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.

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57 comments

  1. Auckland is always going to be a hard sell for cycling due to it’s hilly nature.

    That doesn’t mean we should give up. Parts of Auckland are well suited to cycling. Tamaki Drive for instance and the area alongside the North Western motorway are two such areas that spring to mind because they are accessible and relatively flat.

    I am however concerned at the return to the taxpayer/ratepayer should we pursue a complete cycling network. For instance you would have to be Alberto Contador to get a bike up the length of Queen St or any of the surrounding roads. Completing a cycling network in some areas is going to be pointless because the largest factor stopping people from cycling is the terrain, not cycling infrastructure.

    1. No, the biggest thing stopping people is perceived safety. Note difference in cycling use in Christchurch with patchy infrastructure, and flat European cities with extensive grid. Agree terrain will stop us from hitting the heights of Copenhagen, but we can still see huge increases from current use.
      Also technology improving quickly, electric motors sure to become more common to help people up the steep parts.

    2. If hills were our problem, large parts of Manukau and some parts of the West would have much higher cycling rates than the Central Isthmus. In fact, it’s reversed, and the only areas that are anywhere close to 5% cycle mode share (to work, based on the 2013 Census) are in the western and central parts of the Central Isthmus. Which are much hillier on average.

      Good infrastructure is the determinant. The rest are side effects.

        1. What, because people who don’t have a lot of money are too stupid to use a transport option that costs them very little money?

          C’mon: I’m an economist and even I can see that argument doesn’t make any sense. Research from the US has shown that, contra to the stereotypes about hipsters and lycra-wearing professionals, people on lower incomes are _more_ likely to cycle: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/05/08/low-income-americans-walk-and-bike-to-work-the-most/

      1. > If hills were our problem, large parts of Manukau and some parts of the West would have much higher cycling rates than the Central Isthmus.

        I think the point is that hills limit the maximum uptake, rather than automatically determine everything. I’d agree that with everything else the same, Hills give you fewer cyclists than No Hills.

        If you look at the exact same premise from a slightly different and more positive perspective, though:

        There are many parts of Auckland (the south, the far east, parts of the west) that are very well suited to cycling topographically, and they are also parts that are inherently difficult to serve with public transport, are very car-dependent, are home to a lot of people who struggle to pay for transport, and have lots of free street space to add cycling infrastructure. Which suggests we can get a lot of bang for our buck by adding cycling infrastructure there!

        1. Great point about looking at the upside! Auckland’s got some great opportunities that it barely even thinks about.

          And if I’m being honest Transportblog isn’t always the best placed to recognise them. I know the west, north, and isthmus pretty well, but I don’t spend much time down south or out east. So it’s hard for me to identify specific things that could be done in those places.

          That being said, Luke C’s done some great work on cycling in Manukau central: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2014/08/27/cycling-in-manukau-ready/

    3. As a fellow taxpayer, I’m far more worried about the fiscal sustainability of our health system. We risk drowning in red ink due to the cost of dealing with diseases related to inactivity- diabetes, heart disease, etc. Expensive shit.

      What this research shows is that a good programme of cycling improvements – most of which would simply mean putting safe-hit posts on streets and green paint around intersections – could save us 6 to 20 times as much money in avoided public health costs. A relative bargain!

      1. And then there’s the fiscal sustainability of the $14b splurge on destructive, uneconomic and unnecessary motorways. Anyone care to work out the cost of capital alone? Sorry – my calculator doesn’t have enough space to put in all the zeros.

    4. If hills were a cycling deal breaker then there would be no cycling culture in San Francisco. Spoiler; there’s a very strong and growing one there, and no the hills aren’t being removed but on street cycling infrastructure is being added.

      It is well understood that nothing other than on-street and off-road cycleways determines cycling numbers. Not how rainy, sunny, snowy, smelly, hilly, poor, rich, snobby, lazy, sporty or whatever a place is nearly as important to the quality and quantity of the cycling culture than the physical cycling space. In particular the quality of its separation from vast lumps of tin being inexpertly wielded at speed by fellow humans.

      1. San Fran is pretty flat apart from one part of the central city. Go out to Atherton and its as flat as a witches tit

    5. Just one of the many myths and excuses exposed by David Hembrow on his View from the Cycle Path blog:
      http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/search/label/hills

      Or check out his summary of all the myths and excuses people (especially English speaking people) use to justify why cycling just won’t work in their “special” city:
      http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html

      Plenty of cycling in towns in Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy that have hills.

      And give me an Auckland hill over a Christchurch Easterly while going across the Sumner causeway any day. At least with hills you have the downhill bit to look forward to.

      Excuses are so much easier than solving the actual problems, like the lack of separated infrastructure and the joined up network which encourages people to cycle.

  2. Even if that was the case, there are ways to get around that issue. Scandinavian cities, like Trondheim or Oslo, already employ bicycle lifts to get up steep slopes.
    No reason that cannot happen in New Zealand.

    1. I always thought that Liverpool Street would be a good place for one of these. A relatively short, intense hill. Does anyone have idea of cost? I’m surprised it hasn’t been discussed before when Auckland’s topography is brought up in relation to cycling.

  3. I am supportive of a good bicycle network in akl. however, all posts here are prescriptive of what other people have to do to encourage cycling (i know it’s a lot.) never does anyone talk about cyclist’s responsibilities. where i come from in the us there is a strong cycling culture that has been the for decades. the area has produced a good number of olympians and is home to a bike manufacturer that you have all heard of (some of you probably own one of their products). an interesting side note this is that in this place all traffic laws apply to bicycles as well as cars and trucks. if you break the law – run a red light, illegal turn, etc – you get a ticket. there are lots of places that require bikes to be licensed, and undergo a safety inspection once a year. these things highlight the responsibilities of the cyclist. if your aim is to make cycling a mainstream, viable alternative transportation mode using public infrastructure you need to do your part. you will succeed faster than by just asking for money and respect. so check your brakes, put on your helmet, signal your turns, and ride ride ride.

    1. The Olympics and what is being discussed here have bikes, as the machinery, in common and very little else. Not even the design of the bikes.

    2. I think all of us here are probably law abiding, careful cyclists – hence our interest in this blog. We are crying out for infrastructure because we have barely any, where many cities have a lot more.

      1. Also, if you provide better cycle infrastructure, you will get fewer illegal behaviours among cyclists.

        Not none (or our absolutely car-dominated city wouldn’t have parking fines and speeding tickets), but less. And the minor infractions would be met with less “holier than thou” attitudes by motorists.

    3. “there are lots of places that require bikes to be licensed, and undergo a safety inspection once a year”

      citation sorely needed.

      1. Will be difficult to find. There is not one country that requires bicycle registration or licensing. I imagine he is in Davis or one of the other University towns that has a relatively high cycling rate, but nothing like the Netherlands University towns like Groningen.

        There are some Universities in the US where you have to register your bike and there are some countries that have voluntary schemes. All these are focused on preventing theft:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bike_registry

        Bicycle registration is a silly idea that never managed to recover more money than it cost to administer the scheme. It is only suggested by people who want to stop people cycling.

        “an interesting side note this is that in this place all traffic laws apply to bicycles as well as cars and trucks.” – And in NZ – so cyclists have the right to ride on the ride just like motor vehicles. All the same laws apply unless teh cyclist is on dedicated cycling infrastructure of which there is very little.

        Riding a bike is a right – which is why there is no licence or registration required. Driving a car is a privilege – so doing it is strictly controlled. This is because motor vehicles are highly dangerous while bicycles are not.

  4. Electric bike and segway type personal transport vehicle will get more popular as the technology become more affordable.

    Bike lane working with new technologies will give people another excellent alternative to travel around.

    1. In the Netherlands, bike infrastructure, be it paths, lanes or cycle streets, are used by aged or mobility impaired persons on mobility scooters. We have an ageing population so spending on this is a huge win for more than just people who ride bikes.

    2. The technology is affordable already! You can get e-bikes for less than $500 brand new here in Oz (haven’t checked NZ, but I’m sure they’re not hard to find), and a electric motor is even cheaper and easy to fit. College hill and Queen Street would be a lot less daunting with a motor to help push you…

    1. And yet it is a band-aid. If all our buses on Queen Street had two bike racks, they could carry… maybe a few dozen bikes an hour up the hill. That is a built-in low-volume limitation factor right there. A good cycleway can cater for hundreds or even thousands an hour at maximum, and just needs to avoid the steepest stretches by making roads with more gently gradients safe.

      1. Totally agree it’s not ideal. I’ve just moved back to Auckland from Europe and am about to start commuting from Queen St to Ponsonby – it’s not far, but tricky working out which way is the safest + least steep. All I want is to see Auckland covered in cyclepaths…but so far, the few I’ve seen lead us along a treacherous path of potential car doors opening directly onto the cycle lane. Argh!

  5. Auckland is hilly but I think this is where electric bikes have a huge part to play. They basically take the effort out of climbing hills and allow a much broader cross-section of society to get on bikes – which is what we need to happen.

  6. The hills are are a bonus as they multiply the health benefits of cycling 😉 Also, what goes up must come down, and everyone knows that cycling downhill is pure joy.

  7. Haha from the wiki page on the Network Effect linked to above:

    ‘The expression “network effect” is applied most commonly to positive network externalities as in the case of the telephone. Negative network externalities can also occur, where more users make a product less valuable, but are more commonly referred to as “congestion” (as in traffic congestion or network congestion).’

  8. Nearby to Christchurch is the rapidly expanding satellite suburb of Rolleston, which is perfectly flat and ideal for cycling. However the Selwyn District Council haven’t provided a single dedicated cycle lane in the area as far as I know. Hopefully they take a leaf our of CCC’s book and start investing.

  9. Looking further in Network Effect theory and there are claims of a value to the square of the cost of a Network as it grows: So if the cost to users is N then the value of a complete Network is N^2…
    presumably after a certain critical mass reached.

  10. I cycle commute all over Auckland but mainly from the west to the centre. My favourite piece of road is a stretch of Triangle rd about 300-400m long on the run up from the bridge over the Henderson Creek to the Lincoln Rd lights. Some nice traffic engineer has but a line of parking lot thingys between the roadway and the cycle way and I feel real safe behind them.
    https://www.google.co.nz/maps/place/Lincoln+Rd,+Henderson,+Auckland+0610/@-36.8500852,174.6287082,3a,75y,350.82h,89.04t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1smE9NGKrDYbeEVO_-278R9Q!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x6d0d4046dfe56741:0x29bdccda9193b5a
    It was done I think because the traffic used to queue up two abreast in morning rush hour and block the cycle way and cyclist would be forced to ride up between the cars or on the wrong side of the road.
    Whatever the driver of the change, it’s really effective, why can’t it be done elsewhere? Especially on inclines like this one where cyclists are so much slower than the cars.
    Come on AT and NZTA the evidence is so compelling, the solutions so simple and a cost benefit ratio exists what really is holding you back?

    1. Hi Mr Plod – that protected cycle lane was put in after two years of fight put up by Cycle Action to get AT to fix the issue of queueing here. Great you like it (and it’s not even up to current standards of width!). We need more of these.

  11. I doubt the return on cycling investment pays for itself in health benefits. The benefit is supposed to be fitness but whenever topography is mentioned above people talk about electric bikes (which are just cheap motorbikes). That is sort of proof that any growth in cycling is not linear to increased fitness. Also plenty of people do not care about being fit. We can not force fat people to swap cars for cycling. If we could we may as well just force them to swap the couch for the gym as it would be cheaper.
    Finally fitness does not guarantee health and exercise is not really the way to lose weight, better diet is.

    1. Actual research disagrees with you.

      UoA suggested that the health benefits were more than ten to one in their research.

      All research suggests that both more exercise and better diet both help control weight.

      Also, it isn’t about forcing fat people to cycle, it is about allowing all people to cycle if they choose to.

      1. Well, you don’t *have* to pedal on some, at least, but the range is pretty tiny if you don’t.

        That said, who cares? You don’t have to pedal a car or a bus, either.

    2. Plenty of evidence from people, who actually, you know, ride an e-bike, and not just imagine what its like (“oh its just a cheap electric motorbike”) will tell you that yes you’ll pedal still.

      Even more so they’ll also tell you it makes you able to go further – so you get the same or better health benefits but because its so much of a hill flattener – you do cycling, and way more often.

      And, for those less able to cycle, it allows them to cycle when they couldn’t at all – so they go from no health benefits, to way more benefits.

      30% of bikes sold in Europe now are e-bikes, and their regulations require you to pedal to make it “go” – so must have something going for it to be so popular.

    3. CLG, I take exception to your statement that “exercise is not really the way to lose weight, better diet is”

      Here are a couple of links to refute your claim:
      http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/calorie-consumption-revisited-part-1-of.html
      http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/calorie-consumption-part-2-of-many.html

      These posts a series which look at the UK evidence that shows calorific intake is declining, but weight and the related issues are increasing. The explanation provided is that exercise is declining as well, so the surplus energy is converted into reserves, which is a biological response to being able to store energy, which has only become abundant, in recent times geologically speaking (since the change from nomadic tribes to farming).

      I’m prepared to apologise if you can provide evidence to back your opinion.

        1. Weight is not the issue. I don’t particularly care how much other people weigh, and neither should anybody else. That’s their own business.

          What I _do_ care a lot about is this point, from your article: “Exercise can help with depression, lower the risk for heart disease and cancer, and reduce the risk and complications of diabetes. It can even grow new brain cells.”

          If people lower their risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it means that they will impose fewer costs on the public health system. That is why having environments where it is easy to walk and cycle is so important: it keeps us from squandering money trying to treat diseases related to chronic inactivity.

          1. 12% of mortality in Denmark was coronary heart disease, 3.96% in the Nederlands. The EU average was 14% I think this proves that investing in cycle paths has nothing to do with reducing heart disease or else both Dmk would be as low as the NDL.
            Heart disease is about cholesterol and genetics, riding a bike won’t change either or those things but a good diet can save those that don’t have unlucky DNA.

  12. Auckland isn‘t that hilly, and the hills aren‘t that big. I‘ve stopped commuting on my many speed road bike, and now use an old road bike with a 2 speed hub geared just low enouh to get up the steepest hill, and high enough to pass 95% of bikes on the flat. I live and work at the tops of hills and commute via sea level.
    The biggest barrier I see is safety, followed by weather. I ride every day.
    I see more cars running red lights than bikes.
    I would have no problem riding with a number plate but see them as an unnecessary cost and barrier to uptake.
    I support the construction of quality cycle routes, where they are straight, smooth, direct, even grade. Circuitous, windy, indirect, undulating or hilly routes are wasting money.
    Eg
    How many people cycle the official route beside SH20 from Onehunga to Hillsborough? Its difficult to walk up that hill let alone ride. When the motorway was constructed it would have been easy to create a cycleway at the same or better grade as the motorway.
    Eg
    Dominion Rd alternative cycle route. So windy with so many intersections, it would probably take well over twice as long to ride.

  13. I used to choose to commute by bike from Onehunga to Panell using the most direct route – straight up The Mall and over that volcano thing in the way. I had calves of steel after a week. And the section of route where I felt most uncomfortable was actually not the side of One Tree Hill , but having to negotiate the RH turn from Remuera Rd into Market Rd.
    (My little anecdote as evidence based reasoning for separated cycle paths)

  14. Does anyone know when possible to cycle over the harbour bridge ( as they do in Sydney?). More than a 1/4 of auckland population can not cycle to work in the cbd

  15. Copenhagen with 36% cycle mode share aiming for 50%.What would that do to our roading network that is currently less than that overstressed. Then you have rail and get bus moving with full priority. More car mode capacity? The bus and bike networks are congestion defeating weapons of mass destruction, but if not rates car parking rates to adjust as you need to, if need to?

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