Almost exactly three years ago to the day we were celebrating what looked to be a revolution for cycling in Auckland after the Auckland Transport board approved a 10-year Cycling Programme for 2018-28. Fast forward to today and there’s little sign of the strategy even still existing let alone being implemented.
Let’s start with a quick recap.
The programme was a fantastic, evidence based assessment of where cycling investment should be directed between 2018 and 2028 to build on the gains we had already started to see from the Urban Cycle Fund initiated by the previous government and that had delivered projects such as Lightpath, Nelson St and Quay St. If fully funded the programme was expected to see $600m invested in 150km of new cycleways over that timeframe as well as $35 million in complementary measures. Combined these were expected to help lift the modeshare of cycling in Auckland from 1.2% to 4% and return $2-4 in social/economic benefits for every dollar invested.
The programme also stood out from most transport plans in that it was attractive and easy to read, clearly and cleverly conveying the substantial analysis behind it to lay out the issues, opportunities and benefits.
For example, below are the pages debunking common myths for the low levels of cycling, for the problems the programme was designed to address, and what the programme would achieve if successful.
It’s clear not every journey can be taken by bike, but many can and the programme was to target four key types of trip
- Short-Medium distance commutes
- Connections to Bus/Train Stations and Ferry Terminals.
- Trips to school
- Local household trips such as going to local shops.
The programme itself was to focus the investment around two dozen suburbs, with some happening earlier in the decade and the rest later.
There are obviously a lot of areas of Auckland not included here as the reality is even $600 million is not enough to cover the entire region. These areas weren’t just picked at random though but were chosen following significant analysis. A summary of that is below.
Four different types of infrastructure were proposed to be used in Auckland going forward and painted lanes on roads is not one of those. The last of these is also particularly relevant given the recent COVID-19 works
So the programme looked good and things were looking even more positive in April 2018 when the latest iteration of ATAP came out. It included $640 million towards the walking and cycling programme to deliver 125km of the network and also included $260 million towards local board priorities which likely would have included a number of other cycling projects. Given the strong value for money of cycling investment, ATAP also said:
It is recommended that as further funding becomes available, strong consideration be given to increasing the cycling programme
But since then the programme has effectively disappeared faster than a protected cycleway approaching a major intersection. For starters it doesn’t even appear on AT’s website unless you have the link, by comparison pretty much every other plan or strategy they develop is – and remember this programme was one that was signed off by the board.
Shortly after ATAP, the 10-year Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) came out and included less than $500 million towards cycling projects. But even that is misleading as just over $150 million of that was to complete the Urban Cycleways projects that were meant to have been completed by 2018. Even then AT were saying it would take till 2020/21 to complete them and some of the initially announced projects have already been dropped.
Ellison told the Herald that active transport had become a priority for the whole organisation and a steering group, led by a member of the executive, would help ensure it stayed that way.
As I understand it, of the cycling specialists who remained in the organisation, most or all have subsequently left. Not only that, the programme has been put under the umbrella of people who don’t believe in it.
By the time of the restructure the cycling programme had already hit a snag from the issues surrounding the rollout of cycleways in Grey Lynn and Westmere. The issues there highlighted that what was often holding the programme back was not the cycleway itself but that cycling projects had really become “safety-and-streetscape-upgrade-and-stormwater-fix-and-traffic-calming-and-pedestrian-improvements-and-retaining-parking-and-cycling“. Following that, AT seemingly took that position that if a single person complained, especially one that wears a cowboy hat and brandishes a sledgehammer, they will stop a project completely. Combined with the restructure they put the then current projects under review.
Some of those projects are finally progressing and the following ones are currently under construction.
- Karangahape Rd Enhancements
- New Lynn to Avondale Path
- Northcote Rd motorway overbridges
- Tamaki Dr Cycleway
- Victoria St
On Friday construction was also kicked off for Stage 2 of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr cycleway but that is being delivered by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
It’s great that these are happening but we should be much further along by now. The areas in red above should have had consultation/design work completed and we should be heading towards construction.
As well as all of the other issues, some of the areas for investigation have been put on hold by the Connected Communities programme. That is intended to redesign some key arterial routes to improve bus priority, safety as well as walking and cycling. But the programme itself has seemingly become bloated and unfocused. It will probably be years before we hear much and even longer before anything is actually implemented.
And of course more recently further delays have been heaped on by the budget cuts in response to COVID-19. It has mean that some of the other projects they are working on, such as Pt Chevalier Rd and Meola Rd and the next stage of Nelson St, are now on hold.
One way to highlight just how poorly AT are doing on the delivery of cycleways is to show what they’re delivering. A target for the delivery of cycleways was started in 2015/16 and other than in that year, they’ve failed to meet it. The results come from their Annual Reports and the future targets from their latest Statement of Intent (2020-23). To deliver their cycling programme they need to be delivering 15km a year and they’re not even doing 10km (they were sitting at just 2.5km for the year as of January but COVID has also thrown projects out).
Perhaps the only thing that’s consistent with AT is their strive to lower their SOI target. For example initially their 2017/18 target of 28km got crunched down to just 10km, so do did their target for 2018/19 which was initially 18km. The current targets of 5km this year, 7km in 2022 are down from 8.5 and 10km respectively – which is blamed on the budget.
In essence ATs cycling programme has been squashed by a lack of internal champions, a lack of internal knowledge, a lack of ambition, a lack of courage and most recently a lack of budget.
The need for us to deliver on our cycling programme has been highlighted even more by COVID. During lockdown we saw our streets empty of cars and even now bikes, especially e-bikes, are in short supply having flown off the shelves.
I had already started on this post but the need to deliver the cycling programme was further highlighted last week when UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson launched an inspiring £2 billion cycle programme.
We’re going to make it easier than ever to cycle around, with new cycle routes and vouchers for bike repairs.
Together we can reduce the pollution and noise on our streets, and move towards a cleaner, greener Britain. pic.twitter.com/lcxbYmpt9z
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 28, 2020
The programme is not just about spending more too but significantly and explicitly raises the bar by also increasing standards. The document is an easy read probably deserves a post all on it’s own but here is a high-level summary some of the new rules.
Not only are there new, higher standards, the government will not fund or part fund any schemes that don’t meet them. A new independent body is being established to inspect finished schemes and funding will also have to be returned if they don’t meet standards or are not completed with a specified time. What’s more, and perhaps what AT would need to take cycling seriously, a local authorities performance on delivering walking and cycling improvements will be taken into account when considering other funding applications. In other words, if they don’t deliver safe cycleways they might not get funding for their other road projects.