This is a guest post by sustainable transport and accessibility advocate Tim Adriaansen.
Today, Auckland Council’s Planning Committee is set to endorse the Cycling and Micromobility Programme Business Case (or CAM-PBC), which establishes 3 possible investment pathways for cycling in Auckland:
- The first is a $306 million programme which is currently funded under the Regional Land Transport Plan and is expected to deliver 45km of protected cycleways, including 4 focus areas.
- The medium-size portion aims for an additional 105km of cycleways on top of what is currently planned, and brings the program cost up to a cool $1 billion. This program includes a total of 7 key focus areas across the region.
- Finally, the “family size” serving is for 110km on top of all this (for a grand total of 260km), including 14 focus areas, coming to $2 billion all up.
While $2 billion may sound like a large chunk of change, it still only amounts to just 5.5% of the total transport budget for Auckland over the next ten years. And remember, to reach our climate goals, we’re aiming to see biking and scooting cover 7% of the distance Aucklanders travel in 2030. So that feels like a fair proportion of the budget.
Today’s vote in council is to endorse the plan, and not to approve funding—which will come later, as things are progressed and refined. Approving this plan does not commit any additional budget at this stage, but gives Auckland Transport a mandate to progress this work.
Spend $2 billion on bike paths? Are you crazy?
In transport terms, the $2 billion spend offers an excellent return on investment. The programme has an estimated Benefit Cost Ratio of 2.0 – 3.4 for the first $2 billion spent, and will lift Auckland’s cycling mode share to 3% of all trips. That 3% mode share represents around 100,000 sustainable trips per day.
Compare that to the Waterview Connection, which delivers a similar number of car trips for the same price; or Transmission Gully, which for $1.25 billion is expected to carry just 22,000 vehicles per day by 2026.
Of course, neither of those two mega roading projects deliver the enormous health, climate and equity benefits of getting thousands of people out of their cars and onto bikes.
What’s happening now?
After a bit of a hiatus in cycle network delivery, it’s starting to feel like we’re back on track. In the next few months, we’re set to see the final touches on Tamaki Drive (from Quay Street to Ngapipi Road), New Lynn to Avondale, and the section of Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive through the Pourewa Valley – all fantastic paths which will be a joy to ride.
Meanwhile, Auckland Transport is rapidly installing concrete separators onto 60km of existing painted cycle lanes — a welcome improvement, after years of advocates chanting “paint isn’t protection”.
What comes next?
The currently planned $306 million program is set to deliver projects in four priority areas over the next 3 years: Mangere, Manukau, New Lynn and Henderson.
This is in addition to the projects that were previously funded under the Urban Cycleways Programme and should begin construction within the next 12 months, giving us new protected paths in Glen Innes, and from Point Chevalier through to Grey Lynn.
Sounds good, but we’re just getting started. What’s in the $1 billion package?
While Auckland Transport haven’t yet publicly released the details of the CAM-PBC, we can infer some of what might be delivered, thanks to early engagement and some notes in the presentation to Council.
On top of the basic package, we’ll see 3 more focus areas: most probably Papakura, Otara and Takapuna, all of which are “low hanging fruit” for significantly improved connections that will be of enormous benefit to those communities.
We’ll also likely see some key strategic corridors – like Botany Road or East Coast Road – get improved cycling facilities, although unfortunately many of the most important corridors won’t be included in this programme, because they are due to be delivered with other work (more on that below.)
In order to get more bang for our buck, the CAM-PBC includes a “programme-level departure from standards”.
In response to very high costs of cycleway delivery (as much as $12 million per kilometre in some instances), Auckland Transport have considered how things can be delivered a little more affordably.
The programme-level departure focuses on faster delivery of emergent cycleways, often by reallocating street space where it is possible to do so without interfering with public transport routes. Provided we still see a safe, useable cycle lane, this adaptation of the standards promises faster delivery of a more price-tag friendly network. (And we can always go back and improve and widen in future, of course – as cities elsewhere are doing.)
And the $2 billion programme?
While promising 14 focus areas, the super-sized option looks to deliver a whole lot more of the good-value local connections and a few more arterial routes thrown in around local centres. There isn’t a lot of detail as to where these might end up, but Auckland Transport have looked to get good value for money linking up for a better “network effect”.
Many of the Connected Communities corridors and the (yet to be finalised) light rail corridor. This means the central isthmus, famously the ‘Bike Bermuda Triangle’ and yet richly criss-crossed with wide historic tram routes ripe for bike paths, will be the last part of Auckland to get a cycle network – when population-wise, it should be first.
To address this vacuum, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council should ask the Transport Minister to at the very least require early delivery of the isthmus cycleways promised as part of the light rail project.
Other critical cycling links will come via Airport to Botany and the Eastern Busway, both of which are much-needed projects but also somewhat mired in difficult decisions and funding requirements.
Furthermore, some of what Auckland currently counts as “cycling infrastructure” really isn’t. But this programme is unlikely to solve that: Tamaki Drive east of Ngapipi Road, for example, has some of the worst shared paths in the region, but because there is already a bike path here, it isn’t considered as important as locations without any bike paths whatsoever. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see the people-friendly waterfront boulevard we all dream of under this CAM-PBC.
While Auckland Transport are doing much of the good work to progress this business case, some of the most critical links are left to Waka Kotahi, who have recently gone deathly silent on the Northern Pathway, which was due to link central Auckland to the North Shore, all the way up to Constellation Station.
In the short-medium term – i.e. the ten years this plan covers, which are also the critical years for climate action – liberating a lane on Auckland Harbour Bridge is the only way to solve this missing link and truly connect the whole of Auckland for people who want to leave the car at home.
If we’re spending $2 billion on cycleways across the rest of the region, why not stump up a mere $15 million to fix the biggest gap in the network?
There are opportunities for Council, too. Currently, shared micro-mobility (in the form of e-bikes and e-scooters) is treated as something of a burden, falling under the Street Trading legislation and remaining heavily restricted. At little or no additional cost to ratepayers, Council could release more shared micro-mobility devices on our streets, and set targets requiring operators to service more public transport hubs and town centres.
Most importantly, Council should push Auckland Transport to align all other expenditure with the aspirations for the cycling and micro-mobility network. Time and again, Auckland Transport has planned and rebuilt entire intersections and town centres on the planned cycle network without any provision for safe cycling.
As well as a missed opportunity to meet Vision Zero and carbon-reduction targets, that’s a waste of everyone’s money and time.
So, before agreeing to increase funding for the CAM-PBC, Auckland Council should require Auckland Transport to commit to ensuring that all work on the network – including road renewals – delivers a safe system design for all road users, especially those outside of a vehicle, who frequently include young, elderly or disabled road users for whom driving a car might be difficult or impossible.
Council has already committed to Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan, and this is what putting that plan into action requires. The best way for Council to honour that commitment is by focussing their efforts on delivering this plan quickly, and making the most out of their investment by ensuring we:
- Liberate a lane on the harbour bridge, and complete the northern pathway
- Expand micromobility, connect it to public transport and make it geographically equitable
- Make sure every upgrade and investment makes streets accessible for all users
There are bound to be the usual tired critiques from those who can’t imagine life unless it’s seen through a windshield, but that shouldn’t distract any of us from what is a fantastic step towards a sustainable, equitable, safe and joyous transport system in Tāmaki Makaurau.
This is the plan that will re-humanise our streets for everyone – and give our tamariki not just the freedom of the bike today, but a real chance at a liveable future for them and for generations to come.