To the City by Creek and Gully

By , December 19, 2014

A guest post from Simon Vincent of Auckland Transport

On a beautiful Spring morning a group of riders gathered in Henderson keen to explore. The new Grafton Gully and Beach Road cycleways now offer an almost continuous off-road route to the Auckland Waterfront. With our group’s range of experience – from recent participants on Auckland Transport’s Beginner Bike courses to seasoned cycle tourists, the initial brief from Ride Leader Julian Hulls was a useful blend of basic riding tips and safety guidelines.

DSC06577 300x225 To the City by Creek and Gully

North-Western cycleway

Then, against a backdrop of the wonderful Waitakere Ranges we were on our way. Within moments we were alongside the picturesque Henderson Creek allowing me to regale everyone with my local knowledge as I ride this fantastic section every day. Who would have thought Elvis Presley, the breeding habits of Kingfishers and the history of timber milling could all be covered in our first ten minutes of casual riding.

Since the shared path meanders peacefully alongside the Creek we all got the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with riding and the merry sound of our bells alerted those out walking of our presence. Pleasantries were exchanged as the beautiful clear skies were conducive to enjoying a leisurely day out, and the happy sounds of children playing at the Tui Glen Playground mingled with the “ching-a ling” of our merry group.

It wasn’t long before we came to the end of Henderson Creek’s path and took to the roads. This was the only section of any distance that we mixed with traffic but the quiet roads of Te Atatu South on a Saturday morning were easily dealt with. The just over 1KM of road cycling also featured the “Outrageous Fortune” house that interested a number of our group.

Soon we found ourselves riding alongside the North-Western motorway and our concentration levels were high as we dealt with numerous changes to the surfaces and path as work continues on the widening of the motorway. It was good to hear that improvements to this important cycle commuter route are also planned. Many new riders were surprised how quiet and pollution free it felt to ride against such a busy motorway and it was interesting to hear about the important reserves alongside the motorway that provide a home for significant species of flora and fauna.

DSC06589 225x300 To the City by Creek and Gully

Grafton Gully cycleway

As we headed ever closer to the City we passed Auckland Zoo and MOTAT  before joining up with a group of riders joining us a Nixon Park, just a short ride from Kingsland Train Station. Our group was now more than 30 strong and we must have looked an impressive sight as we pedalled on in our long line.

Riding along the cycleway we had a unique view of the city and the suburbs divided from the city by the motorway. As we climbed up to Newton Road, the Sky Tower and skyscrapers showed how close we were to the CBD. Ducking under Newton Bridge we rode up to Upper Queen Street. A refreshing drink was had at the very welcome Drinking Station Water Fountain kindly installed by the Local Board.

Now we found ourselves swooping down the Grafton Gully cycleway itself, the smooth surface and gentle bends allowed us to freewheel down as we neared the end of our journey. Again being separated from traffic but having a view of it highlighted the opportunity the cycleways provide for escaping the hustle and bustle of congestion.

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Beach Road cycleway

The bright green, separated cycleway alongside Beach Road, was like a welcome mat for us as we headed into the city. It was a unique experience, riding on a bi-directional cycle path and being given our own space in this busy area. We even received cheers and support from many groups walking towards the Vector Arena for the Fast 5 Netball.

At Britomart, our ride came to an end, over coffees we were able to reflect on a wonderful ride and to appreciate that cycling in Auckland can be as much about the journey as the destination. It was a contented group that loaded our bikes on to the West bound train to take us away – happy in the knowledge we have many options to travel in our great city but few that can beat a bicycle.

A little gem waiting to be explored – Motu Trail

By , December 18, 2014

The weather gods could have been kinder, but a day of drizzle last weekend didn’t spoil our pleasure in the Motu Trail. I think it’s up there with the best of the North Island trails, so recommend you do it soon!

We left Auckland 2pm on Saturday, arriving at our motel in Opotiki about 6.30pm.

I grew up in Whakatane, spending my childhood on the area’s surf beaches and  in a clinker dinghy on Ohiwa Harbour. This means I’m biased, but my mates also loved the coastal drive along the Matata Straight to Whakatane and past the lush bush- clad islands of Ohiwa Harbour and white sand beaches to Opotiki.IMG 0441 225x300 A little gem waiting to be explored   Motu Trail

The best move we made for the trip was to book with Toatoa Farmstay for Sunday night, because Maxine and Bob went the extra mile to made everything so easy and comfortable. They deserve 5 stars. It started when we left our car at their Opotiki home base, just out of Opotiki, along with our bags to be carried up to the homestay at Toatoa. This meant we set off just with day packs, which was lucky, as it drizzled all the day.

The trail starts at a superb new suspension bridge crossing the the river at Opotiki to connect with the easy track above the beach. We had fun regaling members of the local iwi kapa haka group who were on the bridge, just finishing a fitness course to prepare for the national champs.

The route passes for 10km through the sandhills, with good distance markers and sections of boardwalk. On a clear day it’s absolutely magic – we enjoyed it even in the rain!

After the beach we turned inland to ride the next 23km on a historic old coach road that connected Motu with Opotiki. It is still mostly a metal road, past farms on river flats, and over a serious 6km hill. We marvelled at the road building skills of the pioneers. The road surface and gradient were good and the landscape of superb virgin bush, with just the sound of the rushing river and weka bird calls, made it a treat.

The whiz downhill into Toatoa left us a bit wind- chilled, so we ready for Maxine and Bob’s homestay and delighted to find the aga stove and the woodburner pouring out the heat, and the kettle boiling for a cup of tea.

 IMG 0444 300x225 A little gem waiting to be explored   Motu Trail

 Toatoa was a small centre where we imagine the coaches would have changed or rested their horses. It is now just a roadside shelter built for the Cycle Trail and a couple of houses.

Bob and Maxine’s house is one of the original settler homes, furnished in bright retro style. Bob is a miracle worker with his flower garden, decorated with old lichen farm fences and old work implement momentos.

After tea and showers we joined Bob to feed his pig, ducks, horses and give his loyal stock dogs some exercise bringing down the cows and their calves. The dogs were so keen to round up anything they even nudged the ducks into their night time shelter. Next was a big tasty dinner that left us incapable of movement, and fit only for cosy bed.

IMG 0448 300x225 A little gem waiting to be explored   Motu Trail

 

We set off next morning with packed lunches and warm farewells. I’m sure if we’d stayed much longer I’d have joined the pig, a good ‘doer’ after only a year on the farm.

After passing the original community hall, now used as Bob’s woolshed we continued on the metal road for 13km to the Pakahi Track turnoff.  There a couple of hills, but they are short compared with the ‘ 6km, big daddy’ we’d mounted going to Toatoa. Once again the gradient was easy, and road surface, smooth and pleasant to ride.

IMG 0454 300x225 A little gem waiting to be explored   Motu Trail  We planned to ride the Pakahi Track to reach the river flats behind Opotiki, but we were all a bit apprehensive, as we’d heard it was ‘a bit technical’. 3 of our group of 4 had hybrid bikes, and we’re not into mountain biking. The track is an historic cattle track which follows the Pakahi River as a path that is only 1m – 1.5m wide, benched into the rock cliff above the river. The good news is that once again, the track has an easy gradient and very good surface, so it proved to be one of the highlights of the whole Trail. It is set in beautiful virgin bush, with dense punga, nikau and other big tree species. I’ve since spoken to people who have been intimidated by and avoided the Pakahi – I’d say ‘give it a go’ . It’s a wonderful cycling experience that you’ll savour for months to come.

The fun doesn’t stop at the track. Its lower reaches run right beside the river, which is full of alluring swimming holes. We stopped for lunch and raved about the ride we’d just finished.

IMG 0459 300x225 A little gem waiting to be explored   Motu TrailFortified by Maxine’s tasty packed lunch we had the pleasure of a tail wind to make us fly along the last 20km back to our car.

We had a quick stop in Opotiki for coffee at the 2 Fish Cafe (which is a local highlight), before driving back to Auckland. It was great to notice the heritage buildings in the town are well painted, with a strong leadership and investment evident of the local iwi, via the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board.

We arrived back in Auckland before dark, feeling we’d discovered a national cycling gem that deserves a lot more publicity and visitors. Where else do you find a Cycle Trail that offers surf beach riding, quiet farmland and virgin bush touring,  exhilarating riverside track riding, fascinating pioneer history and the best of country hospitality?

Onewa Rd T3 – AT must do better for cyclists

By , December 17, 2014
onewa road transit visual 923x393 300x127 Onewa Rd T3   AT must do better for cyclists

Onewa Rd

Onewa Rd in Birkenhead is a difficult environment for cyclists.  There is no cycling infrastructure at all, and only the bravest and fittest of cyclists are willing to share the eastbound T3 lane in the morning peak, and dodge around parked cars into the westbound uphill traffic in the evening peak.  AT acknowledges this too – the link remains deliberately unmarked on their North Shore Cycle Map, and is not recommended for cyclists.  Yet the route is proposed on the Auckland Cycle Network (ACN), and just looking at a map you can tell it’s a key connector between Highbury/Birkenhead and the Northcote Safe Cycle Route, SkyPath, and the three schools along the length of Onewa Rd.

So it was with some applause that we greeted AT’s plan in 2012 to implement a westbound T3 lane in the afternoon peak, including cycling improvements to make it safer and more attractive for existing and new cyclists, but we were concerned the proposal was only for a bi-directional shared path on the southern side of Onewa Rd.  Cycle Action submitted on the proposal and provided copious suggestions for improvement, the key one being that a shared path should be created on the northern side as well.  This would both spread the cycle load to reduce conflict with pedestrians, and importantly it would reduce the likelihood of a crash between cars exiting from driveways and hitting cyclists unexpectedly approaching at speed from the left – a well-known disadvantage of bi-directional shared paths.

The project went on the back burner for a while because a few residents and shopkeepers didn’t like the idea of losing on-street parking in the afternoon peak.  This sacred cow rears its head whenever AT attempts to use the roadways it manages for their primary purpose – the safe and efficient movement of people and goods – and can often torpedo projects completely.

Onewa overview road map 900x608 300x202 Onewa Rd T3   AT must do better for cyclists

Proposed T3 lane and shared path

Meanwhile the Corridor Management Plan (CMP) for the Onewa corridor through to Birkdale was released for feedback in August this year, and we were delighted to see the shared path referenced on both sides of Onewa Rd.  Great – AT is listening!  Even better, they agree with us that shared paths are a sub-optimal design option for both pedestrians and cyclists, and are only put in where width and cost are significant constraining factors.  AT is looking to provision separated infrastructure in the long term (10 year time frame) as budget becomes available.

You can imagine our mixed feelings to find a shared path on the southern side only when AT announced their decision to proceed with the westbound T3 lane (see this link for the high level plans).  As they say on their website:

To provide a safe space for cyclists, the existing footpath on southern side of Onewa Road will be transformed into a shared cycle/pedestrian path. This will require footpath widening and pram crossing upgrades at certain locations.

And that’s it.  No other cycling improvements.  So let’s have a look at the good news and bad news about this decision.

The good news

  • On behalf of bus and high occupancy vehicle users, proceeding with the T3 is a great decision.  Our friends at TransportBlog and their readers are also in favour, with most comments requesting a more aggressive implementation
  • AT is showing a bit of backbone in refusing to capitulate to demands to retain on-street parking.  We need to see more of AT’s resolve in situations like this – especially for cycling infrastructure projects
  • The shared path will at least provide a relatively safe, legal and attractive route for those not yet cycling to hop on a bike.  We’re particularly keen to see it encourage more kids to cycle between home and school
  • It will help existing on-road cyclists a little, particularly towards the western end of Onewa Rd where westbound cyclists encounter dual lanes clogged with traffic on a steep uphill towards the Highbury intersection.

The bad news

  • There is a potential for excessive conflict between pedestrians, bi-directional cyclists, and motor vehicles on the single shared path.  AT claims the design has passed a safety audit.  We wait with bated breath and our fingers crossed that all users of the shared path travel responsibly and are prepared to stop quickly
  • There is no integration at either end of the shared path into other cycle-friendly facilities.  The path just stops
  • It’s difficult to see how the path will cross the side roads, and how conflict and prioritisation will be managed
  • The Church St intersection is key for a link to Queen St, but there’s no indication if or how this will be improved
  • The westbound T3 lane will be around 3.6m wide.  This is just the wrong width to allow coexistence with on-road cyclists as there’s insufficient room to allow buses and cyclists to safely leap frog.  On-road cyclists will need to keep a close eye behind them, hold their ground, and be prepared to take to the shared path as and when required for safety
  • But the fundamental issue is this.  It’s hard enough getting cycling infrastructure over the line due to limited budgets.  Often we have to rely on other transport projects with their huge budgets to lead the way, while a bit of cycling infrastructure gets tacked on the sides if we’re lucky.  Here of course we’re dealing with a Public Transport project, not a Roading project.  According to AT, the scope and budget of this project is so tight, and the conditions to attract an NZTA subsidy so stringent,  there’s insufficient remaining to do any further cycling enhancement in alignment with the CMP.  Apparently we’ll have to wait until the Northcote Safe Cycle Route looks at the Onewa/Lake/Queen intersection and the Church/Faulkners link to get any sort of connectivity there.  As for further improvements, including addressing a shared path on the northern side of Onewa Rd, they’re dissolving into a nebulous under-funded future.  Quite simply AT – not good enough!

Cycle Action will continue to work with the AT design team on this project to maximise what can be done for cyclists within the scope and budget constraints, and we’ll relay on any feedback in the Comments section if you see opportunities for small scale improvement.  But our biggest job continues at the political and management level – committing sufficient funds to doing the job properly in the first place.

 

Our future will not always lie in sharing

By , December 16, 2014

I’ve had some interesting feedback from my comments in last week’s NZ Herald story on the shared use of the new Grafton Gully cycleway. It comes in the wake of concern that the downhill section of the route, where there is a widened area, is an accident waiting to happen if pedestrians spread across the path, and cyclists travel at speed.

A number of cyclists have expressed frustration about the fact they are not expecting to see pedestrians because the pathway surface has painted cycle symbols only, indicating bikes have right of way. That’s a valid viewpoint, but doesn’t account for the attractions the path has for pedestrians. I know skateboarders are also enjoying the steep grades, so are out having fun.        Grafton Gully J Kennett  300x200 Our future will not always lie in sharing

The Herald story reports on the complaint from Rabin Rabindra, who is a on the Auckland Transport Board. He was abused by a cyclist while walking the path with his wife. Rabin does not view cyclists kindly- when I have presented to AT on behalf of Cycle Action, he has twice raised the issue of cyclists running red lights on Tamaki Drive as he’s driving to work. I would expect him to take a wider strategic view of his role on the AT Board, rather than raising personal complaints – in fact I’d hope he’d understand by now that AT is focused on integrated transport and that cycling is a key part of the strategy.

The bigger issue is that part of our retrofitting Auckland for more and better cycling means we are having to accept shared paths in some locations. We know that people walk along the NW Cycleway, and we make allowances for that. The Grafton Gully project is another route where we had to fit into the tricky topography of a steep narrow space left over by the motorway. It is proving to be attractive and useful for walkers connecting to AUT, Auckland Uni, enjoying the new views we now have into the bush and green space in the Gully and the cemetary, so we need to manage it for this. But it is not the template I see as suitable for all of the new infrastructure Cycle Action is working to achieve across Auckland.

Wherever possible we aim to cater for the growth in cycling numbers that will occur as we develop and expand a fit- for- purpose cycling network. We know there is increasing conflict on shared paths, as cycling and walking numbers grow. We tell Auckland Transport this when we reject plans, such as the initial design for the widening of Lincoln Rd, which included a shared path. We want more protected cycle lanes and cycle routes designed specifically for people to cycle, such as the new Nelson St protected lane coming from the conversion of one of the traffic lanes. We also need a similar safe network for people walking.

Our cycling nirvana is still in the making for Auckland. With this in mind, please look out for walkers on the Grafton Gully route and keen adjust your speed accordingly. None of us want an elderly person (who could be our grandad) or dreamy uni student plugged into their music, to be hurt. It would also help if people walking could keep to the left, put any dogs on a tight lead and stay alert for the cyclists for whom the route was primarily built.

 

 

Experiments on Cowie Street Bridge, Newmarket

By , December 14, 2014
Cowie Street 300x211 Experiments on Cowie Street Bridge, Newmarket

Cowie Street bridge from the north looking towards Newmarket. This shows Option 1.

More bridge topics here (have you submitted on SkyPath yet?):

With the increasing number of trains in Auckland, AT and KiwiRail are preparing to remove the level crossing at Sarawia Street, north of Newmarket. This will speed up trains and make things safer – but it also means that a new rail overbridge has to be built.

Digression – ignore if the history is not of interest to you: The need for a bridge is due to some bad decisions when subdivision consents were granted long ago – as without a bridge, the little residential street of Laxton Terrace suddenly would lose all road access, despite ALMOST having a link at the other end, to Furneaux Way.

Apparently nobody in Council then insisted on a through road connection, and creating it now would be prohibitively costly / legally complex? Maybe the original  developers were worried about rat-running and wanted to be able to market houses as “on a quiet cul-de-sac”? They at least added a walking and cycling connection. That’s a big positive, but still – ratepayers are now paying for this lack of foresight.

Instead of preventing rat-running with some traffic calming back then and insisting on a through road in return, we now have to rebuild road access with some hefty costs for a new car-accessible bridge, instead of simply being able to close Sarawia directly and replacing it with a much simpler walk/cycle crossing.

The new crossing bridge was eventually decided to be at Cowie Street, after other options – some hotly sought after / opposed by locals – were decided against by Auckland Transport.

Auckland Transport is now consulting on the style of the new bridge. There’s three concepts (with the new section of Laxton Terrace proposed to be in the same style as the bridge):

  • Option 1: A two-lane road bridge, with a single shared path on the eastern side. Pretty standard. And with the future Greenways link through the Parnell Tunnel heading off the bridge just on the south side, a shared path here seems an okay choice.
  • Option 2: A two-lane road bridge, with a single footpath on the eastern side. A bit less convenient, but with the low traffic volumes on this road, still pretty okay – cyclists can ride on the road, as there won’t be a cycleway on Cowie Street anytime soon…
  • Option 3: A very experimental layout, too narrow to pass easily, with “passing pockets” created by protective buffers. There’s no separate footpaths or cycleways at all. On the one hand, the narrowness and the need for drivers to give way to each other should slow traffic down. On the other hand, the proposal means that drivers will be giving way in the pedestrian / cycle space on the side!

Cycle Action has strongly supported Option 1 in our feedback (though we felt the car lane could be narrower to save costs), and we could live with Option 2. Our key concern with Option 3 is that it only takes the odd agressive driver to really put a pedestrian / cyclist – especially families – off using this link at all. And if we find this concept doesn’t work as intended, what then? The bridge will likely be too narrow to change.

If you are a local resident, cycle in the area (or want to cycle on the future tunnel Greenway), consider putting your opinion in to Auckland Transport – download the feedback form, and email it to Aaron Hutching at Auckland Transport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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