Auckland transport writer: Why cycleways are so divisive

Source: 1News

Why is the idea of investing in cycling infrastructure seemingly so contentious? One transport writer says, often, people are just "scared of change".

On Thursday, Auckland councillors voted to endorse a $306 million plan to roll out more cycleways in the city. The funding was allocated from Auckland's 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan towards a cycling and micro-mobility programme.

Twelve councillors and the Mayor voted in favour. Three - Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers and Sharon Stewart - voted against. The rest abstained.

Some councillors who abstained said the vote should be left until after the elections in October.

Cyclist in Auckland.

Among the seven abstentions were Independent Māori Statutory Board members Tau Henare and Karen Wilson, who said mana whenua had not been consulted properly.

As for the other five abstentions - Christine Fletcher, Tracy Mulholland, Desley Simpson, Wayne Walker and John Watson - Greater Auckland blogger Matt Lowrie told Q+A said it showed that councillors knew the cycling project was good and wanted it to be built.

But, it was likely they didn't want to be put on the record as voting for the plan, Lowrie said.

"I think people are just scared of change, often… change is hard and some people don't want it.

"Particularly those councillors that abstained, I think, are trying to appease those voters as opposed to looking to the future and trying to build a better city."

Transport planners modelled that the initial $306 million investment would mean, by 2030, 1.3% of the distance people travel by all modes of transport in Auckland would be made up of journeys by cycling.

They said a further $1.7 billion over a decade was needed to reach the city's climate goal of 7% of trips by cycling and micro-mobility - such as by scooter - by 2030.

The news of the cycleway plan on Thursday drew strong criticism from National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown.

"Auckland Council's proposed $2 billion spend up on cycleways in Auckland is just another example of the left-wing transport ideology being forced on Kiwis," Brown tweeted.

He said the proposal - which transport officials estimated would see cycling mode share increase from 1.2% of commuters to 3% by 2030 - was "an insane amount of money for very little benefit".

In contrast, recent consultation by Auckland Council also found residents overwhelmingly backed a proposal to pay a targeted rate to help address climate change. The rate would be put towards things like walking and cycling infrastructure.

The cycleway plan was also estimated to have a cost-to-benefit ratio of 2.2 to 2.3. That means for every $1 spent on it, it was expected to produce at least $2.20 of benefits. Lowrie said it was likely that those estimates were "conservative" because it was difficult to model the actual impact of cycling infrastructure.

He said some roading infrastructure also had a lower cost-to-benefit ratio, and that those projects go ahead regardless of what they were.

As for the relative lack of people cycling around Auckland compared to the likes of Wellington or Nelson, Lowrie said Auckland was very spread out and the lack of safe routes deterred people.

Cycling advocacy group Cycling Action Network said six cyclists had died on New Zealand's roads in 2022.

Still, the cost of Auckland's cycling infrastructure was some of the most expensive in the world at around $30 a person, according to an independent report by Abley. That's compared to New York's figure of $2.

Lowrie said the cost was not acceptable.

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"We've got ourselves into a situation where we're trying to appease people by not taking away things like roadside parking on arterials."

That meant roads needed to be widened or off-road solutions needed to be found for cycling, which was more expensive, he said.

Lowrie said it would be cheaper to re-allocate road space for cycling.