Opinion: The rise of the Super Cycleway

Last Updated : 02 Mar 2016
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Auckland is undergoing a cycling revolution. The original ‘Auckland: city of cars’ vibe is now transforming into a city with separated bike lanes, shared streets, pedestrian crossings and human-scaled buildings which now feels like a ‘city for people’.

Cycling is no longer simply the preserve of middle-aged, lycra-clad adventure cyclists with luminescent jackets and flashing lights squeezed into the extremities of the road space at the curb edge. Cycling is becoming fashionable, even mainstream.

We’re certainly not at a point where we can say that we are a true cycling city, but we debated, some protested, we talked the talk, secured the funds and have started our journey with a bang.

Hot pink cycleway

The recent addition of the magnificent Lightpath – or the Magenta soaring cycling super highway if you prefer – is a brave and bold statement to the world that Auckland, and our partners in this cycling revolution (Auckland Transport, Cycle Action Auckland and Central Government via NZTA), mean business.

Over recent years Auckland Council has worked closely and campaigned tirelessly with the Government and partners to lock in funding for cycling in Auckland. Together we’ve been able to make some genuine gains for cycleways, clearly reflected in the joint budget of around $300m towards cycling in Auckland over the next three years. This is a remarkable turnaround. I sometimes have to pinch myself that we have a 'hot pink' cycleway in the city centre.

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Ludo Campbell-Reid and his family enjoying the Lightpath

So how has this happened? Unfortunately space limitations prevent me from acknowledging every person who has been involved in this transformation.

But, there’s been incredible political support from Prime Minister John Key, Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown, Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse (an electric bike convert), Councillor Chris Darby, Auckland Transport CEO David Warburton, as well as Chair Dr Lester Levy and Councillor Linda Cooper, who like Chris Darby is always seen on their bike.

Also, Waitemata Local Board cycling advocates Pippa Coom, Shale Chambers and Chris Dempsey have been instrumental in lighting the political torch paper. Transport Blog and Bike Auckland also deserve a special shout out. These fantastic websites have helped raise awareness and promoted cycling in the city.

Auckland Transport Walking & Cycling Manager, Kathryn King, deserves special recognition as well. Cycling has transformed itself under her watch and she's been involved with some brilliant initiatives, such as the Auckland Bike Challenge, and has helped put cycling back on the front pedal.

Credible transport choices

One of the reasons cycling is on the up is because we have the choice to cycle in safe conditions. No one likes to be told how to live, what to wear or what to eat. They like choices to make up their own minds. In terms of transport options, Auckland lacked credible transport choices. That’s not the case now and the public transport patronage stats in recent years point to nothing other than a transit seachange.

The increased investment in cycleways has stacks of other benefits too. It’s cheap, increases your fitness levels and has no environmental footprint. What’s not to like? London’s Mayor Boris Johnson believes a cyclised city is a civilised city, and I agree 100 per cent. Mayor Brown echoes this sentiment and has dedicated funding and investment into the future of cycling in Auckland.

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9th Avenue in New York, before and after

Of course not everyone is racing to jump on their bikes. Mike Hosking has aired his annoyance on the Lightpath many times. I don’t know Mike, nor do I understand what his agenda is in criticising an unfinished project like this, but I hope one day he’ll enjoy a ride on the Lightpath with his family and recognise how cool it is and how it benefits Aucklanders every day.

If you live in Auckland and haven’t had the chance to experience the Lightpath, you really should give it a crack. It’s safe, social and fun. And remember, it’s not completely finished yet. Not even close.

When phase two is completed, it will continue down the east side of Nelson Street and link up with a new cycleway on Quay Street, making the city centre even more accessible. A sunset cruise is quite a memorable experience. Just don’t forget your sunglasses.

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Sunset ride on the Lightpath

The cycling revolution will continue to morph and expand, and no doubt electric bikes will play a big role in the future. Although e-bikes are in minority now, there will come a time when electric bikes are just as common as cars – especially when you consider Auckland’s topography.

With a vibrant, connected and safe cycle network in Auckland we could one day rival great cycling cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Utrecht. Many of these had a challenged, car-dominated past. It wasn’t all parks, plazas and bike lanes, see below what Groningen in the Netherlands was like.

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Groningen, Netherlands

However, for cycling to skyrocket we need to overcome a few hurdles. One is mass participation.

Janette Sadik-Khan (former New York City Commissioner Director of Transport) said “there is safety in numbers not in plastic helmets”. A critical mass of bikes on the streets certainly creates visibility and helps cycling slip into the mainstream.

We need to create a ‘bike radar’, where Aucklanders are aware of cycling and expect to see cyclists. The more cyclists we see cycling on better quality cycling infrastructure the better, it’s as simple as that.

And sometimes words can’t describe actions, and I feel this sentiment is captured perfectly with the below picture of the two young boys cycling on Nelson Street. For a long time Nelson St was a dangerous place, lots of traffic and it wasn’t pedestrian-friendly at all. You’d avoid it most of the time.

But, when you see young kids, the future of Auckland getting out on cycleways, it gives me genuine warmth and a real sense of pride in how far we’ve come as a city in bringing cycling to the masses.

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Future Auckland cyclists on the road

There’s a long road ahead, but we’ve made a cracking start after years of neglect and under investment. Now we’re finally moving in the right direction.

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