This small, unobtrusive bicycle sign can be found throughout parts of Mt Eden and Sandringham, Auckland. It indicates the existence of ‘cycleways’ that run parallel to Dominion Rd through residential suburbs. I refer to them tentatively as ‘cycleways’ because at present, you see more motorists on this network of roads than people on bicycles. During peak travel times, they become ‘rat runs’ for motorists. But according to Auckland Transport, this is all set to change.
The routes are designed to make cycling an attractive, easy, and safe transport and recreation option for communities around the Dominion Road corridor and will provide local connections to schools and parks. The new routes will cover about 12 kilometres on roads and through parks, passing 16 schools serving 12,000 pupils. New safe cycle crossings will be constructed on Balmoral Road and Mt Albert Road.
The PR goes on to suggest that these routes could also be used as a route to the city. Dream on! That is patently false. Apart from being excruciatingly circuitous, there is no decent cycling-friendly infrastructure from where these ‘cycleways’ end, into the city centre. It also needs to be noted that Auckland Transport opted out of providing separated cycle paths on Dominion Rd when the original upgrade was first proposed. ‘Too expensive’ was the call, I think.
So, what does this all mean? What can we expect to see along this ‘cycleway’ when all the construction crew have finally departed?
Although this kind of thing seems rather new and innovative to us here in ‘Godzone’, this kind of mobility environment has been in existence for some time in other cities around the world. In some cities they are called ‘cycling boulevards’ and in others, they are called ‘neighbourhood greenways’. Whatever you call them, if they are done well, they have the potential to bring major benefits to the local community. Of course, like all good urban transport designs, they are based on the Woonerf concept from the Netherlands.
They are used as a way of providing alternative transport options for short, local trips and making residential environments safer and more pleasant. Evidence indicates that the reduced vehicular traffic and access to this kind of facility increases property values and social connections along that corridor. All that’s required is a reduction in the speed limit to 30 km/hr, some traffic-calming barriers to prevent rat running, removal of some stop signs to permit the free flow of bicycle traffic, some signage and the possible addition of traffic signals to allow cyclists to get across the busier arterial roads.
Nor are the routes designated as only for people on bicycles. These mobility corridors can be used by residents from all walks of life and of all ages. Whether they are walking the dog, skateboarding, socialising with neighbours, or simply kicking a ball on the street. Here’s a video for you to watch to give you an idea of how they have been introduced into some cities in the U.S.A and Canada.
But will people in Auckland make the shift to bikes and use these greenways/mobility corridors?
Well, the disconnection at Burnley Tce doesn’t help. And the jury is out as to whether Auckland Transport’s traffic engineering interventions will:-
- reduce the flow of non-resident motorists using these mobility corridors as through routes,
- reduce the speed of motorists travelling on these mobility corridors.
Aside from the physical safety factors, these mobility environments need to feel like safe and pleasant places to be on because we know that cars ‘project an envelope of danger’. In order for this project to be a success, dealing with the issue of subjective safety is as critical as dealing with the issue of real safety. Statistics show that riding a bicycle is an incredibly safe and health giving activity. But this fact runs counter to the perception of cycling among the non-bicycle riding public. And the economic return on investment for projects like this is huge.
There is also a question mark over Auckland Transport’s ability to sell this project to a sceptical and fearful public. It’s going to be a tough gig because we live in a culture that worships the car and the right to drive anywhere, anytime. But it is an issue that needs to be grasped if we are to make this city a place for people to flourish. There will be residents who will resent losing on-street parking. There will be residents who are not familiar with the potential to ride a bicycle to their local shops. There will be lots of barriers and misconceptions to deal with. Normalising the perception of riding a bicycle; making it appear as normal as driving a car will require a range of social engineering strategies to be employed.
Assuming that sufficient traffic engineering interventions have been implemented, how will we know if Auckland Transport is serious about making this project a success?
Data! Strategy! Action!
- Engage with the local residents.
- Find out how many people are using these mobility corridors – upon completion and again in 6 months, 12 months, 24 months time, 5 years.
- Find out who is using these mobility corridors, and when, where, how they are being used?
- Set aspirational mode share targets (% of people on bikes relative to people in cars), and time frames.
- Enact strategies to achieve these targets. Working with 16 local schools, 12,000 students and local residents would be a priority.
Watch this space!
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.
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