This is a guest post from reader Miriam
As someone who normally walks an hour into work every day, I made it a goal to reach my 10,000 daily steps during the nationwide Level Four lockdown. I was keen on maintaining my sanity while following instructions to ‘stay at home’. It was more than achievable; our slow streets were the perfect walking-friendly environment. In fact, my own street of Balmoral Road turned from a mini-motorway into a people-friendly place for the first time in its existence. Walking down its centre lane was a rare moment for any urbanist to treasure. Families were cycling its length, something I had never seen before. There’s no denying we all experienced the neighbourhood we’ve longed to create as soon as our streets were no longer controlled by cars.
The switch to Level Three invited a hum of vehicles back to the streets and daily walks turned into awkward people-dodging experiences. The art of the agile sidestep became essential, with the local arterials no longer a safe haven for pedestrians to easily social distance. There was a plea at Level Three for more local government intervention to provide the capability for us to walk and cycle the streets with the freedom of Level Four. While in Auckland, the City Centre was subject to some tactical upgrades, Aucklanders in the suburbs were left to dangerously navigate neighbourhood streets themselves.
Before Auckland went into a local lockdown “2.0” at Level Three, I was lucky enough to move into a new rental further west in the suburb of Mount Albert. We chose the place due to its proximity to the rail network, the supermarket and the Waterview path, all which complemented our car-free lifestyle. Once lockdown hit, I took the overdue opportunity to check out the new (to me) Waterview Path.
The difference of living next to a shared path over lockdown was astounding. As an enthusiastic pedestrian who previously lived too far away, I’m probably the last urbanist to get on the Waterview Path bandwagon, but I’ve discovered that accessibility to a place designed for safe active modes of getting around makes a huge difference. Users were noticeably diverse and the path was always busy, whether people were on foot, bike or scooter, and everyone at different levels of expertise and age. The inclusivity of shared paths further highlights their benefit over cycle lanes simply tacked onto the side of a road. A memorable sight was an elderly man in a wheelchair playing fetch with his dog in Hendon Park, which benefits from the shared path running around its perimeter. On weekends the path was especially packed but with it measuring approximately 3 metres across, there was never a problem with social distancing, and the task of breathing in daily fresh air was no longer threatened by Covid. If more of Auckland’s suburbs were better connected throughout by shared paths, local government could then focus on providing social distancing interventions for businesses in town and city centres. The getting around safely would take care of itself.
The success and resilience of a shared path is most evident in the context of Covid-19. While interventions to enable social distancing were requested on our streets, they already existed on Waterview Path. A shared path allows everyone to gain access to the outdoors, without the need for space to picnic/play sports/interact or any other activities banned under Level Four lockdown, although spaces to do so are dotted along the path for everyday life. The Waterview Path benefits here from Te Māra Hūpara, the natural playground at Underwood Park, and the tree trunk stump steppingstones enable play without touching. Adding further excitement to the Waterview Path is the amount of development taking place along it. Huge works are happening on Hendon Avenue as part of the Roskill Development, with a mix of social and affordable housing being built. It’s pleasing to think that this kind of access to outdoor space and activity in an urban context is going to be so convenient for these future residents. What’s more is knowing that we can create denser, more compact neighbourhoods and through people-centric infrastructure and design, can still give residents the space they need to connect to local, natural amenities without needing to drive out of the local area.
My access to the Waterview Path means mental health fared a lot better during the second lockdown, and continues to do so as I continue working from home in Level Two. The abundance of green space that lines the path is a hidden delight that I never knew existed in Auckland. I’ve even taken up “running”, a concept previously dreaded by me, just to allow myself fresh air and greenery each day before tackling a stressful workload on top of life’s general uncertainty. I plan to get an e-bike in the coming weeks so my commute to work, when I return, continues to allow me to experience the Waterview Path every day.
Living next to a shared path has completely changed how I experienced lockdown, and it’s reassuring to see firsthand the power of good design in providing resilient, desirable neighbourhoods, even in the most challenging of times.
Note: As well as the Waterview, SH20 and Oakley Creek paths, the area will be getting another one soon with construction currently underway on the New Lynn to Avondale path which includes a new underpass under the rail line and a bridge over the Whau River
What a cool positive post. Thanks, Miriam. You’re so right that these types of places are important – on many levels.
Agree it’s great. Pity it stops for a few hundred metres at hillsborough.
If only we could get infrastructure like this without the NZTA building it as part of a motorway project!
Great to have the extra paths, but even better still to have separate cycling and pedestrian paths as shared paths are terrible for cyclists while also dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians.
That path is my cycling route to work and it’s far from terrible, I’d say it’s great. I don’t think we can prance around demanding the gold standard on every occasion.
I’ve never had an issue with pedestrians other than slowing down sometimes if there’s a little tacker on their balance bike or the like, but it is a shared path so people on bikes should have sense of decency given they’re moving much faster.
My old route to work was along Carrington/Mt Albert road which has a bike lane which I used to think was also quite good just because it was so much better than a road without a bike lane, but I never ever go that way now as the new path is so much nicer even though it’s slightly longer.
It’s always better to separate cycling and walking.
It’s not a question of courtesy or culture – it’s a question of engineering.
There is effectively zero overlap between the speed of someone walking (~4 km/h) and someone on a scooter or cycle (~12-30 km/h). A pedestrian can change position or direction very quickly; a cycle cannot.
There’s a really good video by Professor John Parkin of the University of the West of England which explains this very clearly in less than four minutes.
‘The Separation of Cyclists and Pedestrians’
You’d better tell the Dutch that they need to rip out about 100,000 shared paths then.
Cycleways and footways in the Netherlands are separated, except in areas with low demand.
“The Dutch do not build shared use routes. They build cycle tracks, and provide pavements alongside those cycle tracks. They treat bicycle users and walkers separately, and don’t try to shoehorn them both into the same design solution.”
I am guilty of almost killing a child on a shared path.
I was going as fast as I could to set a Strava time on the northwestern Cycleway and a child stepped in front of me. It was a little girl of around 3 years old and she had been out of my sight line, walking in front of her parents.
Luckily I was able to miss her (it really was luck) and I ended up crashing into the barriers and sprained my wrist.
These days I ride much more carefully, but I get passed all the time by guys (often in groups), racing.
I now think that all shared Cycleways should have a maximum speed of 10kph and it should be strictly enforced. Obviously the best solution is to have separated paths (we don’t build shared footpath/motorways), but when we can’t, the speeds need to be controlled.
For exercise with the kids they’re good and we use them regularly, covid or not.
For commuting there are a lot of parts I wish had better visibility ahead and were straighter, and a couple of places where it could have been built with a more consistent grade. But certainly safer and more pleasant than arterial roads.
Is the New Lynn-Avondale path on hold?
Do you really need an e-bike for commuting? For long distance it makes sense but they are expensive to buy and maintain, and the reduction in numbers the day after it rains is noticeable.
To rephrase your last sentence, with spelling corrections:
“Do you really need
an e-bike*a car* for commuting? For long distance it makes sense but they are expensive to buy and maintain, and the reduction *increase* in numbers the day after it rains is noticeable.
So in comparison, any e-bike is orders of magnitude lower costs all around to buy and maintain over any car on a like for like basis.
And the “reductions in numbers” – on and after bad weather days for cyclists is actually nothing new, nor an Auckland specific phenomenon.
Christchurch Tram Drivers (aka “Motormen”) used to complain a lot of exactly that issue over 100 years ago with regards cyclists. Seems they’d crowd the Trams by not cycling and taking the Tram on wet days, and clutter the streets in front of the Trams with their cycles when it wasn’t wet.
You clearly can’t win if you’re a cyclist of any stripe.
“any e-bike is orders of magnitude lower costs all around to buy and maintain over any car on a like for like basis.”
This is true: however, as an “early adopter” of e-bikes, I can tell you the cheap (<$2000) versions are NOT worth it. You'll pay up to a grand more in the first two years replacing cheap/busted parts and shoddy workmanship. Unfortunately, being on a precarious income I couldn't get credit to get a nice one, so I make do.
If I have $2000 to spend on personal transport, and I want to get anywhere further than the next 5 or 10km, then I’m going to buy a $2000 car over a $2000 bike. There are hills, mountains, and motorways in the way, which make an e-bike unfeasible for me. Just saying.
You’re going to buy a $2,000 car and then spend $3,000 using it.
The maintenance and running costs of a $2000 car will be a hell of a lot greater than those for a $2000 e-bike.
New Lynn to Avondale is under construction. The underpass is due to be built over the Christmas block of line
E-bikes remove the disincentives associated with cycling for transport; specifically hills, distance and excessive physical effort. They also are good for load-carrying and shopping.
For a warm, hilly, spread-out city like Auckland, e-biking for transport is a great choice, particularly if (as in the case of the author of today’s post) one happens to live along decent infrastructure.
Depends on where you’re cycling.
Some parts of Auckland are quite hilly. If you’re around Takapuna a plain old bicycle will do, while Birkdale is almost impassable even on a cheap e-bike.
If you have to mix with car traffic, an e-bike has a large advantage because it gets going at intersections much faster. This is especially important at traffic lights.
I watched an old 1946 NZ documentary clip on youtube yesterday, “Housing In New Zealand”. They talk about how the future was going to be beautiful new suburbs surrounding parks, connected and crisscrossed by pedestrian and cycle paths, separate from roadways, much like these paths we’re finally seeing built in Auckland. I guess this was just before society went all-in on cars (which is foreshadowed by a shot of a young woman shining a car as the voiceover states “Our standard of living is constantly being raised”)
Watch here: https://youtu.be/Mbgu8fluKug?t=334
I’m in Melbourne, there are a lot of paths like that here. Only problem is we are only allowed out for one hour a day to legally enjoy them.
That might be because the people of Melbourne didn’t have a proper lockdown, didn’t obey the rules, didn’t take Covid-19 seriously. So now they face incarceration until Christmas. Meanwhile the rest of Australia would be quite happy to see a Donald Trump style wall built along the banks of the Murray River to keep Victorians out.
In spite of the lockdowns this year, Council have made good progress on the Awakeri Wetlands project where I live in South Auckland. It’s only happening because they’re building over the surrounding fields, but one would hope that these kind of projects become a requirement of any large new subdivisions.
Nicely written Miriam. Your post highlights the important of easily-accessed public spaces that are in turn connected to other places. It’s one thing to walk or cycle to a park along the main roads…it’s much better when the right of way *is* the park.
This is particularly important for people who are based at home. The quality of neighbourhood space becomes more important. The connectivity and accessibility afforded by the Waterview Path shouldn’t be the exception – this should be standard.
Lovely post! We live at the Avondale end of the shared path and love it! We venture off the path down into Oakley Creek reserve with our 6 yr old and race sticks and explore. It’s such a wonderful asset. Have you walked down to the waterfall yet? The only problem I find with the shred path is that, as a female, I sometimes feel scared if I’m walking there on a week day and there are zero people around. Also, when walking/cycling with kids it can be stressful keeping them from getting in the way of a cyclists. But overall, we love it!! BTW, if recommend trying out riding a good push bike before you buy an e-bike. It doesn’t take much to get your fitness up. I often cycle on and train home if I’m not feeling up to riding home.
It was on a group ride that started on this path that I realised a contributing factor to the difficulty of keeping children on bikes out of the way of other users: they have low ability to see over taller riders in front. Hence even older children with good cycling sense tend to shoot out to the right in order to see. It can’t be much fun having that longer distance view in the direction you’re going interrupted constantly by someone else.
I think it adds the weight to the call for wider paths.
That is a strong reason why we should build shared path for new masterplanned subdivisions.
The shared path should be away from major roads. Instead they should be in between dwelling’s backyard and form a network of connecting grid that goes to destination such as bus stop/train station, schools, town centre and express cycleway.
Nobody like to cycle beside noisy trucks and polluting vehicles.
Current subdivision still put shared path beside streets.
The issue is cars will come out from driveway. There will be many intersections to cross after every 200m. Children will need to be supervised so they don’t run into the road and hit by cars speeding along the streets.
Have a look at Almere (Netherlands) – this is completely new. Low-traffic neighbourhoods linked by well-connected footpaths and cycleways. High quality, high density, liveable and developed completely from scractch.
Yes that example from the Netherlands looks great. Here we are still doing brand new greenfields developments with unprotected bike lanes on road side of carparking when it would have been just as easy but so much better to do the bike lanes inside the parking and thus protected.
It is great! Low-traffic neighbourhoods surrounded by waterways, served by a decent rail connection.
There is no excuse for building new urban fabric which is not wholly accessible by active modes. More so in brand new developments, where pretty much anything is possible.
Most of the residential streets in Almere don’t have bike lanes at all. Instead the design ensures they are slow zones (30 km/h speed limit) and quiet (in terms of cars).
Nice layout in Almere.
Everything is possible, it is just the planning rules focus so much on functional rather that non-function aspects.
Almere (like most Dutch cities) uses filtered permeability to remove through-traffic from residential streets, while retaining a dense, well-connected grid for cycle and pedestrian movement. On streets like this with almost no through traffic, this is absolutely fine.
This, plus dedicated routes through open spaces, plus protected space along main roads means the whole town becomes accessible by foot, cycle, mobility scooter etc. What a sensible outcome. What’s not to like?
By the way, Almere centrum station has a good TOD design. South of it has very vibrant shopping district. North of it has commercial towers.
The train goes directly to CBD with quite a high frequency like every 3 minutes.
It sounds lovely Miriam. One day I must take my bike out there and discover it for myself.
Here’s hoping that one day there will be equally pleasant paths available in eastern parts of Auckland.
Have a look at Almere (Netherlands) – this is completely new. Low-traffic neighbourhoods linked by well-connected footpaths and cycleways. High quality, high density, liveable and developed completely from scratch.
Great positive post thanks. I’ve ridden the path a few times (quite far from home) and it’s very nice. The contrast with trying to cycle even on the path along Great North Rd is huge.
Thanks Miriam – that’s a good read. Big ups to all who worked to make the shared path a reality and who maintain it.
Thanks Miriam, we live near Unitec and regularly use the path for supermarket and exercise. From the experience of cycle touring in Europe, Auckland is starting to catch up. Our ferries also make going further afield a great adventure. Potentially the ferry to Pine Beach could provide the start to a tour on the Hauraki trail to Matanata.
Glad you are enjoying it. The last time I was on it was in a truck constructing it. Are the huge flounder still basking under the bridge at the Waterview end near the boiler that was in the old flour mill there?