I was going to make this week’s blog a gentle, fluffy affair about what I’m finding works in terms of cycling/office clothing, or What I Think About on the Ride Home, but then I got an email from Auckland Council that made me really quite upset and has given me some work to do.
The week I started commuting to work, I emailed Auckland Council about how dangerous Great South Road is for cyclists, and asking what their plans were to make it safer. For those of you not familiar with Auckland geography, the city lies between two giant harbours and the pinch point is just north of where I happen to live.
This map shows where the two harbours almost meet. Portage road is where Māori would carry their waka overland between the two and is the narrowest part of the entire city.
You’ve probably noticed that there are three main routes crossing this isthmus south from Manukau to north and the city. One of these is the Southern Motorway, four lanes of either thundering traffic or a gridlocked hell, depending on the time of day and your luck. The middle option is the Mount Wellington highway, and the far left road is my route, Great South. There’s no “back road” option here. No sneaky route. A motorway, or one of two trunk roads with lots of heavy industries on them and the trucks that service those industries.
Not one of these three routes has any, and I mean ANY, provision for cyclists. So I asked the council what their plans were. The answer was pretty bleak.
“The ACN (Auckland Cycle Network) identifies a potential future cycleway along Great South Road between Otahuhu and Auckland City Centre. At this stage, this route is not funded or planned for investigation as part of our current programme or the programme for the period of 2018 – 2021.
The programme beyond 2021 does anticipate greater investment in cycleways in the South, including Otahuhu.
While we regret that we cannot provide more positive news on the short term link between Otahuhu and the city, we can advise that there is planning for improved cycleways as part of other projects on an east west axis across the isthmus. This includes improved cycleways between Mangere and Sylvia Park and Otahuhu and Sylvia Park – both routes via Otahuhu.”
2021. Four years before they’ll even investigate it, let alone make anything happen. An “East West link” isn’t much use, given the distribution of jobs (north) and people (south). I had gotten my hopes up, what with the council’s enthusiasm for cycling in the city centre, and out towards the more moneyed suburbs. Surely, I thought, south Auckland will be next?
There’s a lot I could say here about the chronic underrepresentation of south Auckland in investment and politics. I could say something about demographics, bias and the needs of one group of people being seen as less important than another, but to be honest I don’t feel qualified to do so in this space as a Pākēha immigrant. But 2021 seems a long time to wait for an investigation into infrastructure that might save my life.
This isn’t hyperbole. I’m on Great South Road for 4km of my commute and every single day that I ride that stretch I have what I would consider to be a near miss with another vehicle. Whilst I appreciate that a “near miss” is quite subjective I’d like to think I’m not easily spooked and a near miss for me is a vehicle within touching distance, or one where I have to take action to avoid. Over a four year period of cycling along that stretch I imagine a collision with a motor vehicle to be inevitable, barring an improvement in infrastructure.
When I started cycling to work three weeks ago, I was full of enthusiasm for heeding the call, ditching the car and being a little more environmentally responsible. I didn’t anticipate that in order to do that, I would find myself having to fight the council for the right to travel to work safely. At the moment it feels like my options are to break the law by cycling on the pavement, or put myself in very real danger by sharing the road with traffic. The fight for a safe, legal alternative starts here.