As we learned a few months back, it can be challenging to improve cycling infrastructure in existing parts of the city – especially when you have so many competing uses for the same space. It requires strong design and, ultimately, a lot of investment. The results of this are highlighted in a recent Herald article, which touches on the latest plans in Grey Lynn and Westmere:

Auckland Transport has plans costing between $23 million and $35 million to fix a controversial cycleway through Grey Lynn and Westmere that hardly anyone uses.

Preliminary designs for the 3.2km cycleway were unveiled to a community liaison group on Wednesday, described by one participant, Gael Baldock, as “utterly ridiculous” for a few cyclists…

…Sources at the meeting said AT conceded it only had $6m for the $23m to $35m project, work would not happen before 2020-2021 and fixing the debacle at the West Lynn shops would take nine months.

How can a cycleway end up being so expensive? Well, ultimately because it ends up being way more than just a cycleway.

Grey Lynn Business Association co-chair Irene King said the preliminary designs were “very, very stunning” with beautiful urban design and landscaping…

…She said it looked like the $15m upgrade of Franklin Rd with dual separated cycle lanes and Ponsonby Rd with raised speed tables at intersections to slow traffic.

For reference, here’s what the Franklin Road upgrade looks like. Once again, while this delivers cycling it’s way more than just a cycleway. Essentially it’s a whole street upgrade:

While there are some opportunities to do “quick and cheap” cycling improvements, it seems that frequently what’s really required to fix a street is far more than just a cycleway. Communities are also starting to demand much more than just a cycleway – which ultimately ends up being very costly.

Scaling this up to the regional level and it’s easy to see how the “cycling budget” increasingly has the wrong name, and therefore probably far less money allocated to it than is required. It seems that this budget is really the “safety-and-streetscape-upgrade-and-stormwater-fix-and-traffic-calming-and-pedestrian-improvements-and-retaining-parking-and-cycling budget”.

It’s probably too early to do away with the idea of a dedicated cycling budget altogether. I don’t yet trust Auckland Transport to not spend all of a more general “streets upgrade” budget on road widening. But over time it seems that we probably do need to move towards the approach London takes, where all of these kind of upgrades form part of their Healthy Streets approach, and are funded through a single holistic budget. In the meanwhile it seems like the cycling budget – the most disappointing part of the Regional Land Transport Plan – will need a big boost in the next few years if it’s required to stretch to do so much more than just cycling.

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34 comments

  1. I don’t care what they call it as long as they get some decent designers and contractors who can design and deliver a project that does not either take 3 times as long as it should, or have to be redone at great expense. That just delivers the whole exercise into the hands of political extremists, conspracy theorists, and general nutters, and makes it more difficult to provide the alternatives to the private car that are needed.

    1. Perhaps requiring a bit more budget to allow the contractors to do all the work in one section until finished, then move on to the next section? Instead of one element over the whole project, then another element, meaning the whole place is dug up for the time frame of the whole project…

      1. I understand the sentiment but what you’re proposing will definitely be more expensive and take even longer. Every streetscape upgrade involves at least half a dozen specialist crews, most of whom are only there for specific parts of the project. Every time you have to get one of these crews in there is a fixed cost (establishment cost) for moving their specialised equipment to site. Also the more work they are given to do in one go, the higher their productivity usually is. When getting a crew on to site you have to find a set of dates that they’re available and lines up with your project schedule. So once you get them on site you want to make the most of them. Not to mention that the work must be carried out in a certain order.

        So say you’ve got a site where you need to put in a new section of kerb and channel for a protected cycleway. You’ve already relocated the existing services that were in the way (electricity and telecommunications cables in this case). You’ve prepared half of the site for kerb and channel, which is much as you can do at once because of traffic management restrictions (AT insists you maintain 2 lanes through your worksite). Then there is unseasonal heavy rain and you have to wait a few days for the site to dry out. The site dries out but the subcontractor is now elsewhere so you have to wait a few more days until they’re free to come to your site. The public complains that no work is happening on site. The subcontractor finally turns up and slipforms your new kerb and channel. Once that’s cured you can backfill around it, prepare the new surface and get an asphalt crew in to pave the new cyclelane…

        Yes you could break a project down into smaller sections and work on each one to completion. However by abandoning economies of scale you increase costs and overall duration. The “cycling budget” is already too small, why make it fund fewer projects by escalating their costs? People will be benefiting from these projects for decades, a few months of inconvenience during construction won’t be remembered.

        1. 🙂 Not everyone agrees, but it’s not my field. Here’s what another, experienced, commenter wrote a while back: “Heidi the main issue is to not let the contractor open the entire length of a site at once…. the main issue is get each bit done and finished, don’t get the utilities in for the whole job, then rip up the existing pavement for the whole job, then build a few bits of concrete one by one and eventually reinstate the whole job. That is cheaper, but only to AT.”

          I wonder if there’s a key to the solution in your comment: “AT insists you maintain 2 lanes through your worksite”. That’s a bias towards traffic flow and against speedy delivery of the job straight up.

          1. No they are not wrong. The economies of scale you refer to come at the cost of increased disruption to the road users and land owners.
            A better system is to rent road space to the main contractor. If they think the job is one month then they add the cost of 1 month of rent to their bid. If they close a lane or footpath and leave it that way for longer they get to pay a penalty. If they do the work quicker they get to make a saving.
            The biggest issue we see is contractors starting a job then leaving it idle while they finish of an earlier project. The cost to the public is huge but the contractor doesn’t have any incentive to do better. Te Atatu Road is a great example, AT saved money, the contractor opened the entire length and left it that way for months and the local business struggled to stay afloat. Road exists to provide access, not so people can save money by drawing out a project for longer than they need.

          2. Agreed the main contractor (Project Manager) the should be fixed cost with a targeted completion date. If it gets overrun or delays then there would be penalty.

          3. The cost overruns are often not the contractors fault, due to things outside their control. For example services that aren’t actually where the council survey plan says they are, unseasonal rain, or a mad woman in a hat living on a traffic island and running amok with a block splitter.

          4. renting road space for consutruction is a good idea (if they aren’t already doing it?), encourages behavioural change and innovation amongst contractors. Probably unnecessary for the majority of the roading network but would be good on arterial routes around town centres, the CBD etc.

    2. But surely that is easy – change the car parking into cycle lanes. Its a few signs and yellow lines and green paint – could be done in a day for little cost.

  2. The Transport Budget. After spending 60 years of funding the driving mode at the expense of everything else, all of the Transport Budget needs to go onto these street upgrades that reallocate road space.

  3. Rebranding the improvements as “street upgrades” as per previous comments would also help reduce the amount of vitriol spewed by certain opinion piece writers about cycleway spending as it would better reflect the wider benefits of the improvements.

    I wish there was more talk about the improved access to modal choice in the news and not just cars vs bikes or cars vs pedestrians etc.

  4. I was so convinced we’d have to make “healthy street upgrades” or “people centric street upgrades” the Trojan horses for any cycling improvements, cos that’s the only way we’d get them through the bikelashing public. (a nice set of better-for-all-the-humans treatments, of which one stealthy leg (or maybe just a little stealthy tail) was cycling improvements. Is Auckland doing it THE OTHER WAY AROUND??!

    1. … putting people cycling in the firing line for any changes needed for placemaking improvements in the road corridor. I’m sure it’s unintentional, but I’m also sure it’s quite real.

      1. Totally. It’s like we are determined to cause ourselves the greatest possible social angst for changes that should be universally accepted no-brainers.

  5. Most of the spending is on parking and driving. Making Healthy Streets is cheap and easy unless we start from the premise that no carpark or square millimetre of vehicle amenity (including medians) can be used to deliver it.

    The cost is mostly to accommodate the publicly funded storage of private property and to incentivise unhealthy mobility….

    1. I agree Patrick. I think the process should be as follows:
      AT are going to remove car parks and replace with cycle lanes due to our policy of promoting alternative modes of transport. Alternatively we could try and keep the car parks, but this will cost aprox 30 million dollars. You can choose whether to pay $$$$ in targeted rates to keep the car parks or choose to lose them. Signed Lester Levy and AT board.

      1. Sounds like a good idea, should be based on a 5-10 year payback via rates too so that t the costs are tangible (as opposed to some peppercorn rate over 99 years or similar)

  6. Wasn’t Franklin Road upgrade driven from the need for Vector? to redo the electricity lines [or was it Watercare doing the work on their pipes?] in the first place.

    Which in turn kicked off the entire massive upgrade of the entire streetscape project once that was done. And the underlying project has delayed doing anything there for quite a while now?

    As I recall the practical designs for cycle lanes on Franklin road were constantly sidelined by the need to accommodate the parking and other (vehicle based) needs and also to work around the existing trees and their roots and branches – and not the cyclist or pedestrians in themselves.

    Comparing these two projects is therefore not 100% apples to apples.

    But it shows how the issue of “building cycleways” anywhere can end up being the “lightning rod” for public discontent over a whole raft of issues, few of them directly because of, or caused by the cycleway.

    It is good we have a dedicated cycleways budget – but its not good, that we need an urban road renewal project to hang any cycleway spending off of first. AT comms team are at fault a lot here. They often play up the cycleway and its benefits in their publicity/justifications – providing pure greenwash, leading people to think its all a cycleway project [with some “pedestrian stuff” on the side] when its not.

    In this regard AT is just NZTA in drag. After all the old joke was “the way to get NZTA to build a cycleway is to find a billion dollar motorway project to attach it to”.

    Nowadays billion dollar motorway projects don’t exist, The cheaper billion dollar ones have all been built. So now they come with a price tag of several billion, but the gist of the idea is the same.

    Same with ATs renewal projects – only the price is a little smaller than NZTAs motorway project prices, but not by that much.

  7. Everything in Franklin Road was stuffed. What old age hadn’t buggered the plane tree roots had.
    It had a failing combined sewer /storm water system. The water main and service connections were time expired. Many of the houses had aerial power connections and both the high and low voltage power reticulation was failing. The street and footpath lighting was abysmal. The paving, footpaths and kerb and channels were all in an advanced state of failure.
    Correctly the Council gave lots of notice to all parties, to get their budgets, design and labour in place for all to be done in a coordinated single project.
    You certainly would not now want to trench through the massive reinforced concrete of the new Wellington Street roundabout. I would not want to be a service provider needing to dig up any of the new works.

  8. London also has contestable funds such as Healthy Streets Fund, Liveable Neighbourhoods Fund or Growth Fund that local boroughs can apply (compete) for that capture a whole range of transport measures focussed at improving streets for walking, cycling & PT – in addition these funds can also be used to support complementary land-use/ place activation measures (markets/ festivals, open spaces, site agglomeration, heritage conservation etc). One of the key differences however is that TfL also has a mandate to deliver more homes.

    1. Oh that is interesting about their mandate to deliver more homes. That would make a huge difference in reasonably central areas I know with hectares of undeveloped Council land being used for parking, despite being connected by frequent transit…

      We do have Panuku, but how do we get Council land like this used for housing instead of parking? Is it to give a mandate to AT? (ha! And who has the authority to give any mandate to AT? They won’t even take a direction to re-allocate road space.) Or does Panuku or Council need to be directed more to convert parking to housing?

      1. The AT Board could just be given a KPI to deliver X homes per annum. It would force them to scrutinise their land holdings a little more closely and also assess where residential development could be complimentary to transport projects. It would also help them to focus on looking at things like ‘Over Station Development’ to deliver homes AND help provide capital to deliver new or improved infrastructure. I’d imagine this would need to be in partnership with someone like Panuku.

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