Around a month ago Whau Local Board member Jessica Rose wrote a guest post on the New Lynn to Avondale cycleway. A tweet-thread with great pics by Russell Brown the other day highlights that this route isn’t far away from opening with Jessica confirming it’s due to open on 24 May.
O hai, interminably delayed shared path from Avondale to New Lynn. It would be a shame if someone rode a bike on you … pic.twitter.com/eSqQ4a5Ewa
— Russell Brown (@publicaddress) May 1, 2022
The cycleway is an impressive engineering feat, with various bridges along the way and an underpass below the railway line. No doubt it will be a pleasant ride and a huge improvement on what exists now (which is essentially nothing).
But there are big issues with the cycleway too. As Jessica’s post points out, there are crossing points that feel pretty dangerous, the route doesn’t serve key destinations along the way – let alone connecting directly and safely to New Lynn and Avondale town centres at each end – and some stretches are very narrow (especially at the New Lynn end).
But the biggest issues of all are:
- It cost more than $44 million – which is incredibly high for a 2.9 kilometre long cycleway
- Consultation on the design began way back in early 2016, which means that it’s taken over six years to go through various rounds of consultation, design and (for the last 2 years) construction.
While Auckland will continue to need some strategic off-street bike paths, New Lynn to Avondale cannot be the model going forward. If we are to have any hope in dramatically increasing the share of people cycling, we need to find a way of quickly and cheaply building safe and attractive bike routes in as many parts of the city we can. Because we know people use decent paths whenever they’re built, and that the network effect kicks in with every new connection.
And that means a radically different approach than taking six years and spending nearly $50 million on less than three kilometres of cycleway.
This message might finally – to some extent – be getting through to Auckland Transport.
An agenda item for this week’s Auckland Council Planning Committee meeting focuses on the “Cycling and Active Modes Programme Business Case”, essentially the plan for developing cycleways in Auckland over the next 10 years and beyond. Just like with the Parking Strategy refresh, we already had a Cycling business case and it was signed off just five years ago but soon afterwards AT disbanded their cycling team and it was quickly ignored. The new business case is about starting that process again but AT also claim it’s to account for how expensive AT have been delivering cycleways.
The paper sets the scene well, describing the importance of radically expanding Auckland’s bike network to support mode shift and a reduction in emissions:
$306 million is less than 1% of the total ATAP/RLTP 10 year programme of around $31 billion, which goes to show funding decision-makers are still not really prioritising investing in cycling – contrary to what you might have heard on talkback radio! And if that scale of investment keeps being spent on New Lynn-to-Avondale style projects, then Auckland is not going to get much at all from that rather puny amount of money.
The paper then highlights that AT has started to recognise the need to reduce the delivery cost of cycleways, so it can build more for the amount of budgeted money.
The big one in there is the ability to depart from existing design standards on projects. That means some cycleways might be, for example, narrower than is ideal but will still have protection and means cycleways can be delivered without the expensive and disruptive part of having to widen roads. A case of not letting perfect be the enemy of good – and as the network effect kicks in it will be easier to justify going back and improving later.
However, the per kilometre costs remain really high – especially when compared to examples like Project Wave which was built for less than $1 million per kilometre. This means it will take billions and billions of dollars of investment, and probably many decades before Auckland will get the network it needs to make going by bike a viable option for more than a hardy few.
Speaking of billions, the business case highlights what could be achieved if we were to increase spending over the next eight years to $1 billion or $2 billion.
Auckland should be spending at least $2 billion on cycling over the next decade – which might sound like a lot but would still not be much more than 5% of the total transport budget.
But we need to find a way of getting a whole heap more from that investment – while still making sure cycleways are safe, protected and likely to attract a large number and wide range of users, from kids to senior citizens and everyone in between.
It isn’t rocket science to work out how this can be done:
- It needs to be through reallocating existing roadspace, to avoid costly new infrastructure, land acquisition and extremely expensive relocation of services. Sometimes this will require the removal of on-street parking, but often it might be achievable through removing a painted median or re-deploying space that already exists in the form of really wide lanes.
- It still needs to have proper protection, through concrete ‘tim tams’ or hit sticks or planter boxes, on streets where traffic volumes and speeds are high, i.e. on the arterials and main streets which form the skeleton of the network. (And of course low-speed, low-traffic neighbourhoods of quiet filtered streets will fill out the network, so people can safely ride from home to wherever they want to get to.)
- It needs to be built as quickly as possible, to create highly connected networks rather than disconnected pieces of cycleway that abruptly end, spitting the rider back out onto dangerous roads and undermining all the effort that’s gone into building the cycleway in the first place.
One good thing the Programme Business Case does is clearly outline the citywide network Auckland needs, so that as money becomes available for investment Auckland Transport can quickly move to expand beyond what’s within the current RLTP. There’s also a compelling value-for-money case to invest in cycling well beyond RLTP levels:
The Benefit Cost Ratio of the programme is 2.0 – 3.4 for the first $2 billion spent, demonstrating very low diminishing returns and good value for money.
That $2 billion, along with other policy measures, is expected to see cycling mode share increase to around 7% as called for in the Auckland Climate Plan, from around 0.9% right now.
It will be interesting to see how the paper is received by the Planning Committee on Thursday. If I were a Councillor I would certainly be wanting to know why, despite the apparent shift towards lower cost designs, Auckland Transport still estimate a per kilometre cost of around $5 million, when they themselves have proven it’s possible to build cycleways much cheaper than this.
I would also want to know why such a small proportion of the ATAP and RLTP budget was allocated to cycling when it’s so clearly strategically aligned with Council and Government priorities and delivers such good value for money (or maybe I already know the answer to that question).