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.

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.]

Beach Rd

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 St cycleway

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:

NW Cycleway (Kingsland)

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.

NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)

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:

Tamaki Dr (EB + WB)

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:

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.

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43 comments

  1. Constellation Drive is huge. That cycle paths haven’t been installed is ridiculous. There is swathes of off street parking. Remove the on street parking and you have room for cycle lanes and bus lanes rather than silly the part time setup that exists presently.

        1. AT are good like that, it is no different to their plan for rail to the airport that they would not look at anything else outside of their expensive Onehunga option.

        2. Could be a good guest post, either here or on BikeAkl. Public scrutiny on an unloved part of the city has led to good results in the past, e.g. with the Fanshawe St bus lanes.

  2. The commentry talks about new usage resisting the sharp dropoff in winter. This makes sense if the new users are regular people going about their day rather than recreational MAMILs who do it more as some fun fair weather exercise. But the graphs above all show a sharp decline into June 2016

    1. Yes, but the June 2016 figures are higher than June 2015.

      Cold and dark is a deterrent, but less so on better paths.

    2. I read ‘resisting’ as still decreasing, but not dropping as sharply as before. If you look at the chart in question (NW cycleway at Te Atatu), the 2015 numbers go from almost 15,000 in March to 10,000 in June. The 2016 numbers show about 17,000 in March down to about 13,000 in June. So we’ve only had a 23% drop at Te Atatu in winter compared to 33% last year, and the current June count is not far off last year’s March peak – that’s notable.

      I don’t think your MAMIL versus “normil” comparison is that useful. From my experience, fitness oriented people on road bikes will ride in just about any weather, whether it’s part of a formal or informal training regime or just because they enjoy it. By contrast, apart from a small group of commuters who overlap heavily with the roadies, many of the “regular people” who ride these cycleways are more likely to substitute the bus, car or train in bad weather. That includes people riding for transport to school, work, community destinations or entertainment etc.

      So I think you should actually expect to see a winter dropoff in winter on a cycleway that’s well used for a range of purposes. If it was nothing but fitness riders on road bikes, you’d have a more even year-round profile with much, much lower numbers. What we’re seeing is a big increase in users of all types (including occasional weather-dependent riders), which fluctuates through the year but is still clearly way up on what we were seeing just a few years ago.

      We’ll always have some peaks and troughs through the year, but I think they’ll become less drastic as the network improves, making it safer and more comfortable to ride in a wider range of weather (which leads to people putting their bikes away incrementally later, and getting them back out incrementally earlier, each year).

    3. That drop off in cycling is actually pretty good. Even in the Netherlands cyclin reduces from 29% mode share in Summer to a 20% mode share in Winter: https://wintercyclingblog.org/2014/11/21/fietsen-in-de-winter-introducing-the-dutch-tradition/

      And we are doing better than a lot of other European cities where cycling mode share is much higher (Graz, Austria had a fall of around 35-40%): http://www.civitas.eu/sites/default/files/epomm_eupdate_en_winter_cyling.pdf

      So Aucklanders are actually pretty robust about winter cycling. As we should be considering how much better the weather here is in winter with no snow or ice.

  3. Good to see the numbers increasing, but still a long way to go to where they should be for such a large city.

    The Hastings-Havelock North cycleway for example, has some 500 trips per day (250 each way), which is comparable to the Beach Rd or Nelson St cycleways in Auckland. Really, Auckland should be much higher when you consider the population. Lots of potential growth to come.

  4. As someone who bought an eBike this year, so far I’ve commuted every day on bike, rain or shine – except for when I got sick with the flu. I found that I get less wet on the bike than I do walking because I get from A to B much quicker, so it’s been easy to continue through winter.

    The new inner city cycleways are great but sooner for Skypath the better. Also I ride up High St and Lorne St regularly and they are hit and miss with all the parked cars and people ‘hunting’ for carparks blocking the road completely. It needs to be fixed.

  5. What is with the cyclists per month statistic. If you want something to look large then take a leaf from the public transport spruikers and put it in annual cycle trips.

    1. Take off your tin foil hat… there’s no conspiracy to be found here.

      PT trips are usually reported on an annual basis because they are typically compiled and reported by public agencies as part of their annual financial and operational reporting. Annual patronage figures make it possible to compare with annual data on operating costs and fare revenues to understand, e.g., cost per trip.

      For cycling trips, it’s more sensible to report on a monthly basis because there’s greater seasonality in demand for cycling than for PT or car trips. AT’s actually started publishing daily cycling counts, but the figures bounce around a lot due to weather, weekends, and random happenstance, so it makes the charts harder to read.

      1. Good story Peter. You should stick to it. Annual numbers are used because they are complied by public agencies who want to take the credit for PT. Never doubt the ability of public employees to massage statistics. They would use a longer period if they thought they could get away with it. By contrast nobody gets credit for high traffic flows so they report them as daily flows. They solve the problem of variation by using an annual average daily flow.

      2. While it is useful for analysts to look at monthly stats to understand seasonal variation, to be honest it would be far more useful in the long run (once there is sufficient historical data at sites) to view rolling 12-month total figures for cycling, precisely BECAUSE of the large seasonal variation. It’s hard work to interpret the monthly charts to see if there has been growth; sure, if all of this year’s line is above last year’s line then you can see the trend, but what if only some of it is above? A rolling average means that we don’t have to do mental gymnastics or take into account the seasonal climbs and falls; we can just see whether the overall count is growing or holding steady. That’s probably a more important and simple way to present the data to the public and politicians.

    2. To me the per month stats are better as you can see the seasonality more easily. The rolling 12 month stats for PT are distorted by, for example, the RWC2011 months – they “stay” in the numbers for 12 months when in fact in was a one-off event over a couple of months.

  6. Sat & counted cyclists on the new cycleway on Quay St Sunday afternoon. – Sunny & fresh- didn’t need my counter though – niltch

    1. You’ll be pleased to know that there is an automated counter on Quay St, so there’s no need for you to spend minutes of your own time counting. It shows very impressive numbers so far.

      I’ve seen many people using the path during the week, presumably for commuting, which may well be when it is busiest.

    2. Of course, the road-space for vehicles would have been left with a massive excess at the same time. As it is about 20 of 24hrs out of every day.

      Its the biggest eye-sore in CBD, I reckon. The wasted space on Quay St outside of peak, while the footpaths are full. I half expect tumbleweed to come rolling down towards me. Its our waterfront and we should do better with that space.

      1. Speaking of tumbleweeds, it is quite surprising how much priority those tumbleweeds on Nelson & Hobson street get from the traffic lights.

        The Albert St / Wellesley Street crossing has the same flaw during the morning peak: lots of time wasted with green light for Wellesley Street, while there’s hardly any cars driving that way, while there’s often a queue on Mayoral Drive almost all the way to Cook Street (with buses stuck in there), and a lot of pedestrians waiting as well.

        Now for some good news: it looks like they also improved the pedestrian buttons along Nelson Street. You can press the button to cross Nelson Street halfway into the green phase for Cook Street, and it will immediately give you a green man!

        1. Is it hard being yesterday’s cynic mfwic? Must be tricky always trying to find new ways to sneer and moan about anything progressive in this city (FYI it has an automated cycle counter, so my trip is counted exactly once).

    3. Did a short rough count myself. Noticed that it seems to miss close following riders. Would guess that the counter needs a FFF of 1.1 multiple applied. (FFF Finnegans Finagling Factor)

    4. You don’t assess the need for a bridge by counting how many people are swimming across the river. The purpose of cycling infrastructure is not to cater for existing demand. It’s to create a complete safe network with the aim of encouraging more urban cycling. It’s not just predict and provide based on past trends – it’s about working towards a desired future that’s different from the present.
      I don’t know the details of the Quay St situation, but the emphasis is on ‘network’. A network will always have some bits that are used more and some that are used less. They’re all important to creating the complete network. The complete network is important because the number of possible routes increases roughly as the square of the size of the network. If there are 10 telephones in town, there are 90 possible conversations. If there are 100 telephones in town, there are 9,900 possible conversations. A complete network is *much* more useful than a partial one.

  7. We had a very warm autumn but obviously the comparison of the ones near new cycle infrastructure vs Tamaki Drive etc says it all.

  8. Rain aside, in many respects riding in winter might be a bit more pleasant than summer.

    Body doesn’t overheat to the point of profusely (though still somewhat) sweating, get’s the blood pumping on those chilly days, probably wards off a few colds too.

  9. I don’t know what time you were there Myles but I encountered several cyclists when I rode along Quay St at approximately 1pm and the counter read 186 for the day

    1. is there any plans for a cycleway on the northern bit of nelson st from where it ends somewhat abruptly to complete the circle?

  10. The Beach Road cycleway is an interesting one. Walked along that road last week away from the city and noticed most pedestrians liked to walk along the cycleway rather than on the ped path next to the buildings. Maybe the cycleway is a shorter route. Going back towards the city it’s less of a pattern.
    Cycle access seems to be for both paths.

    1. I rode beach road today. the stretch along scene apartments I think every single pedestrian chose to use the supposed cycle path. I think combination of it being nicely landscaped, generally following a tighter curve (the desire line that you point out) and the pedestrian footpath having zero interest. On the Footpath you walk alongside looming apartments’ carparks, naked concrete walls, advertising, a few yamcha restaurants.. it’s pretty natural that people choose to walk through the plants!

      1. Maybe there is no point fighting it and instead make the current super wide pededstrian area the cycleway proper and leave the cycleway abandoned for the pedestrians. Might make everyone happier?

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