The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

26 Mar 2018

Why do we hate cycle lanes and bus stops so much?

So, after this miserable saga around Skypath, and equally miserable saga in Grey Lynn, one could wonder why there’s such a backlash against any projects which involve non-cars. People had to coin a new term for it, bikelash. Not that it’s unique to cycling, bus improvements often get similar flak.

(By the way, it’s not a given that the people opposing those projects are a majority. But they definitely are the loudest.)

Why is that? You’d think after decades of trying and piling up debt building roads, it’s time to try something else. There are many rational arguments in favour of de-emphasizing cars and improving other ways to get around — walking, cycling, buses, trains, etc. But those arguments appear to fall on deaf ears.

Access

Where does this opposition come from? Understanding this will help us to counter it. One important piece I think is the following question:

It’s 1pm, where can I get reliably get by 1:30pm?

Or, perhaps more specific examples:

My friend asked me if I wanted to join him watching the latest greatest movie in the cinema. The movie starts in 45 minutes, can I still get there in time?

My friend invited me to his barbecue. Can I get to his home within a reasonable time? Or will it take all morning?

All these questions are related to the idea of ‘access’: can I go to this place or is it too far? (where too far actually means taking too much time)

So we will compare where we can get given a fixed amount of time, using the different modes. I’ll pick a starting point in an area I’m familiar with, Birkdale. The starting point will be a 5 minutes walk from the main bus line, the 973/974 to Birkenhead and the city. How far can we get in 30 minutes?

Walking

We start with the basics, your two legs. Nothing beats the convenience of just walking to the shops, or to work.

A 30 minute walk covers roughly 2.5 km, and will just about get you to the Birkenhead shops. Figuring this out is pretty straight-forward, route planners like Google Maps give you the estimate, and done. The big exception is areas with a lot of traffic lights, which often impose long delays on foot traffic.

Cycling

OK, let’s be real — as long as it’s de facto legal to skittle a cyclist, nobody is going to cycle for any real distance.

This is not permanently set in stone, and it is in fact improving in many places in the city. But this post is about today, not some point in some better future. Indeed, this map above represents one of the challenges regarding bicycle lanes: to most people they cater for a completely useless mode of transport. Cyclists are considered some weird sect, and the council is not supposed to cater for sects. Which is exaggerated, but there’s an element of truth: cycling takes an unusual amount of tolerance for acute lethal risk, which is something most normally adjusted people don’t have.

Otherwise, cycling would get you 2 to 3 times as far as walking, and often to a much wider area than buses.

Transit

Which over here means the bus. There’s a decent PT uptake in the morning, with double deckers now doing the runs to the city.

Access by bus varies a lot depending on how close you happen to live to the bus stop. For many people walking to the nearest bus stop already takes a long time. You might ‘just miss the bus’ and have to wait for the next one. So we have to add in some penalty if the headways are long. Other than that, figuring out travel time is easy, as route planners generally give you the door-to-door time.

Weekend

Um, that’s our walkshed again. There are no bus services with a headway less than 30 minutes, so you can’t reliably get anywhere you can’t get on foot.

Weekday

There are 2 main lines, 973/974, and 975/976. Both go to Beach Haven, via Birkenhead onto Onewa Road, where they split: the former to the city, the latter to Takapuna via Northcote. Frequent services off-peak generally show up every 15 minutes. So we get a bit more coverage. We can reach a larger area in Beach Haven, plus some area around Onewa Road. Glenfield comes a bit closer, while Northcote is just out of reach. *1

Car

Aah, everybody’s favourite. The reason why is obvious if you look at that map below…

Well, that is quite something.

But but but figuring out these times is decidedly non-trivial. You have to make a lot of assumptions:

So those times, don’t count on it too much. I tried to be a bit conservative. Most of the points are estimated to be 20 to 25 minutes away by Google.

Bikelash, Buslash…

So now, instead of an extra lane to try to relieve congestion, or parking, we get bike lanes. Or a transit lane. So what’s the plan? Having us take the bus instead?

Look at those maps above. Look at how massively your city shrinks if you have to take the bus instead of the car.

This reduction in access, real or percieved, will come up. So let’s be prepared to deal with it.


(*1) 

Actually the line to Takapuna will only run every 30 minutes. In my opinion this is a stupid oversight. I’m counting as if it has a 15 minute headway. Given the ambitions regarding Takapuna as a ‘metroplolitan centre’ and the upzoning of Northcote this should happen before too long.

(*2) 

That’s the ??? on the map. If you use AT’s subsidized car parks on either Sturdee Street or Mayoral Drive, you’ll be fine. Unless they’re full, in which case you’re royally screwed. To be honest, even though the bus + walking takes almost an hour, I’ll still call it a toss-up between transit and driving.

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