A comment in the herald the other day about cycling really caught my attention (and many others) and seems to highlight well Auckland Transports attempt to shift the current debate on cycling away from the need for significantly improved cycling infrastructure by using the old “that’s some other place, we’re different” excuse.

Auckland Transport media manager Mark Hannan said: “I haven’t been to Copenhagen but a colleague has worked there and says geographically it is very different to Auckland … very flat with wide streets and footpaths.”

I call it an excuse as despite differences in geography and street width and even weather, many cities around the world that are not Copenhagen have been able to vastly improve their cycling infrastructure, especially over recent years. There is one universal constant that those cities share though, political will to make changes. That political will to make change is imperative overcome the shrieks from vehicle drivers who think the sky will fall if a car park is removed or traffic lane narrowed (removing a lane is like suggesting cutting off multiple limbs).

What many people don’t realise is that the cycling poster children of Copenhagen and Amsterdam (well all of  the Netherlands really) weren’t always so cycling friendly. In the post war years through to the mid 1970’s they followed a similar path to many other cities in prioritising transport around cars. It wasn’t until the energy crisis’ of the 1970’s and auto-dominated transport culture developing that things started to change. The video below gives a good history from the Netherlands.

Putting those two cycling hotspots aside, what other cities are focusing on cycling and in particular what ones outside of Europe? Casting our gaze across to North America there happens to be a lot of great examples.

New York

New York set itself a goal of doubling cycling commuting between 2007 and 2017 and tripping it by 2017. As part of doing that it has rolled out 590km of cycle lanes across the city ranging in quality from fully protected Copenhagen style lanes (class 1), cycle lanes on the side of the street (class 2) or traffic calmed streets so cyclists can share the lane with car drivers (class 3). The table below shows how many miles of each they rolled out while the video gives a good idea of what the lanes look like.

NY cycle lane roll out 2006-2013

This video is of a great Ted Talk recently by Janette Sadik-Khan who has just finished up as the Transportation Commissioner for New York and who was instrumental in the roll-out of the cycle lane network. She also made a lot of other improvements to the pedestrian realm through quick and cheap changes. The part on the cycle network is from 8:50

And here are the maps from the video showing the size of the network

NY cycle lane roll out 2006-2013 map 2

New York reached its target of doubling cycle commuting in 2011, one year ahead of schedule. This has led to a reduction in the number of people injured across all modes and has seen dramatic improvements in retail sales.


Portland has the highest mode share of cycle use of any major city in the US or Canada and it’s not surprising as they have probably put more effort into cycling infrastructure over the last few decades than any other US city as shown below.

Cycling rates in US & Canada

Like other cities (many of who have probably copied Portland to some extent) they have implemented a wide range of cycling infrastructure from protected paths and on street cycle lanes down to shared streets (greenways) and off road cycle lanes. The video below shows the roll-out of the cycle network from 1980 through to now.

This graph below shows the results of cycle counts on the 5 main bridges in Portland. As the size of the cycle network increased so have the number of cyclists. The report which this comes from also includes a number of other interesting graphs including cyclist counts by gender showing that over time a larger percentage of women are cycling and cycle numbers compared to cycle crashes which shows a continuing downward trend despite there being many more cyclists in the city. Last year there wasn’t a single cyclist killed in Portland.

Portland Cycle Rates


Vancouver is a city that we use a lot as a comparison as it’s a similar size to what Auckland is expected to be in a few decades and has had similar density and land use patterns. Commonly we also talk about its wonderful Skytrain system. Once again there is a mix of protected cycle lanes (like Kent highlights in this post), standard on street cycle lanes, shared streets and off street cycle ways. This is reflected in the earlier graph showing the mode-share of cycling to work in US and Canadian cities. Between 2008 and 2011 cycling in Vancouver increased by 40%

As is discussed in the video below and is a common theme in most of the cities that are putting effort into improving cycling is that the goal for cycling isn’t about catering to the road warriors but to making the streets safe enough that a child or elderly person can comfortably ride around the city.

They have also put a lot of effort in to connecting cycling up with public transport so that people can combine modes to complete their trip.

San Francisco

Lastly for this post I’m going to look at San Francisco which is another city that ranks quite highly on the mode-share graph above.  It is also another city which has seen a huge increase in cycling with numbers up 96% since 2006. Of course San Francisco is also famous for its hills; which are one of the excuses that people love to through around about the lack of cycling in Auckland. The Herald even ran a piece during the America’s cup about how the locals cycle with the issue of hills.

Given the gradients of some of the streets – just looking at them is enough to send lactic acid searing through your quads – that’s one hell of a commitment they’re making to reducing their carbon footprint, I said to one of the locals.

“You know about the wiggle, right?” came the response. And thus, the secret of the smug commuters was exposed.

Well, it’s not exactly a secret – the wiggle really hides in plain sight.

It seems those with intimate knowledge of the city’s streets discovered a way to traverse San Francisco east to west without encountering any hills.

Following the old Sans Souci Valley, the aptly named wiggle zig-zags through the city from Market St, San Francisco’s main arterial, through Lower Haight to the Panhandle, which links up with the network of paths through to Golden Gate Park.

With the inclines averaging 3 per cent, it is literally the path of least resistance.

As with all of the other cities there is a hierarchy of cycle infrastructure and a focus to roll out an improved cycle network which is continuing despite sometimes hostile reactions from residents.

San Francisco Cycle Plans
2009 San Francisco Cycle Plans

Lastly this graphic from Momentum Mag shows how many miles of cycle lanes were installed in 2012 and what the difference in ridership was along those routes.

Along with these cities there are heaps more all around the world that are putting increasing effort into improving cycling and it is mostly through the provision of good quality infrastructure that helps to separate traffic from cyclists as much as possible. For every excuse given as to why people aren’t cycling there is another city that also has that problem (or more). The only common element as to why they are cycling more and we aren’t doing better with cycling is that there hasn’t been the political and technical will to make it cycling infrastructure better. Auckland Transport needs to step up their game and our politicians need to start demanding that it happens.

Share this


        1. I visited Tauranga the other day. I had very low expectations – but the city did exceed them. Some of those “proposed” sections have actually been completed by now, as well: parts of Fifteenth Avenue, and the missing section on Cameron Road north of Elizabeth Street, for example (I didn’t check them all out).

          The network is unfinished and has some big gaps anyway. But compared to Auckland it’s significantly more connected and comprehensive, and they’re extending it by nearly the same number of km per year (7km versus 10km in Auckland), despite the city being less than a tenth the size. It’s not the best design (no protected lanes, little thought about intersections), but that’s more a question of the poor design standards NZ has had until very recently, rather than a political failure.

          To be beaten by a city with so little else going for it, should be a wake-up call for Auckland. We can’t even do that?

      1. Again, quite seriously:

        Why don’t AT take some of their senior staff on a tour of North American and European cities and investigate bicycle infrastructure? It would cost in the tens of thousands, but that is literally one ten thousandth of the cost of a large new road. It’s a rounding error on the projects AT funds.

        1. But George they dont need to do that. It would much cheaper if they just flew some like Jan Gehl out from Copenhagen and he can tell them what is needed. He did it for New York, why not here?

          F&%k it I can tell them what is needed – it isnt rocket science. There is nothing they can learn on a visit that cant be learnt by a couple of weeks of research online.

          The problem isnt really knowledge – it is political will. Until they are willing to stand up to the whining of (what I believe is) a minority of car drivers and take away some road space, nothing will change.

          Also, they need to have some cojones to just try some stuff, just like NY, SF and Portland do. Chuck up some flexible posts to make a separated cycle lane. Put in some bollards to stop access to a street. See what happens – none of it is permanent and can be reversed. It doesnt all have to be gold plated concrete barriers – it is just about creating space for cyclists.

          1. Goosoid, Jan Gehl has been here – twice in recent years. He held huge presentations as part of mayoral conversations series where cycling was a big focus. He was even employed by Council to help them plan their City Centre redesign.

            We know all what we need to do. We just aren’t doing it.

          2. Matt/Starnius – Yes I know he had been here – I didnt know it was twice.

            I think we are all on the same page – the problem isnt knowledge, it is will (and balls – big balls).

          3. I think they probably do need to do it. As we all agree, it isn’t a matter of knowledge, it’s a matter of will. And being shown things directly has far more impact on people’s emotional understanding of a problem than reading dry statistics or even listening to an engaging expert.

            Put them all on a plane.

  1. Wow that’s a truly shocking comment from AT. Are they determined to ruin their reputation?

    Great post overall. Obvious that Auckland is still in the stone age when it comes to cycling.

  2. Well AT are right, Auckland is indeed unlike all these other cities: We have not made our streets safe and efficient for all users, especially cyclists, often for pedestrians, but also for Transit users.

    Time they stopped putting their energy into making excuses for this and got on with sorting it because it’s holding back the city and the nation.

    Complete Streets make for a more productive, dynamic, resilient, efficient, greener, fitter, healthier, attractive, and happier place and population.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head in this article: “There is one universal constant that those cities share though, political will to make changes” and that doesn’t come from Auckland Transport. Blaming them is blaming the monkey rather than the organ grinder.

    1. Except that Auckland Transport has unprecedented freedom from political “interference”. It was set up to be very, very independent (thanks Rodney Hide, we love you), to be able to do what is right, instead of what is politically expedient.

      The end result has been a bit of the worst of two worlds – an unresponsive, slow organisation afraid of its own (car-driving) population, and politicians who can’t tell them to change.

      1. Sure, it’s more independent that other organisations in terms of what it can do but it doesn’t get to choose its funding levels does it? For example if Auckland Council or NZTA only give it X amount of money for cycling infrastructure then while it has great independence over what it can spend that money on it still only has X amount of money? Isn’t that correct?

        1. They can still do non-cycling road projects much more cycle friendly. They can also use more safety money for cycling?

          Finally, they could much reduce the cost of cycling projects by being willing to lose car parking, instead of going for goldplated schemes that retain car parking or put cyclists on the unsafe roadside of cardoors. NYC built a lot of their first and still awesome protected cycleways by simply putting down flexible rubber sticks and planter pots on what before was parking and road lanes. That don’t cost not a lot. But that’s not in AT’s mindset, because they are horribly afraid of “temporary” solutions that haven’t been studied to death.

  4. I agree. The AC need the guts to take the flak from the massive angry-driver lobby over the long term and force AT to change priorities. The problem is that every few years we get a new set of councillors and have to start all over again. It is the bane of short term thinking over long term vision.

    1. Well we do need to see more anger from AC about AT’s dreadful performance here, but still, like with PT, AT are putting all their creative energy into lowering targets, making excuses, muddying the vision, claiming it isn’t possible, while ploughing resources into road widening and making eyes at the worst parts of NZTA…. business as usual.

  5. Great article Matt – bang on point. I really like that viedo about the Ntherlands and how they got their cycle paths. Where the Dutch are now is not an inevitable result of their past traditions (if that was all that was needed Chch would still be the cycling powerhouse it was until the 1950s) – it was a clear political and policy change in the 1970s.

    Another great example for Auckland is Dublin – so relatable as it is an Anglophone city which has had a terrible transport record until recently and with a similar population (both city and country) but as we all know in a terrible financial situation. It is also quite hilly and we all know about Irish weather – so the Auckland excuses rapidly start to look a little foolish.

    Dublin made the Copenhagenize index in 2012 – an amazing achievement for a city that in 2004 was no better than where Auckland is now on cycling:

    As you can see, they have achieved a modal share of 7.5% in six years with double digits in the city centre – really amazing. This is by building separated infrastructure and having the political will to say “enough is enough” to car dominance – full stop – there has been little other innovation.

    What about AT adopting a goal to get us on this index by 2017? That would be a great way to judge our progress.

    1. Oooo can I be one?

      I don’t care about cycling. Couldn’t give two hoots. I genuinely don’t care about the benefits. I try to, I listen to reasoned arguments. Then I meet a cyclist and any reasoned argument goes flying out my little trolly head. With limited resources, I’d much prefer better quality roads and MUCH better quality public transport (motorised). The sanctimonious, entitled attitude displayed on this blog the last few days sadly wipes out any sympathy for the cycling community, despite the occasional well-argued post.

      Next time I’m sitting in my car at a red at an intersection, I’ll justify riding through it on the basis that “it makes sense”, “the laws are stupid” and “I know it’s safe”.

      1. Yeah, no, mate. That is weak as either trolling OR reasoned counter-argument. But that’s fine, you got it out of your system.

        1. Just being honest “mate”. I don’t care. You do because, let me guess, you’re a cyclist? I have no doubt that if large sums were poured into cycling infrastructure, cyclists wouldn’t annoy me as a driver, a bus passenger AND a pedestrian. But I’d much prefer those sums were used to extend bus lanes, fix cheap and nasty footpaths and do up bus shelters. Finite resources. Heard of it? Of course not – entitlement culture means hollier-than-thou cyclists (who only run reds because it makes sense – aw durrr!) should get their God-given right before everyone else.

          1. Before everyone else? All most people here want is the ability to feel and be safe to ride to work or the shops, or let their kids tide to school. At the moment, because transport corridors have been handed pretty much just to motor vehicles, this safety is not assured. You know all that traffic that dissappears at school holidays? What if much of it stayed away?

          2. Cycling infrastructure has hands down the greatest BCRs, by far the greatest gain for the costs. If you are worried about finite resources then you should be advocating we shift a significant chunk of the transport budget to cycle infrastructure.

      2. If we have limited resources we should stop spending money on car infrastructure and put money into pt and cycling where we get the best return on investment

  6. This from Pippa Coom of the Waitemata Local Board from their official feedback to AT’ draft cycling business plan:

    – AT’s draft cycling business plan is not a business plan at all because it doesn’t put forward any case for investment to achieve the Auckland Plan targets (see our detailed comments attached).
    – AT is not on track to meet the AP targets for completing the Auckland cycle network by 2030 (and has in fact unilaterally watered down the AP targets)
    – AT claims 28% of the Auckland Cycle network is “complete” – this is highly misleading as it includes roads like Symonds st, Khyber pass and Fanshawe st just because they have (non-connected) bus lanes. This figure is quoted on page 18 of AT’s glossy “Moving Auckland” .

    – The Transport committee asked AT in July 2012 to report back on what is being done to complete the ACN and make the 28% “completed” network safe. AT has yet to report back despite repeated requests. (our presentation to the committee is available)

    We’ve also heard that Beach Road (AT’s most significant cycling infrastructure project in the city centre) is not on target to be completed to coincide with the opening of Grafton Gully by NZTA despite years of planning. AT is checking this out . Will let you know

    1. I presume by “completed” AT are referring to the areas highlighted in red on this map? http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/moving-around/biking-cycleways/Documents/Auckland%27s%20Regional%20Cycle%20Network%20A1_20111012.pdf

      Tamaki drive may have some on road cycle lanes and the one on the foot path – but I think it’s hardly good enough to be considered “completed”. (And I’m sure the same is true for many of the roads highlighted on this map)

      1. Yep. Tamaki Drive counts as “existing” or “completed”. As does Remuera Road, cause of bus lanes. Don’t see many children cycling to school on there, do we?

    2. Just to give the points that Patrick has posted a bit more context.
      AT has consulted Local Boards on a draft Cycling Business Plan. We (me and Christopher Dempsey on behalf of the Waitemata Local Board) provided feedback in September – available here on our December agenda. Item 16 http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2013/12/WTM_20131210_AGN_4201_AT_WEB.HTM.
      The Board has asked AT to report back on what changes to the draft Plan have been made following our feedback (and before it goes to the AT Board for sign off); the current state of the Auckland Cycle network and the extent to which the reported 28 % completed cycle network is of sufficient standard and AT’s plans to achieve the Auckland Plan targets as requested by the Transport Committee in July 2012 (the presentation we made to the committee is included with the feedback).

  7. You mentioned the hills in San Francisco, but actually Vancouver and Portland are also surprisingly hilly – it hasn’t stopped them developing good cycle networks in these areas.

    Even Copenhagen also has hills; a few decent rises I can recall. And it also has some narrow streets; some of which have been configured very cleverly to provide for traffic lanes, cycle tracks, car/bike parking, and pedestrian crossing – have a look at Gammel Kongevej for example (http://goo.gl/maps/Tkwki). And if they’re truly narrow, well that’s just crying out for a lower speed limit isn’t it?

    1. electric bikes are almost 30% of sales in switzerland and they have a whole toursim industry devoted to riding the alps and renting ebikes. if saving lives of aucklanders is not enough reason what about the missed opporotunity of cycle tourism. toursists expect to be able to cycle around and enjoy the city

          1. Yeepers – 1500 cyclists DAILY, 1 cycle fatality in the last 5 years. You guys should come down to earth. Tamaki Drive is nothing special in terms of cycle facility quality (very uneven), but talking of suicide is simply stupid, and perpetuates the “CYLING IS DEADLY” myth.

  8. “Flat… and wide”. Has Mark Hannan been to Papatoetoe? Or Mangere? Out to the airport? Or Flatbush? Dannemora? Otara? What about even most of Balmoral? Sandringham? All flat. All wide. Hell’s teeth, even from the far western end of Jervois Road to One Tree Hill is fundamentally flat and plenty wide enough along the ridges. What an arrogant, ignorant way to behave. What a sick, sick place Auckland Transport must be.

  9. I took the plunge this week, and had a go at biking from Three Kings to Newmarket to catch the train. At 5kms, it’s not a huge distance, but I’m neither fit nor young. Other than a couple of hills at the Three Kings end, it is basically flat – so pretty easy. I found the morning ride at 7am uneventful and arrived at Newmarket without overheating. It only took me 5 mins longer than the drive/walk.

    Going home was not so pleasant. I needed to get from Broadway across to Manukau Road, and there was no way I was biking through the intersection from the middle lane on Broadway. Roadworks completely blocked the footpath and pedestrian crossing across Gt South Road. So I ended up crossing the other way, going up Alpers Ave and via Gillies Ave, mainly on the footpath. I got off at each major intersection and walked across. I was more frazzled from the traffic than the actual cycling distance by the time I got home.

    Pah Road, Manukau Road, Broadway and Parnell Rise form an almost straight line virtually coast to coast. Seems like a no brainer for a cycle way. At the various least put in a bus lane, and I’ll share that.

    I am sure there are more people like me that would like to combine their commuting with an opportunity for fitness, if only it wasn’t so scary.

    1. Got to correct you here Steve “Roadworks completely blocked footpath and pedestrian crossing across Gt South Road”

      There were footpath works from Gt South Rd/St Marks Rd intersection down GT South Road for 200m this week – but footpaths and crossing there were all fully operational at all times.
      I work right there, and I use that crossing every day and while it was barrier-ed off from the road for safety of workers – the footpath and crossings were fully usable.

      Work is all done now so that intersection is now back to its normal crappy self.

      Will admit that traffic along Broadway/Manukau road is scary when heading south down Broadway towards Manukau Road due to the crazy bus stop right before the lights which means cars swerve into the middle lane to get past what they see as the “stopped to pick up passengers bus”, but often times is not, its “just a stuck in traffic bus”, so they then have to force their way back in from the middle lane to go down Great South and usually without much thinking or paying attention to anyone else on the road.

      And those buses really hoon down the left lane on Manukau Road when the clearway is active from 4pm and the left lane is only wide enough for the bus with no room for cyclists too.

      But on the subject though, the Herald last week reported that intersection as a top 10 cycle crash hotspot. In the 5 years I’ve worked right there I’ve never seen maybe one cyclist hurt (not too badly) in a crash, seen more than a few car v car or bus v car [and had a car v cop car one day], but never seen more than 1 cycle v anything crash.
      And I asked colleagues at work and they reported they’d not seen any such thing in the 3 years they’d been there. So whats the Herald on about?

      This stuff only happens when I’m not at work – nights or weekends? or something else like a Herald beat up?

  10. It’s kind of hard to believe that Copenhagen has wider streets than Auckland, a place where you can often u-turn a large sedan in a residential street.

  11. I disagree that the pro-car lobby is that fearsome, or that gonads of larger-than-average size are needed by AT’s managers.
    Neither is it primarily budgetary- much could be done on the cheap.
    We paint the task as more difficult than it is.

    1. Agree. What Janette Sadik-Khan shows is that when you decide to just get on with it you tend to get on with it.

      I appreciate Mark Hannan’s honesty as to AT’s *actual* assessment process, but as an Aucklander that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

  12. Hi team, having just returned from a North American holiday that by chance included Vancouver, Portland and San Francisco I would like to comment on three of the points made above;
    1. Lame excuses about Auckland’s geography being “special” are just that; ‘lame excuses’. The bike of choice in SF these days is the fixie; a steel one at that. No gears and if you’re lucky a front brake to augment the rider’s quads when stopping and they have real hills; up & down. Fixies are due more to the prevalence of cycle theft than fashion as fixies are simpler to lock up and cheaper to replace. People are adaptable and just because we haven’t been dealt the perfect geography e-bikes may become the answer for some.
    2. Cycle tourism is big in both Vancouver & SF. I can’t wait for SkyPath and the opportunity to set up a bike hire business on Queen’s Wharf promoting ‘bike the bridge and return by ferry’. Thereafter, providing cycle tourists a ‘safe’ route all around the waterfront and joining up Western Springs, the Domain & One Tree Hill has to follow SkyPath.
    3. Yes, throw the politicos and the AT managers on a plane and tour them through these cities. But no airport shuttles, hire cars or taxis, make them use bicycles, the SkyTrain in Vancouver and the BART & Muni in SF. Put them on bikes and send them off on a treasure hunt of each city, in rush hour and when the wind chill puts the temperature below freezing and they’ll see it works, really works and real people are choosing to get out of their cars and make a healthy, economical choice that benefits all. Just as this blog suffers the howls of derision from naysayers, for any politico or mid level AT Manager to really support us they will need the courage of their convictions. They need a born-again experience to help them get on board so we need to push for the opportunity for them to see and experience the end result, understand the different ways it can be achieved and believe it’s right and will work in Auckland.
    Mr Plod
    PS we also spent some time around Denver and although Boulder accommodates cyclists well the car based urban sprawl extending out of Denver seems to run counter to Denver’s position in the chart above.

  13. I recently saw a very cool concept for the city of London titled “Cycling City”. Essentially it would be a raised highway for only cyclists with various access ramps all across the city. Cycling has become really popular there, but there have been quite a few accidents and deaths in recent years and this sounds like a cool plan.

    1. Well, except that it is so expensive it won’t ever be built, and also removes cyclists from where they actually want to go – in the streets, where they humanise a city, taking it back from cars.

      Rather scathing takedown by Copenhagenize here

      Elevated cycleways are suitable for isolated stretches, where you have to somehow get over a serious discontinuity like a motorway or river, or where there’s simply no local streets useable. But “horse for courses”. Urban cycling should take place IN urbanity, not above it.

    2. In short, you want, especially on arterial roads, to have some “physical separation” (like a protective kerb) from car drivers to protect cyclists, but you do not want “spatial separation” (i.e. be asked to go cycle somewhere else).

Leave a Reply