The cycling revolution that is sweeping the world has not reached Auckland’s shores yet and by the way things are going on Tamaki Drive, it may pass us by completely. Now, The Guardian has weighed in on the topic. Auckland: A city where cycling should be more popular than it is. The tragedy of the situation is heightened by the knowledge that there are working examples of cyclized cities for us to be inspired by.
For those readers less familiar with cycling issues, let’s do a quick recap. We know cycling is good for the economy, good for the environment and it is good for our health. The research is on the side of cycling. At the same time, we are beginning to see the huge cost attached to having a city that is designed around cars. Look where New Zealand sits on the obesity scale. For a local commentary of the impending epidemic, take a look here. The message is simple: We need to be planning for people rather than cars.
You would think then, that all the odds were stacked in favour of getting a separated cycle way on Tamaki Drive. It’s would be a perfect place to kick start Auckland’s cycling revolution. Tamaki Drive is flat and the suburbs on the Harbour side are in close proximity to the city. A cycle lane along the length of Tamaki Drive would make cycling accessible to a group of Aucklanders who are not currently cycling. A 5% modal share target could be achieved relatively easily.
Auckland Transport are kindly offering to build a widened path along Tamaki Drive. What will this project be money well spent? To answer this, it is necessary to answer these questions…
What type of cyclists currently use Tamaki Drive?
Who is the intended user group of this newly planned infrastructure?
It is clear that Tamaki Drive is unique in Auckland because of its location to the beautiful Waitemata Harbour. Needless to say, Tamaki Dr is a heavily contested piece of real estate. And there are multiple reasons to be on it. It is used for both recreation and transit purposes.
To simplify things, people on bikes on Tamaki Drive can be put into either a transit or recreation category (or a combination of both). The recreational riders could be the sports cyclists wearing lycra and doing training rides. The recreational category could also include the people on bikes doing a leisurely ride along the shared footpath with the people walking dogs and families out for a stroll. It can get pretty congested on that shared path next to the sea wall.
The cyclists using Tamaki Drive for transit purposes can be defined as utility cyclists. These are the people who are going from A to B. They are no different to the people in cars or on buses going to or from work in the city. It would appear that Auckland Transport is expecting that both groups of cyclists will be the beneficiaries of the proposed new footpath.
I’m curious to know if there will there be an expectation from the public, that sports cyclists will be required to use this proposed facility? But for the moment, I simply want to highlight that sports cyclists are not utility cyclists and I think that that point needs to be made very clear for people who are not familiar with cycling issues. I would go as far to suggest that this lack of clarity makes it harder to progress utility cycling. That is, cycling as a form of transport.
I have some thoughts on why Auckland Transport may be considering this option…
Auckland has a cycling culture based around a brand of sports and recreation. As a consequence, utility cycling/A to B cycling/wheeledpedestrian cycling/transport cycling, call it what you will, has been overlooked as a viable transport option. In this type of cycling, the health benefits that accrue are a bi-product of, rather than the sole purpose of cycling. Currently, cycling in Auckland suffers from an image problem. In cyclized cities around the world, it is the wheeled pedestrian cycling that is the norm. Sports cycling is in the domain of sub-culture. And based on international experience, sub-cultural cycling will not lead Auckland to cycling nirvana. Let it be said again; there is no problem with cycling long distances to work dressed in specialized equipment and requiring a shower at arrival. But, it is not effective for attracting people to using a bike for transport. And it is not where the growth in cycling is going to come from.
The other reason is what has already been alluded to. Auckland is a clear example of a city designed for cars. One can imagine that the question currently on the Orakei Community Board’s lips is “How can we possibly put in a cycle way along Tamaki Dr without compromising the flow of so many vehicles everyday?” The answer to this is: it is not possible. With an extension to the sea wall, there may actually be enough space for all users of this corridor. But if there isn’t, it may just mean that something has got to give. And it is no longer sufficient to say that people on bikes should yield to the historical dominance of the motor car. Go back to the research to support this claim.
Taming our addiction to cars is the toughest option but the only one that will make Auckland a people friendly city. It may not be particularly palatable option but ultimately, it is the best one. It may take decades, but you’ve got to start somewhere. $9 million is a lot to pay to ensure commuting motorists continue to have free reign of Tamaki Drive. That would not be an example of smart transport. That is not to say that the bicycle is the best transport option for all occassions in Auckland, but the two-wheeler is certainly being under-utilised at present. Auckland Transport’s current plans on Tamaki Drive may not actually do much to benefit cycling in Auckland. It may simply be more about maintaining the status quo. Expensive tinkering.
This video gives a pretty good idea of what utility cycling looks like. It is from the Portland. Roger Geller‘s city. It would be great to see Auckland Transport put some money and effort into supporting some positive promotion of utility cycling like this. And polar bears are epic:)