments in new safe cycle facilities, such as Grafton Gully, the Pinkpath, Nelson St, and the newly installed Quay St cycleway.

The summary is that these cycle investments have been quite successful. The number of people cycling has increased in locations where safe cycling facilities have been rolled out, while staying relatively constant in other places. (This is, needless to say, good news for the fortunes of Skypath.)

Over to Bike Auckland:

AT is now also reporting the details of those counts much more openly, here. The summary data for June is not available yet – although we have the data for individual locations, as seen on the graphs below – but we do know that in May 2016, cycle numbers were up 22% on May of the year before!

If this growth continues, Auckland may well be the city in New Zealand furthest along on the way to reaching NZTA’s goal of 30% growth in urban cycling by 2018.

…it is pleasing (if not unexpected) to see where the greatest growth is.

Surprise! It’s where new cycleways have been built… and on the routes leading to these new bikeways. This is the network effect – another way of saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ – and it’s really starting to kick in.

And especially on those routes, we see an interesting change – the usual winter drop-off is much shallower than usual, and in some cases hardly seems to be happening. Can it be that, with better cycleways and more company, riders are happier to keep going when it gets chilly, damp, and dark in the evenings? Is Auckland exhibiting a bit of the ‘Viking biking’ spirit of our Scandinavian antipodes?

Richard Easther, one of Bike Auckland’s associates, has done us all the lovely favour of putting those dry numbers into easy-to-grasp visuals, so we can see how and where Auckland biking is growing. Below, see some fascinating graphs of the flows at some of the counters around Auckland…

[Ed note: if you’re not a graphs or data person, two things to note: the numbers up the left hand side show the monthly total of bike trips; and you’ll notice a dip in the middle of each year as winter arrives. What’s striking about the growth on the new and newly connected paths is that not only is the annual ‘high tide’ getting higher, but the ‘low tide’ is too.]

Beach Rd

Clearly Beach Road is benefitting from all the improvements, including Grafton Gully and its own Stage II extension. A jump of around a third in many of the months earlier this year!

A few instructive contrasts, and some (brief) added commentary from me.

The first thing has been that new cycle investments in and around the city centre haven’t simply cannibalised existing cycle numbers. Cycle counts on Beach Road (and the off-road Grafton Gully cycleway) are up, in spite of the competition from the PinkPath / Nelson St. And, if you follow the link through, you’ll also see that cycling on Symonds St and K Rd has held steady:

Nelson St cycleway

Nelson Street (i.e. through the City itself, not Lightpath) is showing very heavy numbers. The REAL growth here is not visible in the stats: after all, before the protected cycleway opened, this route had just some 5-10 incredibly brave cyclists every morning… now there are several hundred daily, even though the route is still truncated and stops at Victoria St.

The second is that investments in and around the city centre have been followed by significant growth on existing parts of the cycle network. That’s most clearly in evidence on the Northwest Cycleway, which is seeing the largest annual growth ever:

NW Cycleway (Kingsland)

Here’s where the network effect rubber really hits the road, er, off-road cycleway. You can see how the magnetic field of the pink path boom (and the related Grafton Gully effect) has spread far and wide – even more than 5km away, in Kingsland, where numbers are massively up on 2014 and 2015.

NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)

And the effect continues at Te Atatu over 10 km away; if the numbers traveling to the city from further out are a bit lower, they’re still really really high (and resisting the usual winter drop-off). Recent cycleway improvements along the causeway will definitely have helped with this.

The third finding is about the dog that didn’t bark: cycle counts on streets that have not seen investments in safe separated cycle facilities. Some of these streets show some minor growth, but by and large demand is not increasing. That’s in evidence on routes like Tamaki Drive:

Tamaki Dr (EB + WB)

We see a slight boost on Tamaki Drive – but the real growth will come from Quay Street (now open), Quay Street to Ngapipi (~2017-2018) and Glen Innes-Tamaki (2018). Until then, though, our busiest cycle route continues to pedal along in huge numbers.

And, on the North Shore, East Coast Rd:

East Coast Rd

Numbers on East Coast Road near Constellation Drive have been static – not surprising, as little cycle investment has occurred in the area in recent years.

The good news is that we can learn from the positive results on and around new separated cycleways. If we want to boost cycling elsewhere in the city – and we should; it’s the cheapest and most efficient way to get around in cities – it’s pretty clear what we should do.

Mid-week reading: Cycle connectivity, metro connectivity, walkability

This is mid-week reading – a feature I’m writing while trying to get on top of work and back on a regular blogging schedule.

This week’s theme is connectivity. Transport networks are powerful tools for connecting people – or separating them. When designed well and managed safely, they can allow people to reach opportunities. But when designed poorly, they can create severance and isolate people from each other.

Unfortunately, once infrastructure’s been put in place, it’s extremely persistent. A non-connective street network will stay in place more or less indefinitely. There are relatively few opportunities to change that.

However, the clever folks at Bike Auckland recently highlighted a new opportunity to overcome severance through the design of the Tamaki Drive to Glen Innes cycleway. In their first post on the topic, they highlighted the abundance of connections offered by the Northwestern Cycleway:

This is a tale of two paths. We begin out west, on a stretch of the Northwestern Cycleway. This is a ‘road of national significance’ for people on bikes – a commuter path from the far west into town. But at the local level, it also makes all sorts of handy journeys possible for people like Penny and her family, who use the path to access school, daycare, and work.

Motorway-style routes have a seductive A to B directness, whether they’re for cars or bikes, but what makes them truly useful, as Penny’s family’s story shows, is the exits – the on- and off-ramps, if you will.

Of course, the Western Springs/ Kingsland stretch of the NW cycleway is especially rich in access points, a legacy of how SH16 was sliced through the heart of the original connected neighbourhood. Take the 2.5km stretch from St Lukes Rd to the Waima St over bridge that leads to Penny’s school. There are by a rough count 14 connections to local streets. One every 180m or so!

And the relative paucity of connections proposed for a key section of the new Tamaki to GI cycleway:

From our first engagement with this project in November 2014, we’ve seen this path as not just a utilitarian urban access route for long distance commuters, but an iconic destination and local treasure in its own right. We’ve consistently made the case for linking the cycleway to existing recreational paths and nearby streets, so as to make local journeys possible and to integrate the path into the neighborhoods it passes through. (We’re also battling tirelessly for better cycle facilities on the roads that will bring people to the cycleway).

In other words, this path will not only link Glen Innes to downtown, but will also allow for smart local trips like Penny’s family’s rides – if it comes well-supplied with local connections.

Wait a minute. Did we say ‘if’? 

Yup.

Because there’s a chance that Stage 2, which is the 2.5km stretch between St Johns Rd and the Orakei Boardwalk, may yet make it through construction with no side connections (only the future possibility of them).

In Bike Auckland’s second post, they explored the impact of adding even a single local connection:

But do you really have a feel for what difference just a single additional side access could make – and how many more people could get to the path easily and safely if one was built?

Well, we wanted to get an idea, so we did an experiment. We used an Open Street Map, with the new Stage 2 section of the path added in red – and we estimated the catchment first with, and then without a key additional side path.

We started from Meadowbank Train Station, which is a good local marker because everyone knows where it is.

Then we went out 2km, and then 3km, following all the branching paths and local roads (major caveat – not all routes on the map are cycle-friendly), to see just how far that took us.

The results are in the animation. See how one short side path of 150m opens up a new catchment that’s within a 3km ride or walk of the station?

BikeAKL_Tamaki_GI_Catchment_BluePath_Animated

Interesting results. It’s a bit hard to tell from the map, but that looks like it’d bring another 100 homes or so within reach of the station (not to mention the cycleway).

On a much bigger scale, Henry Grabar reports (in The Atlantic) about Paris’s new Metro plan, which is aimed to “tie Paris back together”. The city has a long history of overcoming problems that manifest in its urban form through investments in altering that urban form, knitting it together in different ways:

Here begins the most ambitious new subway project in the Western world. The extension of Line 14 is but the first leg of the Grand Paris Express, a $25 billion expansion of the century-old Paris Métro. By the time the project is completed in 2030, the system will have gained four lines, 68 stations, and more than 120 miles of track. Planners estimate that the build-out will boost the entire network’s ridership by almost 40 percent.

The goals: Reduce the smog-choked region’s car traffic. Link business districts, airports, and universities. Ease social ills by knitting together the French capital’s isolated and troubled banlieues, much as the initial Métro construction did for the outlying districts of Paris proper at the dawn of the 20th century…

Benoît Quessard, an urban planner for the local government, told me that he sees the expansion as not merely “an economic wager but also a social one.” In this sense, it will test an old Parisian belief about the Métro conferring, beyond convenience, a kind of citizenship on its riders. In 1904, four years after the first line opened, the writer Jules Romains predicted that the system would be a “living, fluid cement that will succeed in holding men together.”

Incidentally, when I read about the banlieues, I always think of Guillaume Apollinaire’s wonderful poem Zone, a drunken-dreamlike walk through the downscale outer districts of early-20th century Paris, before the Metro put them on the map:

Some refugees stay in furnished rooms
In the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Écouffes in the slums
I have seen them at night walking
Like pieces on a chessboard they rarely move
Especially the Jews whose wives wear wigs
And sit quietly in the back of the shop

The last article of the week is from Grant Schofield, a professor of public health at AUT, who summarises his new research on the impact of urban form on physical activity:

Living in an activity-friendly neighbourhood could mean people take up to 90 minutes more exercise per week, according to a study published in The Lancet today. With physical inactivity responsible for over 5 million deaths per year, the authors say that creating healthier cities is an important part of the public health response to the global disease burden of physical inactivity.

The study included 6822 adults aged 18-66 from 14 cities in 10 countries from the International Physical activity and Environment Network (IPEN) [1]. The cities or regions included were Ghent (Belgium), Curitiba (Brazil), Bogota (Colombia), Olomouc (Czech Republic), Aarhus (Denmark), Hong Kong (China), Cuernavaca (Mexico), North Shore, Waitakere, Wellington and Christchurch (New Zealand), Stoke-on-Trent (UK), Seattle and Baltimore (USA).

The research team mapped out the neighbourhood features from the areas around the participants’ homes, such as residential density, number of street intersections, public transport stops, number of parks, mixed land use, and nearest public transport points. Physical activity was measured by using accelerometers worn around participants’ waists for a minimum of four days, recording movement every minute.

On average, participants across all 14 cities did 37 minutes per day moderate to vigorous physical activity – equivalent to brisk walking or more. Baltimore had the lowest average rate of activity (29.2 min per day) and Wellington had the highest (50.1 min per day).

The four neighbourhood features which were most strongly associated with increased physical activity were high residential density, number of intersections, number of public transport stops, and number of parks within walking distance. The researchers controlled for factors including age, sex, education, marital and employment status and whether neighbourhoods were classed as high or low income. The activity-friendly characteristics applied across cities, suggesting they are important design principles that can be applied internationally.

Just a brief comment on this last point. One legitimate question about these findings is, basically: what’s stopping people from choosing to live in healthier places if there are benefits to doing so? (Or, in economese, what’s the market failure, exactly?)

The answer is that decisions about the built environment aren’t made by individuals. People don’t always have a free choice. Road networks are centrally planned, and the planners may not necessarily have good information about people’s actual needs and desires.

Similarly, housing choices and neighbourhood design has been extensively regulated, with the result that there may be an undersupply of walkable, accessible neighbourhoods in the city.

A bit more choice could be good for us!

A Tale of Two Paths – big bikeways, local streets, and community connectivity

This is a cross post from with our friends at Bike Auckland.

This is a tale of two paths. We begin out west, on a stretch of the Northwestern Cycleway. This is a ‘road of national significance’ for people on bikes – a commuter path from the far west into town. But at the local level, it also makes all sorts of handy journeys possible for people like Penny and her family, who use the path to access school, daycare, and work.

Motorway-style routes have a seductive A to B directness, whether they’re for cars or bikes, but what makes them truly useful, as Penny’s family’s story shows, is the exits – the on- and off-ramps, if you will.

Of course, the Western Springs/ Kingsland stretch of the NW cycleway is especially rich in access points, a legacy of how SH16 was sliced through the heart of the original connected neighbourhood. Take the 2.5km stretch from St Lukes Rd to the Waima St over bridge that leads to Penny’s school. There are by a rough count 14 connections to local streets. One every 180m or so!

NW Cycleway - St Lukes to Waima St

This frequent access and deep connectivity (if it strongly favours the southern side) have made this section of path a busy thoroughfare, and not just for cyclists. School kids use it morning and afternoon, joggers and dog-walkers share the path, and in spring when the wisteria is in flower, it could be a slice of Europe.

wisteriaNWsmileyboy

Compare this with another 2.5km-ish stretch of the NW cycleway nearby, along the Causeway between Rosebank Rd and Waterview. It’s a smooth ride – but a long walk if you get a flat tire, because this Two and a Half K has zero connections to local streets.

NW Cycleway - Causeway

That’s because of course this 2.5km is mainly home to excellent bird life and the occasional stranded whale (although, that said, the planned connections to the ‘islanded’ Waterview and Pt Chev back streets on the right will be extremely handy for locals; especially Waterview, which has to contend with the moat-like Great North Road.) But all in all, it’s a long uninterrupted ride from one end to the other, and it simply connects A to B. Which is not such a problem, because on that section, there’s little XYZ along the way.

Imagine the frustration if the section of path through Western Springs/ Kingsland had no exits. Picture it. In fact, how about a thought experiment so we can really feel it. Let’s think about this distance in terms of travel time.

Google’s a bit optimistic about biking speed, but let’s call 2.5km a ten-minute ride for ordinary folk. For comparative purposes, how far could you go on a motorway in a car in ten minutes, assuming free-running traffic and sticking to the speed limit?

Google says 16.6 km. To put that in perspective, a reasonable 10-minute motorway trip under Sunday-driver conditions might take you from:

  • Town to Te Atatu
  • Town to Takapuna
  • Princes St to Princes St: from the university to Otahuhu.

Now, imagine exits every kilometre or so along those routes, analogous to the Kingsland section of the cycleway – oh wait, there are! Righto. That’s a well-connected stretch of motorway.

But now imagine if there were zero exits along the way (exactly like the cycleway along the Causeway). No exit between town and Te Atatu. No stopping between the city and Takapuna Beach. No way off between Auckland U and Otahuhu. Connectivity denied.

And that brings us to the second 2.5km path in this story: the GI to Tamaki Shared Path, currently being designed and constructed in four stages (thanks to the Urban Cycling Fund). When completed, it will run all the way from Glen Innes, through the Pourewa Valley (the green corridor once set aside for the Eastern Highway) and across and around the Orakei Lagoon, to connect to Tamaki Drive near the city.

Just as its NW counterpart has done for the west, this NE cycleway will open up huge swathes of the east to bike commuting.

From our first engagement with this project in November 2014, we’ve seen this path as not just a utilitarian urban access route for long distance commuters, but an iconic destination and local treasure in its own right. We’ve consistently made the case for linking the cycleway to existing recreational paths and nearby streets, so as to make local journeys possible and to integrate the path into the neighborhoods it passes through. (We’re also battling tirelessly for better cycle facilities on the roads that will bring people to the cycleway).

In other words, this path will not only link Glen Innes to downtown, but will also allow for smart local trips like Penny’s family’s rides – if it comes well-supplied with local connections.

Wait a minute. Did we say ‘if’? 

Yup.

Because there’s a chance that Stage 2, which is the 2.5km stretch between St Johns Rd and the Orakei Boardwalk, may yet make it through construction with no side connections (only the future possibility of them).

This would be a massive shame, to put it mildly. Because unlike the scenic Causeway out west, this section of the journey isn’t just for the birds.

Section2_map

The connective potential is huge.

In this 2.5km section, Meadowbank train station (10 minutes to Britomart) is on the route of the path itself. And, along with shopping centres, businesses and health centres, there are probably 3000 homes within cooee on both sides of the valley.

Eastern Path Section 2 - 1

More than 1,000 of those homes, in places like John Rymer Place and the Gowing Drive area, will be “islanded”, with no access to the path, unable to get along the path to Meadowbank train station –  or across the Pourewa Valley safely to St Thomas’s and Selwyn College.

Eastern Path Section 2 - 2

You heard right: there are two schools whose zones straddle the green corridor – St Thomas’s and Selwyn College. At the moment, those kids living south of the railway have to take a trip round three sides of a rectangle via urban arterial ‘trucking routes’, St Johns Road and Kohimarama Road on the east, or via Orakei Road / Kepa Road in the west. Properly connected, this path could change their lives, by making it possible to get to school while taking lots of cars off the roads (and this is pretty topical).

GITamakiStage2connections

Some of the existing “gaps in the fence” – the dotted yellow line shows the “fence” (i.e. no access), while the circles show points of access – currently walking only – that could become side connections to the shared path. Note how cut off Gowing Drive is, below the green corridor in the right of the image – and similarly, John Rymer Place, top right.

What’s more, the Pourewa Valley itself is a unique, ecologically significant place: it’s by far the largest tract of estuarine native bush in the isthmus, and is being lovingly restored. The GI to Tamaki path runs right through it, past an established network of trails. If these trails were connected to the path, they’d get even more use, which would make for a safer and livelier space.

Imagine bridges, a boardwalk or two across the creek to make loops for walking and running, linking Meadowbank and Kepa Bush, and Kepa Road to Meadowbank Train Station. A fully connected shared path would bring this space to life. And give your kids (and you) an awesome backyard ride or walk, too. Some balance to the Xbox and smartphone sedentary seductions that we all tend to fall prey to in our daily lives.

So why is nothing proposed to be done about this right away?

We’re not saying that anyone among the decision-makers is just willfully closing their eyes to the possibilities. There are a couple of factors that make this difficult, including terrain: the gully is pretty steep and bush-clad, so creating paths, especially for bikes, is not like crossing an open field.

But the major hard issues are boring stuff: zoning and costs.

Zoning – well, for instance, we’d have to go back a couple of decades, and ask the people who laid out places like Gowing Drive what they were thinking?!? A street of over a kilometre long that turns its back to the gully and has not a single gap in the row of private properties. Not one alleyway. Not one track. Not even one maintenance access. Not a single thought given to a project like this happening one day, when people might want to explore what’s over their back fences. So this means that, short of Council buying a property to get through-access, Gowing Drive may stay “islanded” for a long time yet.

On the northern side, things look a little better. Some accesses may well be doable – but not on the cheap, because you still need to build the connecting path, maybe with the odd small bridge, etc. And that money is simply not in the budget for the main path. We’ve asked, and the cash is tight. Yes, NZTA and the Minister of Transport are putting in a lot of funding for this flagship project – but it won’t cover any additions, we’re told, especially as the project managers will need to keep some in reserve for contingencies (you never know what issues you might find once you start actually digging…)

But there’s still time to make sure this is done right

How many side connections could there be in this 2.5 km?  One every 200m would make for a dozen connections. The potential is huge. Let’s aim for at least a few, and see them built this decade, rather than the next.

As one observer noted, constructing this section of path without side links is the access/mobility equivalent of running water and power lines past houses… but not actually hooking anyone up. And the likelihood is that without ‘official’ links in place, people will try to work out how to get across as soon as the rail overbridge is in place. (Probably not by bike… but you never know!)

That’s why as transportation advocates who have been influential for lobbying for the project, we want to make sure that this situation has been well recognised and anticipated while everyone involved has ample time to do something about it.

So who needs to do what?

  • We will continue to advocate for a quality path, maximised side links, and safe connections at each end, to Tamaki Drive and Merton Road (that’s another story altogether).
  • And the Local Board could sponsor side links and prioritise their construction.

Here’s the good news: the Orakei Local Board’s list of priorities for the 2016/2017 budget (see full list here) includes scoping and providing connections to the path:

  • developing cycling and walking connections to the Orakei Spine (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive path) from Tahapa East and West Reserves
  • providing additional funding in 2016/17 for design and consents for additional connections to the Orakei Spine (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive path)

You can help by giving supportive feedback on the Orakei Local Board’s priorities, using this feedback form (scroll down to find Question 5b about the priority projects).

Anyone can comment, but feedback is especially valuable if you’re a local and can say how adding side-links would improve your walking or biking life.

NB Feedback must be received by 4pm Thursday 24 March 2016.

This really is an important and visionary project, with massive potential to open up the neighbourhood – let’s make sure it’s accessible to as many people as possible, so they, too, can experience the happiness of having a cycleway in the back yard.