An article that went up on the Herald’s site last night, and presumably in the dead tree version today, titled “Auckland cycleways overestimated demand to obtain taxpayer funding, says Auckland Transport report“, raises questions about some cycleway projects.
Auckland Transport may have used exaggerated figures to receive taxpayer dollars for four cycleways in the city, says an internal AT report.
“The cycle demand was overestimated in all the four business cases” for the Quay St, Nelson St, Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways, says an AT report, obtained by the Herald.
The City Centre Cycle Network: Post Implementation Review report looked at the number of cyclist figures used in the business cases to receive funding from the Government’s Urban Cycleways Programme against the actual performance.
Two projects – Nelson St and Grafton Gully – went over budget, performed worse than expected and may not have been economically viable, said the report.
The business case for Nelson St predicted 986 cyclists would use the cycleway daily, but in January last year the count was 333 when the report was written. The latest figures from AT at the end of September this year show 448 cyclists a day using the cycleway.
The divergence between the forecast and actual figures for Grafton Gully were also significant, said the report. The business case forecast 975 cyclists and the January 2017 count was 292.
At first blush, this sounds bad and it also plays right into the hands of those who oppose investment in cycling projects. But I had also noticed the article was authored by Bernard Orsman, who has gained quite a history in recent years of articles that try to generate some sort of outrage, usually related to the council and/or housing. I’ve also noticed there is a tendency in these types of articles for the real story to be somewhere in the last few paragraphs, a point by which many people have stopped reading. Sure enough, this ‘beat up’ fit the pattern perfectly. The key point is in this sentence.
“In undertaking this review, the audit and assurance team was informed that Auckland Transport forecast cyclist user numbers were based on cyclist user estimates forecast in 2026,” a spokesman said.
So Orsman, or the internal report he’s obtained that he’s basing this article on, compares cycling numbers in January-17 with projections for 2026 after we’ve completed an entire city centre networks. This includes projects such as the Ian McKinnon Cycleway, due to open at the end of the month, the Gt North Rd and Karangahape Rd cycleways, the east-west midtown cycleway and not to forget, Skypath. This part is quite important as we’ve already seen network effect benefits when we join high quality cycleways together e.g. when Lightpath opened, usage of Grafton Gully also increased too.
Here are a couple of quick graphs on some of the routes focused on in the article. These show a 12 month rolling usage. First, we can see Grafton Gully, usage was 87-90k trips annually until December 2015 when Lightpath and Nelson St opened. Over the subsequent year, usage rose to about 125k, a 41% increase.
On Nelson St, after the celebration from it opening, usage was fairly flat until about November last year when Stage 2 from Victoria St to Market Pl opened. Usage has since been rising
I captured this just the other day from a passing bus, a sight that would have never have been seen a even a year ago.
Both of these projects will benefit significantly from more of the network being built.
There is a genuine question that does need to be asked about transport modelling though. We’ve seen it be wildly inaccurate, often overestimating vehicle use and underestimating public transport use. How do the models fair for cycleways. A paper and presentation to last year’s IPENZ transportation conference takes a look at the modelling and how it had been adjusted for this process. It shows the the modelling is generally right, averaging slightly above what the actuals have been showing. It also notes that this is far better than some other assessment tools. Furthemore, it notes that the model has since been refined to improve it’s quality.
Below is where the model that’s been developed says people will be cycling. Some of these routes are in place but many of the significant ones that will connect to and feed the cycleways mentioned don’t exist yet
As a comparison, this is the change from 2013 to 2016. While it is the change, we’re mostly coming from almost zero anyway so it shows how much more significant cycling is expected to get to achieve the numbers Orsman quotes.
Finally, while the herald article is a beat up, I do find it interesting timing. From what’s been said, it appears to be that Orsman has his hands on some internal AT documents, someone with an axe to grind over cyclewas? This is right a time when AT’s CEO is telling us that cycling will be embedded in the culture across the organisation.