It’s an exciting time for cyclists on the Shore. There’s the promise of the SeaPath and SkyPath to enable cycling connections from Takapuna across the harbour bridge to the central city, and the shared cycling path associated with the Northern Corridor improvements to the motorway. And this month marks the completion of a major section of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route from Onewa Road to the netball centre in Northcote Road.
Add these to the existing routes from Devonport to Takapuna, from the Northcote ferry terminal to Onewa Road, and the network elements around Albany, and it’s clear there’s been a major change in approach and attitudes to cycling, and a commitment to spending on infrastructure to ensure that the Bike Auckland catch-cry of cycling for “all ages and all abilities” come to fruition.
Of course there are gaps. Esmonde Road remains an obvious cycling black hole, and beyond the netball centre there’s little to make cyclists feel secure as they cross the motorway to Smales Farm, the bus station or the hospital – not to mention the schools in the area. And the Kaipatiki ward remains largely cycleway-free, as does much of East Coast Bays. But there are plans afoot (and tenders due to be called this month) to remedy to Northcote to Smales Farm cycleway void.
All this activity is a result of coordinated efforts of Auckland Transport, NZTA (the motorway bits) and Watercare. Yes, Watercare: Tirohanga Whānui (previously known as the Spencer Road to Albany walking and cycling bridge) is a new shared cycling/walking bridge connecting the Albany shopping and commercial area with already well-used cycle routes in Pinehill and the East Coast Bays. It resulted from Watercare’s need to build an alternative water supply pipeline. Instead of taking it underground as would have happened in the past, this will be carried across the motorway via the bridge. It might even be called a breakthrough in inter-agency cooperation as well as in the way agencies are considering cyclists and pedestrians in transport planning.
Aiding, abetting, agitating and acting as cheer-leaders in all this is Bike Auckland, and its North Shore sub-groups, Bike Shore, Bike Kaipatiki and Bike Devonport. Bike Auckland is a a not-for-profit membership-supported organisation that “mobilises people power for a better city”, and that “advocate[s] on behalf of all people on bikes”.
Membership-supported means, of course, that much of what is done – and much is done, from events, to advocacy to education and more – is done by volunteers. Channel magazine met one of those volunteers, Duncan Laidlaw, at a pop-up Bike Hub in the Northcote Town Centre.
The Bike Hub, set up in a converted shipping container provided by Panuku, and kitted out with support from Auckland Transport, the Kaipatiki Project, and Bike Kaipatiki members and members of the public, operated three days a week for most of September and all of October. Volunteers like Duncan took time off work or juggled work hours to staff the Hub, which offered basic bike safety checks and maintenance, advice and information about cycling opportunities on the Shore, and bikes for members of the community to borrow to try out cycling, perhaps for the first time or after many years’ abstinence. The Hub also acted as a focal point for discussion and raising awareness about cycling – including e-bikes – and, says Duncan, gave Bike Kaipatiki an opportunity to meet many older members of the community who had never attended one of Bike Kaipatiki’s cycling events at parks around the area.
Duncan could well be described as a cycling “nut”. He and his wife between them have 10 bikes for various purposes and of various ages and capabilities. As well as doing a part-time six-week stint staffing a pop-up bike hub, he’s a software developer, and commutes by bike from his home in Birkdale to work in Glendowie. He “came back” to cycling about six years ago as a means to commute to work, and became involved with Bike Kaipatiki when he “decided, like most things in life, that if you take the benefit, you should also put something back into the community”. So he helped out at a couple of Bike Auckland’s Bike Breakfasts, and two years ago he joined the committee.
Cycling, he says, is indeed a community. Cyclists are a little like “comrades in arms”; unlike motorists who sit cocooned in their cars at traffic lights, cyclists stop alongside each other and “natter about the weather, or bikes…. You still have that chat; there’s no class system. I like that.”
It seems that the changes and improvements under way or in the planning stage should help increase that community – but it may be a while before all the promised changes occur. While the 3.8 kilometre stretch of Albany Highway from the Schnapper Road/Bush Road intersection to the Albany Expressway, with dedicated cycle paths, is completed, and the 5.2 kilometres of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route is well under way with the final stage across the motorway planned to be completed next year, other projects have longer time frames.
The Northern Corridor motorway improvements (which complete the Western Ring route on the motorway) and associated Northern Cycleway started earlier this year. The good news is that NZTA has committed to working with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Bike Auckland to integrate bike improvements as much as possible into the surrounding streets and “greenways”. This project will deliver seven kilometres of three-metre wide shared use cycling and walking path, providing an uninterrupted route from the Shore to Hobsonville – much as the Northwestern Cycleway links west Auckland to the city. The bad news is that completion is still a few years away – anticipated completion is May 2022.
SeaPath and SkyPath, both of which have garnered more interest, perhaps by dint of the process these projects have been through to get approval, are likely to be even further away. While the government, through NZTA, earlier this year committed to fund and deliver SkyPath, NZTA has yet complete the business case. That’s likely to be done by next year, and assuming the analysis confirms a sound economic case, construction will start after designs are completed and consents in place.
By that time, at least part of the associated SeaPath, three kilometres of walking and cycling path that connects at Northcote Point with SkyPath and runs north to the Esmonde Road motorway interchange, may be built, with construction planned in two phases. Again, a detailed business case needs to be completed and consents approved before anything happens.
Regardless of when all these projects happen, Duncan Laidlaw urges people to start enjoying cycling now, as there are plenty of options already available for recreational or commuter cyclists – and that’s without even factoring in e-bikes. Bike Shore, Bike Kaipatiki and Bike Devonport have active Facebook groups that keep new and experienced cyclists up with cycling news and issues as well as events the groups organise to (dare we say it) mobilise cyclists. From Bike Trail Taster evenings to pop-up safety checks at events like the Kaipatiki Project Enviro Fun Day or at popular bike trails and parks, these groups are an invaluable source of support and knowledge that should get you on two wheels in no time.
Bike Auckland Fb: @BikeAKL
Bike Kaipatiki Fb: @BikeKaipatiki
Bike Devonport Fb: @bikedevonport
Bike Shore Fb: @bikeshore
Bike Albany Fb: @bikeAlbany
More information on Northern Corridor Improvements and the Northern Cycleway at https://www.bikeauckland.org.nz/nci-outcomes/ ) or at https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/projects/auckland-northern-corridor/Shared-walking-cycling-path.pdf