Cycleways: Our salvation or an expensive flop?

Cities are arenas of competing philosophies and forces - and our city is no exception.

They’re places where big ideas and personalities can grab their future and right now in Auckland it seems that we’re all in on cycleways and the rejection of cars. Rather than burn bandwidth on the political personalities and institutions involved - it’s the philosophy on which the whole construct is based that’s pertinent.'

The case in cities for people predominant public spaces is a global trend away from cars to cycles and e-powered personal transport is an easy sell – at least philosophically. When it comes to global trends, we’re usually if not belatedly enthusiastic adopters. A trip to Auckland Art Gallery’s permanent collection it’s all there - from impressionism, to cubism, to pop art, op art and photorealism.

Faithfully recreated. What’s harder spot is our own style. It’s difficult not to get an uneasy feeling as I watch my beloved, idiosyncratic, theatrical K Rd being saved from its gritty self by urban renewal fundamentalists, faithfully recreating someone else’s idea of utopia. It brings to mind the immortal US military quote from the Vietnam War: “it was necessary to destroy the village… in order to save the village”. Who knows it might just work. But the early signs aren’t good.

Down went the blousy insolent Magnolias to be replaced by every kiwi urban designer’s fever dream Photoshop cliché; Nikau Palms.

Gone are the car parks and all their untidy buzz to be replaced by straight cycleways, it seems straight lines are the predominant design imperative. Where street traders used to sell op clothing off racks under the awnings on the K Rd Bridge – you know, real street life, is now seamless glass and open sky. No provision or thought (that’s the problem right there) for informal trading, which ironically could play well for cycle traffic. The block to Ponsonby Road has all the stark charm of a gun barrel.

Now imagine this process being repeated across Auckland’s other unruly but super vibrant neighbourhoods like Sandringham… Well you get the picture.

Much of this homogenisation is based on the concept of a wholesale migration to cycling and e-scooters, and the multi millions being spent on their new street corridors testifies to that. And while there’s simply no doubt their use is and will increase, it is here where ideology and the real life of our citizens collide.

Putting aside Auckland’s rainy climate, hilly streets and urban sprawl it’s yet to be established that the city will embrace cycling on the scale envisaged. With Old Mill Rd and West Lynn being embarrassing flops, now banished like ex whizz kids to the basement room, perhaps the most vulnerable are the shops and services along these newly minted cycleways.

Strip shopping without street traffic dies as people migrate to malls and their drive-in convenience. It’s easy to test this hypothesis by imagining Ponsonby Rd stripped of its street parking then trying to say it wouldn’t effect trade.
Though car ownership in NZ will consolidate and become predominantly electric and 5G enabled self-driven and personalised for aging mobility, it is essentially here to stay as anyone who drives to the beach, to friends, to go shopping or for road trips intimately knows - it’s part of our lifestyle.

And it is indeed ironic that hitherto voices on the left usually aligned with anti-car sentiment are now bound to support a role for cars in our urban mix. Where in places like K Rd we can have less car parks rather than none, with shorter times for picks-ups and drop offs, coffee stops and impulse purchases that can help save these fragile commercial eco systems, without relying solely on cyclists and buses for their salvation. A pray and hope approach might be ideologically intoxicating but will it enhance or destroy our city neighbourhoods in the process? (PHIL O’REILLY)

#kroad #Karangahaperoad. #ponsonbynews  #ponsonby #cycleway