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.
— Generation Zero (@GenerationZer0) July 21, 2016
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.]
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 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:
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.
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:
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:
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.