The Wellington to Hutt Road is, and has been for a quite long time, one of the most popular and important cycle routes in New Zealand’s urban areas. It connects a busy downtown area with large suburban areas in the Hutt Valley, via a scenic harbour front. It’s also a rare flat route in a hilly city where cycling is relatively popular by New Zealand standards.
Given this, you’d expect there to be a safe, separated cycleway of adequate width squeezed somewhere in between the road and rail line. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
If you’re headed northbound from Wellington to the Hutt Valley, you are required to squeeze into a narrow strip between two lanes of traffic and a vertiginous hillside. Some green paint has been provided along some parts of the route, as shown in the Google Street View:
I haven’t cycled this route, but if I was headed this way by bike I’d probably take the train to Melling and cycle north from there. It just doesn’t feel safe.
The southbound route seems a bit better, as a narrow strip of tarmac has been fenced off between the motorway and the rail tracks. This is helpful for people cycling to Wellington, but I’ve heard that it sometimes causes dangerous confusion for northbound cyclists who get on the separated path in Wellington and then find themselves tipped out against oncoming motorway traffic near Petone:
Unfortunately, the Wellington to Hutt Road has been disappointing people on bikes for a very long time. The Kennett Brothers fantastic book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand provides some background. Over a century ago, when cycling was a main mode of transport for many urban New Zealanders, there were Parliamentary debates over what should be done to improve the road for cycling, and working bees to remove sharp objects from the preexisting gravel cycle path. However, nothing much got done:
“When roads were improved for motorists, it was not always agreed that the cyclist should share them. Around the time of the First World War, some of the main Hutt Valley roads were bitumen sealed, but a by-law was passed forbidding cyclists from riding on them. On the main Hutt-Wellington route, cyclists and horses were forced to share a metalled path strewn with sharp objects from the nearby railway line. In one novel attempt to clean it up, a nail finding competition was won by a boy who bagged 391 of the total 1843 nails found on the path.”
The Kennetts dug up this old picture of the Wellington to Hutt cycleway in 1978, after almost a century of neglect:
The route is better today – the northbound cycle path is at least paved – but as the Google Street View shows, it’s still a far cry from a safe separated cycleway. The good news is that the NZTA’s new Urban Cycleways Programme looks like it will finally upgrade the route to an adequate standard.
One of the key projects in Wellington is the “Melling to CBD” cycleway, which seems to include an upgrade of the areas I’ve highlighted above:
I haven’t seen any detailed designs for the project yet, but the NZTA states that:
This project will provide a high quality cycleway between Melling and Wellington’s CBD, significantly improving the level of service for both cyclists and pedestrians. It will offer a safer and more attractive route for journeys between home and work or educational institutions, and will pay particular attention to how cyclists travel through intersections.
These additional facilities are expected to encourage new, less confident people to cycle as well as catering to the high numbers of people who use this route already.
Hopefully, this project will finally fix the longstanding issues with cycling on this road. The city has waited over a century for a safe cycling route between Wellington and the Hutt Valley – it would be a shame to prolong the wait any longer.
Lastly, I’m sure that many other roads in New Zealand have long-standing challenges for safe cycling. What other issues have you noticed, and how long have you been waiting for a solution?