Bikeable Auckland

I’m on the Bike-Friendly Candidates page on the BikeableAuckland.nz site:

“I’ve been doored off by a courier and gone sprawling in traffic on Ponsonby Rd, gone tumbling head over heels over a drunk driver, and barely grabbed onto the roof rack to stay out from underneath a car that turned through me on K Rd. Oddly enough, now the thought of my son ever riding on Auckland roads gives me the absolute shivers, but with improved cycling infrastructure – namely more protected cycle lanes, plus the protection we’ll get once we hit a critical mass of riders and even antagonistic drivers have to start taking us seriously – my shivers will go away and my boy, in a few years when he learns to ride, will be allowed to do the apparently reckless things that we all took for granted when we were kids – like bike to the shops to get a bag of jet planes or into town to see a movie. Vote Avery, no more shivers.”

If you’re interested in a more bikeable city out the statements of all the listed candidate’s for your ward, in my experience just as cars are associated with bad cities, bicycle-friendliness is a sign of a good city, if you agree make sure you give your ticks to bike-friendly candidates.

Rent, Safety, Parking, & Cycling.

In the interests of transparency and candour I’m going to post a few of my replies to some of the more interesting queries I’ve had.

I was asked several questions by a journalist from the Herald, here are my responses.


High rent. For many students living in the Waitemata area is desirable due to the inner city suburbs proximity to Auckland’s universities, which also allows them to save money on transport by allowing them to walk into the city. However, rent in these suburbs is high and with student debt at an all time high how would help student afford to live in these suburbs?

A lot of non-renters are out of touch with how high weekly rents have gotten, what we used to pay for a whole house when I was a student in the 1990s now barely gets you a room. There are no quick fixes in housing, because it takes a lot of time to get new dwellings designed, consented, and built, so short of something drastic happening the rents aren’t going to drop any time soon.

The new unitary plan overlays mean a lot of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn will stay as they are for the foreseeable future but it does enable the construction of about 20,000 more apartments and a couple of thousand more townhouses in other parts of Waitemata. That should help take the pressure off, and as many of them will be smaller dwellings than the villas & bungalows they should cost a fair bit less to live in. They will be quite different from living in a villa, but they’ll be a lot warmer and more secure, and probably closer to uni & work, too.

It’s not a local board thing, but one thing that can be done more quickly is to introduce new rules that are a bit fairer to renters and provide more certainty in housing by having longer tenancy durations and require more justification and longer notice periods if a landlord decides to end a rental agreement. People who want to should be able to treat their rental as a home, not as temporary housing.

Safety. Although safety in Waitemata is good young people feel it could be improved with several minor theft and peeping tom incidences happening through out the year in suburbs such as Grey Lynn and Freemans Bay. How would you address this?

I feel a lot safer now than I did in the 1980s when we had a terrible burglary problem around Ponsonby, but if people feel unsafe the first thing we have to do is believe them. I think we can help by fostering a sense of a community, partly perhaps through formal Neighborhood Watch schemes. If people know that their neighbours care about them, and are keeping an eye out, I think they’ll feel safer.

We also need the police to take it seriously when we report peeping toms or burglaries, it feels like lately burglaries aren’t investigated at all and if we tolerate these kinds of crimes it emboldens criminals and things will get worse.

Residential parking. Many houses in the Grey Lynn area do not have residential parking on the street. This means people from outer suburbs park their cars on these streets throughout the week when commuting to work. This means people who actually live in these areas cannot park outside their own homes. How would you address this?

This problem is only going to get worse as the price of parking in town continues to skyrocket. But the solution isn’t cheaper parking in town, the solution is for people to stop driving to work. To make that realistic we need to provide high quality, quick, and convenient public transport.

I dislike resident parking permits because they just move the problem to the next street or the next suburb, but as the problem gets more acute they might be the only option – the scheme needs to be smarter and cheaper for residents than it currently is though.

Cycling. We have found an increasing number of young people cycle into work and university but many do not feel safe doing so and some have had collisions with cars on busy road such as Karangahape Road and Ponsonby Road. What would you do to improve safety for cyclists? 

I’ve been knocked off bikes on K Rd and Ponsonby Rd and even on a Ponsonby side street (by a drunk driver), so I’m very familiar with how much risk we’re forced to take on by riding bikes and it’s not right that taking a bicycle to the shops or to the movies can now feel like such a dangerous activity. It’s not dangerous because of the bikes, it’s dangerous because of the cars.

I support several measures to improve this: Firstly, more protected cycle lanes to keep cars away from bikes. Improved intersection design, which will make things safer both for people on bikes and for people walking. And last but not least, by expanding the lower speed limits that are currently in place on Queen St and Ponsonby Rd throughout more of Waitematā.

I won’t have control over all of this as a Local Board member, but to me it seems important that we have voices at all levels of local and central government all advocating for better transport, improved housing, and a safer city.


 

I don’t exactly give tight sound bites, do I?

Cycling in London

Check out this video, London have been investing in improved cycling infrastructure for several years and the numbers of people on bicycles shown here demonstrates that it’s working.

Cycling

bikes-parked-under-trees-near-tokyo-photo-by-morgan-averyThe shorter version

I want more protected cycle lanes and shared walking & cycling paths around Waitematā, and around the rest of Auckland.

Why do I want that?

  1. Safety: people shouldn’t need to feel like daredevils just because they want to ride a bike to the shops or the movies. (CityLab.)
  2. It’s good for business: According to an ongoing trial in New York City businesses along protected cycleways did better than comparable nearby retailers who weren’t on the cycle path. 49% increase on cycleways vs only about a 3% increase for the other nearby businesses. (FastCo.)
  3. Parking: Depending on rack design you can comfortably park 10 to 12 bicycles in the space taken by a single car, and sometimes as many as 20. Car parking in the central city has been a problem for years and will only get worse as our population continues to swell. (CityLab.)
  4. Congestion: Our roads are full, rush “hour” now lasts most of the morning and afternoon. Every person on a bike is a person not in a car, leaving more room for those people who really do need to drive. With only about 1% of people getting to work on a bike in Auckland right now, there’s a lot of room to improve and the infrastructure we’re building will cater to them for years to come.
  5. Young people: Bicycles are liberating for young people and teenagers who want to get around our city, and cycle lanes help keep them safe. My son is far too young to be riding on the street yet, but the thought of him having to routinely ride on roads as dangerous as I’ve dealt with for most of my life gives me the absolute shivers.
  6. Older people: With modern battery assisted bicycles getting ever more affordable it’s becoming a much more feasible way for people to get around our hilly city, even if they aren’t fit young people.
  7. Joie de vivre: You’re more exposed to the weather but let me tell you from personal experience that life is just better when you’re on a bike or on foot than in a car. I’ve been a car commuter and that’s the most miserable way to get to work by far.

The (very much) longer version

I’ve ridden bicycles in Auckland since I was a kid, I learned to ride on the street in front of my house, then rode for fun, as most people did, throughout my childhood. I’d often ride to Ponsonby Intermediate and later to Western Springs College (that ride down the hill on Old Mill Rd was a daily thrill), and rode across town to Mt Eden virtually every day when I was at Auckland Metropolitan College. Later on I’d ride into town where I’d lock my bike and take a shuttle bus to my AUT business & computing course over on the shore. After that I rode my bike to work at a technology startup in Newton.

Right now I walk because it’s a very comfortable short stroll between my home and office and it’s easier to drop off my son on the way if I’m on foot than on a bike, but if it was any further I’d still ride.

But it can be dangerous out there: I’ve been knocked off by a courier opening her door, sending me crashing down into traffic on Ponsonby Rd; I’ve been knocked off by a drunk driver on a side street, sending me tumbling head over heels. (And yes of course I’ve also managed to crash entirely of my own accord, but when no cars are involved the consequences of that are minimal. Mainly ego.)

Cycling infrastructure is cheap compared to virtually all other transport infrastructure – It’s only costing Auckland $111M to build a huge 52km of new cycle lanes, compare that to the astronomical budgets we take for granted for even quite small sections of road.

Cycle lanes are lightweight (you don’t usually have to build much to make them safe) and because bicycles are light it has quite low wear and tear, but the cycle lanes themselves can have a surprisingly high maximum throughput (higher than individual car lanes of the same width) yet they make people on bicycles enormously safer than when they have to share space with cars, trucks, and buses.

Now I want to address something very ugly about cycling in Auckland, and that’s the degree of animosity expressed by some drivers towards bicycles. I’ve never really felt it directly myself, but I believe the people who say they experience it.

I find the haters pretty inexplicable, but they can’t be ignored. Not ignoring them doesn’t mean we should continue our decades long habit of investing exclusively in roads and ignoring other infrastructure just to suit them, especially when those other forms of transport will make for a far brighter future in Auckland.

What it means is that we need to find a way to bring them along with us. We need to convince them that cars can’t be the first choice when it comes to getting people to and from work and around our city anymore. Not because we hate cars (I really don’t) but because our city will grind to a halt if we go that way. There’s no way to build enough roads to escape congestion. The only chance we have is to provide other modes.

A city with trains, buses, ferries, trams, walking, and cycling is better than a city that just has cars.

I quite like driving a car sometimes. For the occasional road trip they’re unbeatable. Cars are fun. Just like I said bicycles are liberating, cars can be liberating too. But there’s no escaping the fact that cars kill cities. They choke them, literally and figuratively. They encourage an urban design of sprawl, a design that makes using any other transport mode less feasible. They make our streets inflexible. They close off other options. They require a disproportionate amount of space compared to every other way of getting around and they’re dangerous to everyone who isn’t in a car.

In cities, for most people, and for most trips, cars are the past.
Every other option is a better option.

 


» Read about the campaign for a truly bikeable Auckland.

Transport

The shorter version

There are already ample excellent ideas for specific changes to improve transport in our city, some designed by actual traffic engineers and urban designers and planners (none of which I have any actual expertise in), and I’m certainly not going to rehash the details for all of them.

I want to share what I think are some of our priorities, so I’ll try to keep things fairly simple:

  • I’m inspired by The Congestion Free Network.
  • I want to see more safe and pleasant walking & cycling, and public transport. More about cycling.
  • The next harbour crossing should be rail first and other options second (or not at all).
  • I supported the SkyPath campaign, even though it’s a tacked on solution and we’d be better off if our next harbour crossing is a bridge with rail and pedestrian access designed in from the start.
  • I support expanding the lower speed areas we’ve put in place on Queen St and Ponsonby Rd throughout the rest of Waitematā.
  • As our city continues to grow I think it’ll be helpful if we have light rail in town and around Waitematā. More about trams/light rail.
  • There should be rail to the airport. It should already exist. It’s embarrassing that it hasn’t already happened so we need to make it happen.

The longer version

For a long time now transport in Auckland has been treated as if it’s synonymous with cars, but they don’t actually go. Transport is about people getting where they’re going. For some trips that does mean you take a car, but when you want to get most of your population into a few concentrated parts of the city cars aren’t the best option. The best option, actually, is no single thing. The best option is to provide a lot of options.

Auckland was a public transport city before it was a car city, with over 100 million annual PT trips in the 1950s, thanks in no small part to our hugely popular tram network.

Many of us who live Waitematā also work here, and that closer proximity means we can freely choose how we get to and from work. Very few people in Waitematā are further than 45 minutes walk from the heart of the city, and it’s even quicker by bike, and if you’re within comfortable range of any of the Link bus routes you also benefit from probably the best bus service in Auckland – compared to the old spoke-style bus routes we used to have, it’s now hugely faster and more convenient to get from, say, Parnell to Ponsonby than it used to be.

But there’s a problem on the way for Waitematā, as our population increases, our bus patronage will also increase, and the projections for the number of buses we’ll need to have in the city to provide that service are really, on some streets – Symonds St for instance – will basically be stuffed full of with buses. This is far preferable to being full of cars, of course, because with buses we’ll be moving a lot more people.

But a lot of sensible people say, and I agree, that there’s a solution: light rail.

Of course we used to have a tram network (I wrote a bit about some of the history of trams in Auckland already), which was the old-fashioned form of modern light rail, and if we’d just kept that network, and gradually invested in and upgraded it over the years our city might have a very different shape today.

It’s quite expensive to build compared to having a bus sharing the same streets as cars do, but the per hour passenger throughput of light rail is really high compared to cars and buses, so it’ll mean we can keep our city moving even when we have a higher population than we have today. Not doing it will have a greater cost to the city.

In many ways we’re more affected by people from the rest of Auckland coming into “our” (for want of a better word) suburbs every day and choking up our local streets than we are by the use of some of those other forms of transport ourselves.

I suggest you go down to Britomart and take the train out to Sylvia Park this Christmas if you want a demonstration of just how pleasant it can be to choose an alternative mode when so many other people are trying to drive somewhere. It’s fantastic. This is why we need to invest in a bunch of different modes that don’t interfere with each other. Traffic congestion doesn’t affect trains, and it’ll be just the same with grade separated light rail.

Even if purely out of self-interest rather than the more desirable altruism it’s still in our best interests to make sure the rest of Auckland can get around easily without having to resort to driving for every journey. After all not many of us are going to end up with a train parked across our driveway, but many of us have had people park for free on our residential Waitematā sidestreets and heading off to work, haven’t we?

In cities, for most people, for most trips, and certainly for getting to work every day, cars are the past, not the future.

 


NB. I used the word “our” several times but it’s not quite what I mean. We don’t really own the space on the street in front of our house. That’s communal. It’s for other people to use if they need. But it’s better for us if fewer people need space so that when we have friends and family visit they can do so.