Why does the idea of investing in cycling infrastructure seem so controversial? A transport writer says people are often just “afraid of change”.
On Thursday, Auckland Councilors voted in favor of a $306 million plan deploy more cycle paths in the city. Funding has been allocated from Auckland’s ten-year regional land transport plan for a cycling and micro-mobility programme.
Twelve councilors and the mayor voted in favour. Three – Daniel Newman, Greg Sayers and Sharon Stewart – voted against. The others abstained.
Some councilors who abstained said the vote should be postponed until after the October election.
Among the seven abstentions were independent members of the Maori Statutory Council, Tau Henare and Karen Wilson, who said mana whenua had not been properly consulted.
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 it showed councilors were aware that the cycling project was good and wanted it built.
But, they likely didn’t want to be recorded as voting for the plan, Lowrie said.
“I think people are just scared of change, a lot of times…change is hard and some people don’t want it.
“Especially the councilors who abstained, I think, are trying to appease those voters instead of looking ahead and trying to build a better city.”
Transport planners modeled that the initial investment of $306 million would mean, by 2030, that 1.3% of the distance traveled by all modes of transport in Auckland would be cycle trips.
They said an additional $1.7 billion over a decade is needed to meet the city’s climate goal of 7% bicycle and micro-mobility travel — such as scooters — by 2030. .
News of the bike lane project on Thursday drew heavy criticism from National’s transportation spokesman Simeon Brown.
“Auckland Council’s proposed $2 billion spending on cycle lanes in Auckland is just another example of left-wing transport ideology forced upon Kiwis,” Brown tweeted.
He said the proposal – which transport officials say would increase cycling’s modal share from 1.2% of commuters to 3% by 2030 – was “an insane amount of money for very little advantages”.
By contrast, a recent consultation of Auckland Council also revealed that residents have overwhelmingly backed a proposal to pay a target rate to help fight climate change. The rate would be applied to things like infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
The cycle path plan was also estimated to have a cost-benefit ratio of 2.2 to 2.3. This means that for every dollar spent, it had to produce at least $2.20 in profit. Lowrie said it’s likely those estimates were “conservative” because it’s difficult to model the true impact of cycling infrastructure.
He added that some road infrastructure also has a lower cost-benefit ratio and that these projects continue, whatever they are.
Regarding the relative lack of people cycling around Auckland compared to Wellington or Nelson, Lowrie said Auckland was very sprawling and the lack of safe routes put people off.
Cycling advocacy group Cycling Action Network said six cyclists died on New Zealand roads in 2022.
Yet the cost of Auckland’s cycling infrastructure was one of the most expensive in the world, at around $30 per person, according to an independent report by Abley. This is relative to the New York figure of $2.
Lowrie said the cost was not acceptable.
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“We’ve put ourselves in a situation where we’re trying to appease people by not taking things like roadside parking away from them.”
That meant roads had to be widened or off-road solutions had to be found for cycling, which was more expensive, he said.
Lowrie said it would be cheaper to reallocate road space to cycling.