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.

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).

A family attempting to ride safely along St Georges Road (a section of road that will continue to lack infrastructure even once the new cycleway is open). Photo – Jessica Rose
St George’s Road enjoys a short section of two-way cycleway created by reallocating the existing road space, which is a boon for local travellers on all kinds of small wheels… (Photo – Jolisa Gracewood)
… but after the cycleway veers off the road to duck under the railway line, you have to mix with traffic or go back to the footpath – even though that’s the town centre in the middle distance. Photo – Jolisa Gracewood

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.

https://twitter.com/fietsprofessor/status/1390924929537822720

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).

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37 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this, while the shared paths are enjoyable to ride on, it doesn’t take long until you need to ride along city roads. The vast majority of city roads are miserable to bike on and do not feel safe. On street parking allong key access corridors needs to be reallocated protected bike lanes.

    The Waitakere board with NZTA money managed to do just that on Captain Scott Road, building a pop up cycle way connecting the town, with an established shared path. https://akhaveyoursay.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/glen-eden-town-centre-cycleway-trial

    I don’t know how much this costs per KM, but I am pretty sure the money is going a lot further then 15 million per km.

  2. Every single road with a painted median (so every arterial in the city) can have protected cycleways added inside a week with concrete Tim tams and some light re painting of the road marking. Oh some right turns will have to be banned, so therefore it’s impossible of course

    1. Problem is that instead of building arterials our forefathers just used existing residential streets. In some cases they took the front yards off residents and in some cases didn’t bother. When you run high numbers of vehicles through a residential area you need to think about how the people who live their can access their homes safely. Simply taking their safe access away as well as giving them extremely busy residential streets isn’t much of a solution.

      1. A proposal to remove flush medians doesn’t remove access. The access was taken when cycling became unsafe due to car dependent planning.

      2. The safest access involves not turning across 2 lanes of oncoming traffic, a slight detour in exchange for safe cycling is a good trade

  3. Removing the painted medians would simply be returning stolen road space to cyclists afterthe things were rolled out(without consultation!) in the late 80/90s. About the same time zebra crossings started to disappear.

    1. I guess all of those crash blackspot studies of the time were wrong. Roads like East Coast Road and Wairau Road should have remained as four lanes?

      1. Wairau Road is four lanes in most places, and a dangerous traffic sewer as a result

        Can’t recall ever seeing East Coast road as four lanes, but despite the width, cycle infrastructure is very hit and miss, despite some excellent bits of cycleway like the Spencer road motorway bridge – which is so disconnected from anything, I doubt it gets used much other than by locals or determined cyclists like myself that had to figure out how to get to the cycleway

  4. So much right with this post, and so much wrong with how AT builds cycle infra. Beautiful clarity as usual, thanks Matt!

    The CAM-PBC is a tiny step in the right direction, especially lite business cases. BCs seem to be AT speak for ‘doing nothing for as long as possible.’
    (Though I really don’t see the point in marketing, cycle skills training and bike hubs while the network is so off-putting. Cart before the horse IMHO).

    Now it’s time for Councillors to hold AT’s feet to the fire, and make AT massively reallocate funding to safe, separated cycle facilities. Our safety, health and future depend on it.

  5. Good article. I would go for even more, 20% of the transport budget should be for walking and cycling, 40% for PT and 40% for private motor vehicles. Then there would be a hope of achieving Auckland’s emissions goals.

    But I would like to ask if the targets are a bit unrealistic and if that creates a kind of disconnect or air of unreality around the entire project. I get the argument that emissions targets require mode shift. But what would a detailed plan to achieve 7% mode share by distance for cycling by 2030 actually look like?

    The top cities in the Netherlands, which have spent 50 years building a cycleway network, get something like 50% of trips and 10% of distance by bike.

    If 1% of trips to work are by bike at the moment, what is the current mode share by distance? What is the highest growth rate that could be achieved?

    Right now the court case looks like the only thing on the table that could seriously move the dial.

  6. Yea it so frustrating to see AT do any marketing about bike use, when they refuse to build an bloody bike infrastructure except insanely expensive shared paths. Then even worse, they pretty much troll people about building the bike infrastructure their long terms plans say they are going to build, but then say they can’t build anything for the most ridiculous reasons.

    People want to be able to use bikes, they just don’t want to killed while doing so. Now is the time to reallocate space (last year would have been even better).

  7. 2 Billion dollar spend makes a great headline for opponents,regardless of the context.The road reallocation is high profile,so therefore difficult to get across the line.Given current traffic volumes,Mt Smart Rd,for example could have cycleways added, at no traffic throughput loss, with current housing intensification,going on in the area,unless some of the road space is reallocated,for PT,cycleways, it will be swamped by parked cars,and then become difficult to reallocate.
    The ram raiders currently though,are making roadside parking a fairly expensive option, much easier/cheaper to park a bike or hop card.

  8. Might one suggest that the article is too narrow in focus.

    We need to build our transport network much cheaper and faster

  9. $44m, 6 years for <3km of cycleway.
    head hits desk and the crying recommences……

    For God's sake, COME ON Auckland!!! So, so frustrating.

  10. I can’t see where $44M went. There are so many bad bits along the route:
    The abrupt change in width, grade, kink and mix with pedestrians at Avondale railway station below Crayford St East
    The kink, up hill and crossing of St Jude St
    Suddenly being dumped onto the footpath and Porowhita St
    The 90 degree kinks and narrowness at the St Georges Rd crossing
    The poles in the middle of the lane
    The sharp corners on the retaining posts sticking out beside the railway
    The lamp posts at the edges
    The undulations in grade where is follows a perfectly smooth rail line – just why???
    And so many kinks and bends in the whole route, a danger around every corner

    This is another argument that cycle projects (or at least these trunk routes) should be designed and run by all weather commuter cyclists

  11. Excellent post thank you! That image by the cycling professor hits the nail on the head.

    Notably while the New Lynn to Avondale Path is a wonderful feat of engineering, it is painfully over engineered. The temporary bridge and packed earth/gravel road that they made to make the path was actually sufficient for the Portage to St Georges bit. Yes it went down and incline and up one, but it’s not like it was Hendy Ave style. And not a show stopper.

    I asked early in the piece why we couldn’t have a wooden bridge, like everywhere else in the country or on the great rides…. and it was because of cars. Just in case cars want to use it.

    I hate having to complain about this – I love transport options, and I know that I’m going to use this path to get to the waterview to get to the north western to get to the pink to get to nelson, most days. But climate change, step change, emissions, health and wellbeing, biodiversity crisis, fuel prices…we don’t really have the luxury of time to spend money poorly.

  12. If I recall, Waitakere City Council came up with the idea of a ‘cheap’ but direct cycle path along the rail corridor. Well, it’s not that easy. Fully off-road routes need maintenance vehicles to be able to use parts; rail corridors in particular have awkward bits, It has all added up.
    Next steps will be getting networks connected to these major routes, and spreading the net across wider areas. Pop-up protected cycle lanes are going to deliver a lot, but our awkward road widths don’t make them easy. Most of the time, they will only allow single-file cycling, which is not what we aim for. Investigation, design and procurement still limit the pace this work can be done at. Cheap materials and quick installation (reducing traffic management cost) are important. Roll-out of demonstration projects can make the rest of the programme easier for people to understand and welcome/accept/grudgingly put up with. Of course, the easy bits need to be stitched together with good intersections -often more difficult to fit in, but where peak traffic volume reduction can be imposed.

  13. Yes they need to roll out some cheaply done routes. So many disconnected quality ones. I must get on to asking the local board for a route along Ngahue Dr. Looks like plenty of room on the north side, just a path, very dangerous cycling along here. Perhaps not a good example place for putting in a cheap one. Could have a shared path made of the normal foot path and a cycle only path on the north.

    1. Magma Crescent is a nice quiet bypass of much of Ngahue Dr. But still, a safe route along Ngahue Dr, and Abbotts Way too, would be very useful (to me at least). Join it to that shared path on Greenland East, widen the bike lane past Cornwall Park, and on to the west…if only…

  14. You guys are ridiculous.

    You complain about not enough cycleways yesterday, then when you get one you say it’s too expensive. As anyone would know if they’d tried to build anything in New Zealand, it’s expensive and subject to unplannable delays.

    Harden up cupcakes.

    This cycleway has: twin tunnels under a double rail line, a new 80 metre bridge, a shorter bridge, and a fair volume of retained earthworks. It costs what it costs.

    As for local board member Rose complaining, well at Whau Board she was at the workshops and design meetings for several years, so since she can’t advocate effectively it’s probably time she got a different job. The Local Board put over $3m into it. If they don’t know how to specify design for their money they probably don’t need either the public funds or the jobs.

    This is the one serious new piece of non-petroleum kit for commuters into town that the west has had in many many years.

    1. Serious pieces of non-petroleum kit is the only thing any part of Auckland should be getting. The problem of high per km costs is due to AT’s approach: keeping the general traffic capacity and priority – in the designs, in the temporary traffic management during construction and in the approach to consultation.

      Attacking the hard working LB member who’s up against AT’s incompetencies and obstruction is a pretty foul approach.

    1. I wouldn’t try cooking in a restaurant.
      Urban design may not be the best place for a restauRANTeur.
      We won’t forget Mobility parking, anyway.

    2. What a clueless drip.
      I had to look up who he was. His bio on his website really makes him sound like a bootlicker to the 1%.

  15. An extreme out of the box suggestion. Roads, cars and bikes simply do not mix. At the current rate Auckland will not achieve the required cycleways until decades away. Can we think out of the square and maybe build up? A network of elevated monorail like pathways, maybe 2 or 3 meters above the footpath. Design a click together, lightweight, transportable, link type system. Even our current design teams can’t get the mix between roads and cycleways right. As silly as this suggestion is, are there other options out there other than the status quo, which is fraught with problems and difficulties

      1. Yup, and what’s even more silly, is chucking 2 billion to achieve 7% mode change. It ain’t gonna happen. We all know it.

  16. I like the tweet and my suggestion would mimic it. Why not just introduce a general speed limit of 30km/h everywhere in Auckland and only allow higher speeds on roads with separated cycle and foot paths? This is more than justified by increase of safety for cyclists and pedestrians alone, costs nothing and could be introduced tomorrow.
    And it will generate lots of advocates from the car lobby to build more cycle paths, which will complain about NIMBY’s who don’t want a cycle path in their street 😉

    PS: Somehow related, in Germany most local streets have a 30km speed limit for quite some time now, yet I only get asked if there is really no speed limit on the Autobahn.

  17. Great Article Greater Auckland. Bike Auckland’s plan sounds great also.
    In Franklin we’re working on low cost high km trails linking our disconnected communities. Franklin and Rodney are both in the supercity – but we’re pretty rural. We can still link large km’s without negotiating urban intensive land – at least for now. We’re utilising unformed legal roads, reserve esplanades and build our green trails network that way. Just sayin – $6m/km for city paths – $6k/km out in our countryside – but thats a lot of community working bee’s.

  18. I assume that someone is auditing AT and asking where money is going and challenging them, the cost of delivering infrastructure is appalling.

    1. “I assume that someone is auditing AT and asking where money is going”

      Most of the money goes to external engineering consultants, boxes of post it notes for use at “innovation sessions”, public consultations and fancy diagrams.

  19. i bumped into someone working on the Te whau pathway – a fantastic project. He mentioned they have 300+ resource consents in progress. Most of these overlay. Unpicking how when and who to check for lizards and seasonality issues is . How to sort this – and save our biodiversity. ??
    The contractors are complying (obviously) but the quotes for any work are very loaded upwards. We get very expensive very slow builds.

  20. Good news for Jessica – she hasn’t missed the official opening today referred to above as it looks like it never happened. I tried cycling home on it and it was still fenced off. Spoke to a couple of bemused-looking engineers who didn’t know anything about the official opening, and had no idea of the estimated completion date.
    I wish I could say I was surprised….

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