Cycling: the benefits of complete networks

A group of New Zealand researchers recently published an excellent paper on the costs and benefits of investing in a complete cycle network and safe street design. Their paper, which is available online, found that:

the benefits of all the intervention policies outweighed the harms, between 6 and 24 times. However, there were order-of-magnitude differences in estimated net benefits among policies. A universal approach to bicycle-friendly infrastructure will likely be required to achieve sufficient growth in bicycle commuting to meet strategic goals.

Our findings suggest that the most effective approach would involve physical segregation on arterial roads (with intersection treatments) and low speed, bicycle-friendly local streets.

We estimate that these changes would bring large benefits to public health over the coming decades, in the tens of dollars for every dollar spent on infrastructure. The greatest benefits accrue from reduced all-cause mortality due to population-level physical inactivity.

The researchers employed a system dynamics modelling approach that incorporated feedback loops between infrastructure provision and street design, people’s travel behaviours, and actual and perceived safety.

As a transport economist, I found their methodology incredibly interesting. It illustrates how you often need complex modelling tools to quantify things that are intuitively quite simple. In this case, the fact that if you make every street safe to cycle on, people will choose to get on their bikes.

Macmillan et al (2014) causal loop diagram

Feedback loops in cycle networks (Source: MacMillan et al, 2014)

Importantly, the researchers found that a larger, more ambitious programme of cycle upgrades will deliver a higher benefit-cost ratio than a smaller programme. This is what economists sometimes call the “complete network” effect – in effect, the more places you can get to easily and safely on a bicycle, the more likely you will be to cycle. (This is also why Facebook has so many users: You have to have an account because everybody else also has an account!)

Right now, Auckland’s obviously not doing too well when it comes to complete cycle networks. If you look at Auckland Transport’s online cycle maps, you’ll see some streets with strips of green paint down the side, and many more that you could in theory cycle on (if you were especially bold).

However, we’re lucky enough to have a local example of a city that is rolling out an ambitious complete cycle network. Since the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, Christchurch has planned a network of 13 major cycleways that will extend throughout the city, a re-jig of its city centre street network, and a new street design manual that will deliver better on-road cycle facilities. (Disclaimer: I have previously worked on the An Accessible City project as a consultant.) And they’re planning on getting it done over the next five years.

Christchurch Major Cycleways

Will Christchurch “go Dutch”?

It’s going to be interesting to watch Christchurch over the next few years. I expect they’ll provide a good example for a lot of other New Zealand cities.

Campbell Live on Cycling Safety

On of the few media organisations to take the time to look at the issues surrounding cycling in this country has been Campbell Live and in particular Lachlan Forsyth. On Thursday he had a fantastic segment looking at a number of issues and in particular the need for protected cycleways and safety around trucks.

Campbell Live - Protected cycling

There were a couple of things that are worth highlighting.

Agreeing that we need protected cycleways we now have:

  • Transport experts
  • advocates
  • the AA
  • truckies

Considering how much debate about solutions occurs in other areas of the transport debate that’s a remarkable outcome. What we’re waiting on is our politicians to to deliver the funding and for our agencies like Auckland Transport to build them.

The blind spot issues that truck drivers have is something that is important for everyone to be aware of.

It was fantastic to see families using the Beach Rd cycleway showing that if we built cycling facilities suitable for all ages to use that they will use them.

More motorways and blaming cyclists, transport BAU

Responses from two of the country’s biggest transport lobby groups yesterday highlight what could probably be described as the business as usual approach to transport in NZ.

First we have the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, the lobby group for those that build and finance infrastructure and who have never seen a project they didn’t like or one they didn’t think should be bigger and more expensive. Not content with having managed to get the East-West link moved to near the top of the queue are already calling for a second East-West link in the form of the destructive motorway from the Airport to East Tamaki.

“Transport agency proposals to address East-West traffic flows released for public consultation yesterday will help address urgent freight needs in the Penrose-Onehunga area in Auckland. But the long term solution must be one which connects Auckland’s commercial and industrial heartland in Penrose, Mt Wellington and East Tamaki and also caters for planned residential intensification and growth from the eastern suburbs to the airport,” says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
“In order for Aucklanders to provide worthwhile feedback on the proposals it is essential that they understand the full benefits and costs of each option and the long term strategic implications.

“The options proposed are concentrated on the Onehunga-Penrose catchment zone which, while still the largest in terms of employment, represents just one fifth of the $11 billion per annum generated across the industrial zones bordering the Manukau Harbour and Tamaki Estuary. Little information has been provided, to date, on the benefits, costs and strategic implications of the alternatives proposed.

“Connectivity to East Tamaki as well as further south to Mangere and on to the airport is not planned for improvement in these proposals, except through improved bus movement.

“How these areas will be connected into the future has great bearing on what the appropriate solution is for this first phase of investment.

“One option considered in earlier analysis included a motorway south of the Manukau Harbour. It provided long term connectivity not only between the industrial areas, but for all communities in the east of Auckland accessing employment and the airport.

“It was almost immediately terminated following public reaction, leaving a northern Manukau Harbour solution as the most politically acceptable. However, given that the proposals released yesterday provide no new east west connectivity for Glen Innes, Panmure, Howick, Pakuranga, Botany and the industrial areas of East Tamaki and Mt Wellington it is not clear how existing and projected growth demand in these areas will be addressed.

“Too often major projects in New Zealand are developed in a piecemeal fashion and modified and reduced to satisfy environmental and local interests without adequate consideration of strategic implications or the relative cost of lost accessibility and reduced economic efficiency.

“The East-West connection is a critical corridor linking not just the two busiest stretches of motorway in the country and three of the largest employment zones, it is a strategic link on the national highway network providing long term resilience and capacity for all road users crossing the city from east to west.

“It is critical that this project is seen as a strategic east west link for Auckland. That means providing adequate capacity to and through Auckland’s industrial heartland and supporting network connectivity region-wide,” Selwood says.

There are some really pull your hair out type comments in this statement.

Firstly it’s clear the NZCID are now trying to paint the East-West link as some kind of temporary fix up despite some of the options (like Option E) basically amounting a $1 billion+ motorway along the foreshore of the Mangere Inlet. There’s nothing temporary or short term about it.

EW Option - Option E

It also ignores that the East-West Link has long been seen about improving access on the northern side of the harbour because as the NZCID point out, that’s where the largest portion of businesses and therefore freight movements are. Also let’s not forget the project has long been sold as being needed to improve freight movements.

Perhaps because the current proposals better deal with freight movements they are also trying to shift the argument back to having the motorway option by talking about the residents of the eastern suburbs. In doing so they basically suggest that the ability of Eastern suburbs residents to drive to the airport should come ahead of the liveability and communities of residents who live in Mangere.

East-West Option 4

The horrific Option 4 the NZCID want back on the options table

If they were really concerned about how Eastern suburbs residents and about providing them better connectivity then a quicker, cheaper an much less destructive option would be something like we’ve outlined in the Congestion Free Network. Two busways running at high all day frequencies connecting East Auckland with the rest of the region enhances connectivity not just for trips to the airport but for a wide range of other activities too. Some may say that Eastern suburbs residents won’t catch a bus but it’s worth remembering that people have said the same thing about North Shore residents yet the busway has been spectacularly successful.

CFN East

Of course the NZCID won’t like the idea because it only costs a fraction of what a motorway does.

The other lobby group making news is the Road Transport Forum (RTF) in response to the suggestions from the NZTA’s Cycling Safety Panel that it be mandated for vehicles to give cyclists at least 1.5m of space when passing. Ken Shirley the CEO of the RTF has been rubbishing the suggestion and in doing so said:

There’s a dual responsibility, the cyclist also has to be more aware of the impact of the impact they might have on vehicles, whether it’s a car or a truck because that can be very severe”

Yep because cyclists can really do some damage to a 40 tonne truck or having to slow down for 10 seconds is just such a horrific concept.

“One of the problems is blind spots on trucks and cyclists unaware of those blind spots and there’s a lot of technology that’s new to the market with infra-red and radar up the side of the truck giving an audio and visual warning to the the driver that in fact there might be a cyclist sitting in the blind spot”

Of course as soon as anyone suggests making technology like this a requirement Shirley is the first to jump up and down complaining about it.

Too many cyclists don’t appreciate how vulnerable they really are,”

Cyclists are vulnerable primarily because of how other road users act and even the most safety conscious cyclist has sometimes been involved in tragic crashes.

I think they’re a bit light on actual cycle education – we see some outrageous behaviour from cyclists – and a lack of appreciation of the blind spot, particularly with heavy vehicles.”

Nothing like the good old tar all people on bikes with the same brush.

Why are we still building roads like this?

Auckland is suffering hugely from decades of building new infrastructure or changing old infrastructure to be dedicated to the efficient movement of just one mode at the expense of all others. Getting good walking, cycling or public transport infrastructure and priority retrofitted to existing roads has proved to be a massive uphill battle and one that shows no sign of being over any time soon. Positively we are starting to see some small progress with the likes of the Beach Rd cycleway or the Fanshawe St bus lane but those victories are small and far between. In many cases we’re told the only way to add walking, cycling or PT infrastructure is for the road to be widened at great cost (which is often so the engineers can preserve the existing level of vehicle priority and dominance).

To me that makes it even more important that when we build new infrastructure we get it right however unfortunately it seems our engineers still leave a lot to be desired. The design released for the Kirkbride Rd grade separation yesterday was a good example and here are a few more – with the focus on cycle infrastructure.

Below is an image tweeted out the other day by our friends at Cycle Action Auckland showing the new AMETI Link road which is due to open any day now. The road runs from Mt Wellington Highway at Van Damm’s Lagoon alongside the rail line and through a tunnel next to the Panmure Train Station and linking back in with the existing road network at Morrin Rd. The intention is that this road will help take a large number of vehicles out of Panmure and allow for the roundabout to be removed.

The road is about 1.5km long and fairly straight with no intersections or driveways. In short it’s going to be like a motorway and I would bet that there will be huge numbers of people speeding along here. This road seems to take the idea of cycling by the motorway a step further and making it cycling on the motorway because that’s how it’s likely to feel for anyone brave enough to try. With such conditions it’s imperative that Auckland Transport provide protected cycle lanes yet as the photo shows that clearly hasn’t happened. This is completely unacceptable.

Now I understand that the road was designed about 4 years ago when our engineers and road planners were even more hostile to cycling infrastructure than they are now (most are still not great). With the project under construction the relevant staff at AT likely think their job is done however I feel AT need to be far more dynamic in how they deal with infrastructure under construction like this.

AMETI Rd Cycle Lanes

The next example comes from Westgate on a road that hasn’t even start started construction yet. Just north of the new town centre being constructed AT will build a new road to be known as Northside Dr. Around the road is expected to eventually be a large industrial area.

Northside Dr

To get across the motorway the NZTA were even kind enough to build the central columns for the bridge that will be needed to avoid disruption later on (who said they can’t future proof when they want too).

Northside Dr Motorway columns

So what about the road design itself?

It appears from the documents that we’ll be getting on road cycle lanes although like above it does seem like they will be protected. Probably the worst part though is the bridge itself. If I’ve read the plan below right there will be cycle lanes on most of road except for one critical area – the bridge over the motorway. This means for a short period any cyclists will be forced into general traffic which due to the nature of the area could mean mixing with large trucks. That’s far less than ideal especially when there’s is/was the opportunity to do it right and have the cycle lanes carry on over the bridge. (click to enlarge the image below)

Northside Dr Design

As mentioned, Auckland has a lot of work to do to retrofit the city for better walking, cycling and PT provision. It’s going to take some time for us to even look at most work that’s needed and the last thing we need is AT’s engineers putting on their 1960’s hats on when it comes to other modes.

Photo of the Day: The Waitemata from Pt Resolution Bridge

Auckland is a city with great harbours, or rather, is a couple of great harbours in search of a city. When we finally take the city down to the waters’ edge more fully this place is going to become really delightful to to visit and work in, but also extremely photogenic. Personally I think the real coming of age will be the international coverage we’ll get from Skypath. NZ has wilderness, now it needs to add to that image with urban sophistication along side the natural beauty….


Grafton Gully Opening

I made my way to town this morning for the official opening of the Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways. Perhaps because we’re only two weeks out from the election the government pulled out the big guns with John Key turning up to cut the ribbon along with Len Brown and Barb Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. The ceremony itself took place under the Wellesley St underpass which was presumably a precaution from the rain that threatened but which thankfully didn’t eventuate.

There were four speakers who spoke about the project, Ernst Zöllner – the regional director for Northland and Auckland, John Key, Len Brown and Barbara Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. I managed to get a recording of most of them so rather than repeat what they said they are below.

Ernst Zöllner

I missed recording the start of his speech but it was about how the Grafton Gully project came up very highly on all of the NZTA’s criteria.

John Key

There were quite a few interesting comments from the Prime Minister. He said the NZTA were ahead of the politicians on cycling issued and have driven them to do more for cycling. He talked about the Dutch experience and how they haven’t always been such a cycling friendly place and the big one I thought was him stating his support for Skypath

Len Brown

Like Ernst I just missed the start of Len’s speech however he started by talking about how views on transport in Auckland were changing rapidly and referenced the recent poll and was talking about how a huge percentage of people now want investment prioritised around PT and active modes.

Barbara Cuthbert

Speeches over and it was time to cut the ribbon to officially open the route.

Grafton Gully Opening - Ribbon Cutting

and a quick photo op ride along the cycleway.

Grafton Gully Opening - John and Len Riding

It was then time for us to get our bikes and have a go. Of course being a cycling event a ton of people turned up with their bikes and the bike racks for guests were overflowing.

Grafton Gully Opening - Bike Rack

I’ll do a separate post looking at the cycleway itself including photos and video.

Wellesley St Underpass Timelapse

The timelapse below shows what it took for the NZTA and their contractors to build a cycling underpass at Wellesley St. While the road was narrowed the street itself was only closed for about a week. Now if only we could get some similar underpasses at interchanges like St Lukes.


Copenhagen Cycle Improvements

It’s great that the Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways are now complete and officially opening on Saturday. While Beach Rd may not be perfect, it represents a huge step forward for Auckland and one I think many people will want to see replicated in a lot of places elsewhere, and fast. Despite not even being officially open or having the Grafton Gully connection open yet it does seem like it’s already getting some good use.

Grafton Gully Cycleway sneak peak

A sneak peak at the Grafton Gully cycleway from Auckland Transports Twitter feed.

However we still have a lot of work to do if we want to even come close to the level of cycling infrastructure the cities we look to as examples have, cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam. What’s more they aren’t standing still either and are continuing to not only further develop their networks to make cycling even easier. This video from Streetfilms highlights some of the improvements that have happened in Copenhagen in the last few years.

In particularly like the greenwave lights and they are something that could be quite useful on Beach Rd (and at many other intersections).

Photo of the day: Mitre 10’s bike parking

The other weekend I went to the Mitre 10 Mega in Wairau Road to pick up some building supplies. To my surprise, they’ve put in a bike rack near the store entrance. I’m not sure how much use it’s going to get given the aggressive traffic environment on Wairau Road – but someone’s obviously given it a go!

Perhaps Mitre 10 should consider following the lead of IKEA’s Danish stores and renting out cargo bikes to let their cycling customers move bigger loads.


Wynyard Cycling Complaints

The new Waterfront Promenade linking the Harbour Bridge to Wynyard Quarter will be fantastic when finished later this year however its completion will leave a gap in the network through Wynyard Quarter itself. Auckland Transport and Waterfront Auckland are going to be fixing that gap through the addition of some separated cycleways and shared paths through the area.

Increasingly, more people are choosing to cycle to work or for fun. The creation of cycle paths through Wynyard Quarter supports this and makes it easier to get around.

The vision is to provide a world-class facility connecting the North Shore (via SkyPath), Herne Bay, and Ponsonby, with the CBD and Tamaki Drive.

Separated cycle paths will go along Beaumont Street and Madden Street.

A shared pedestrian and cycle path will go along Westhaven Drive and the western end of Gaunt Street to Daldy Street, where it will connect with the Daldy Street Linear Park.

Wynyard Quarter Cycling Routes

More separated cycleways as well as filling in holes in the network are obviously a good thing but as you can expect not everyone is happy about it.

The prospect of a cycleway in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter has fired up members of the marine industry.

The plan would mean reducing the number of parking spaces in the area and that’s got some business people worrying about their futures.

Marine Industry Association executive director Peter Busfield supports the idea of a cycleway linking up the waterfront but not if it keeps customers away.

If customers can’t park nearby they won’t come and businesses will close, he said.

“When someone comes to get a propeller repaired they need to put it in their car and drive to the shop. You can’t put it on a bus or take it on a bicycle.”


Stephen Harris is the owner of Auckland Engineering Supplies and said the proposal to replace parking spaces on the west side of Beaumont St with a dedicated cycleway would “absolutely kill the business”.

It’s not surprising to see a business complaining about the loss of parking as it seems to happen everywhere cycling infrastructure is proposed however if a simple cycle lane is going to kill his business then I’d suggest the business isn’t that going that well in the first place. The talk of lost carparks is even odder for two reasons. First of all the building in the photo with the article its own customer parking on the roof.

Wynyard Quarter Marine Industry Cycling complaint

And secondly there is still proposed to be parking on the eastern side of the street according to this map from Auckland Transport.

Wynyard Quarter Parking

Perhaps the one thing that could be questioned is whether the western side of Beaumount is the right place for a separated cycleway.

Harkin New Zealand managing director Gary Lock said there are several other routes where a cycleway could go. It’s unsafe to mix heavy vehicles and cyclists, he said.

“It’s an industrial marine zone. You’ve got to protect the cyclists, especially if you’ve got kids and parents cycling.

“Most of the people who turn into the driveways are trade-related or driving heavy vehicles and they will have to turn across the cycleway.”

Ovlov Marine co-owner Lachlan Trembath agrees safety and customer access should come first.

I can only assume the western side was chosen to allow for access from Silo Park to the promenade without having to cross roads.

Like many other businesses in New Zealand when it comes to cycling, I suspect that the marine industry can’t see past the status quo.

Cycling and public transport are good activities but you’ve got to have time, he said. No-one’s going to cycle to Beaumont St to pick up a pail of oil or an outboard, he said.

Large heavy and bulky items might not be ideal to transport on a bike but I would bet there are a huge number of other products sold by the businesses along Beaumont St that would be easily transportable by bike back to the marina once the promenade if complete.

I’m going to predict that at worst these cycleways aren’t going to do anything to harm the local businesses and if anything might even gain them some new customers from people riding past.