Let's get this cycle way right

Last updated 08:11 04/03/2009

The Job Summit attendees certainly appeared to have big pay packets, but big ideas?   They came up with 21 of them, predictable and so unimaginative that you do have to wonder if the leadership of our businesses are really up to the task of surviving a recession. Shareholders should be very scared.

The three big ideas

1) Nine day fortnight (on the presumption that it will be for the same pay).

2) A new organization to extend distressed businesses either more debt or equity to save jobs.

3) And a length of the country cycle way!

Only the second one has much merit but is an obvious requirement to stabilize the economy. The first has a bit and the last on the face of it is entirely laughable, or is it?

I have already commented on the first two more or less. I suggested that employers should introduce performance based pay and if labour cuts were required (redundancies) the workplaces should decide if they would prefer a wage cut, and if over production is an issue then of course time can and should be taken off.  And we do have to wake up to the fact that our standard of living has to drop, economic standard that is.

I have also suggested encouraging the banks to extend credit, extending equity, in part by the crown, is another matter altogether. I can see Labour running Muldoon's 1975 campaign all over again, this could be a method of nationalising NZ business. You could form the view that this is better than foreign ownership as that may be the only alternative, unless we get our act together.

So this blog is about what at first blush looks like an unbelievably stupid idea... a cycle way.

In 1935, when Labour decided to build a four lane highway across Auckland's Hobson Bay and extend it all the way to St Heliers, it must have looked like the most stupid public works program ever conceived. Orakei was a Maori settlement, Mission Bay, Kohi and St Heliers were small beach settlements. A bit like what you now find on the northern shore of the Maharangi Harbour out from Warkworth.

Bruce cyclingA four lane highway, you had to be kidding. There were not even many cars going out to the bays along Remura and St Johns Road, and the commuters were served by a ferry service which ran out as far as Bucklands Beach.

There were bugger all commuters anyway even in good times (my grandfather was one such commuter living at the time in Kohi.) Sure, in better times picnic goers from town would go out to the eastern bays by ferry, but a four lane road, madness.

Seventy years on the road was not such a bad idea. It opened up the eastern suburbs to produce expansion land for the well to do as well as the less fortunate. In the 1950's Orakei was covered in state houses.

The explosion of cars now makes the four lanes look inadequate, especially since one of the lanes each way has been passed over in peak traffic to cyclists and buses exclusively, however cars still cheat.

But the real value of the waterfront road is its pedestrian use, it is now clearly a walker's paradise and has also opened up our harbour to shore based tourism. It will undoubtedly now have paid for itself in tourism dollars, health benefits and the expansion of housing.

But in 1935 with nearly 30% of our workforce out of work building something that was very labour intensive and used local materials gave a huge employment bang for each dollar spent. The guys building this road used picks shovels and wheelbarrows, and the fill for the reclamation was good old fashioned rock.

So in judging the cycle way plan you have to imagine what the future holds as the ultimate benefits of this could be enjoyed by our grandchildren and there is a high probability that they will enjoy it.

According to John Key it will cost around $50 million, small change compared to the broadband plan which we probably don't need either. Every dollar spent on the cycle way will employ NZ labour and use resources we have in NZ so the total spend will recirculate and give an immediate multiplier.

The broadband plan would be lucky to have 10% of the total spend using NZ resources and technology. John estimates that the cycle way will employee 4000 people, i.e. it will cost $125k to create one job. Seems like quite a lot but cement and stones don't come cheap. In terms of job creation and retention schemes, it is real cheap. Have a look at the US bailout packages relative to jobs saved and the cost is coming up at around US$300k per job saved.

But John having cycled all my life, and having been a commuter cyclist for over 15 years as well as having toured much of the North Island on a bike, the plan as formulated sucks. But you could make it much better.

Firstly, I am yet to meet a mountain biker who would have any interest at all in mountain biking on a prepared track. These guys are seriously off roaders, and believe it or not we already get a number of foreigners who come to NZ just to mountain bike our national parks and the like. There is already a mountain bike trail through the central north Island Plateau and it is well used, it doesn't need any money spent on it.

Touring bikers is who you are targeting with this plan. I am also yet to meet a touring cyclist who has had any interest in starting at the top of the North Island and doing the full 2000km from one end to the next, sure there would be one or two. The reason for this is that while NZ is very beautiful some of it is really worth missing, e.g., the Auckland to Hamilton stretch has little to recommend it, but Coromandel, Otago, the East Cape, Taupo, Rotorua, Taranaki and the King Country, Kaikoura and the west coast and the Katlins are all very beautiful.

Bruce cyclingBut John when you do cycle fully loaded it is hard work to do more than 100km a day and you can't keep that pace up forever. On my last trip to Queenstown I sat next to an elderly US couple who were doing a tandem ride in Central Otago.

It was an organised ride. There were 70 couples meeting up, all their gear was in a bus and they were doing 60km a day and were doing it for 10 days. Most who might want to tour NZ will likely want to do a 500 to 600km scenic route. So John don't join the length of the country up, select say 10 top trips and create 300 to 600 km of touring cycling on each.

If you really want to get a bang for your buck think about commuting cyclists in the main cities, Go and visit Holland to see how they do it, and they have integrated the commuter cycle ways across the country. It's much smaller country and flat, however.

Having commuted in Auckland all this time, I have noticed that the numbers over the last two years in particular have started to increase. Ten years ago I would not see one other cyclist on my 25km ride into town each day, now I would pass or be passed by around 20 each way. When I talk to people about why they choose not to commute it is fear of traffic. So extending the cycle way network would in my view dramatically increase the number of cyclists.

This would be good for our balance of payments and would also improve health. A further observation, I have now noticed a new form of business has started in Auckland, cycle parks that include a coffee shop and showers, where you can store your bike for less than the cost of parking a car (a lot less) and have a shower as well. These would not exist unless there was demand. So John cycling is taking off.

But here is the big test for your commitment to either your plan or mine. To make this work in Auckland you will need to convince Transit to allow cycles on the Harbour Bridge. It was built in 1959 and still hasn't got a cycle way. I have illegally cycled over it once (30 years ago) and it was not a hard ride. It was not dangerous, even though we did it without warning the authorities. All the scare mongery that it would be too dangerous is just nonsense.

So John, increase your spend to $100m, test the plan  with the Auckland Harbour Bridge, target high tourist areas for an extensive cycle way, build commuter cycle ways in the main centres, and in 60 years time it might look like money well spent.


Post a comment
The Trickster   #1   09:21 am Mar 04 2009

I'm just waiting for all the off-topic ranting from people about "arrogant cyclists".

Anyway, back on topic, its funny but you're almost exactly re-iterating what most are saying on Vorb.

What I'd like to see (a bit of a wish list, but I'd say mostly achievable without spending too much):

1. Completion of a decent off-road cycle lane network in Auckland (like what we have beside the North-Western and Greenhithe motorways and NOT the foot, opps "cycle" path they have on Tamaki Dr) including a link over the Harbour Bridge. Basically if they put them in beside the motorways as commuter routes, I'd say they would be fairly well used.

2. Completion of a national network of "cycle highways". To me, this doesn't necessarily require off-road paths, but instead to do what they've done in the UK where they've used a lot of the network of quiet country lanes and connecting off-road paths in high traffic areas (eg. Auckland). In areas such as SH3 between Te Kuiti & Mokau where there arn't any other sealed country roads, create extra wide shoulders on the road with clear cycling marking.

3. Better driver education regarding cylists and cycling and why we do some of what we do (for instance sit 3m out from car doors on Tamaki Dr). Also, a law change in regards to the "cycle highways" where in those areas which are well signposted that liability for collisions like in Europe automatically rests with the driver until proven otherwise, mainly as the stick to hopefully encourage better behaviour around these specific cycle areas.

I know the last one will be a tad controversial, but to be honest most of what I've heard regarding John Keys thoughts have been surprisingly positive. Also, if put through the right places, even the Hamilton - Auckland stretch would be attractive - I've ridden it, so I know ;)

paul   #2   09:26 am Mar 04 2009

I have some additional concerns I have about this cycleway.

The jobs are not permanent: In each region - only a relative few jobs will be created. Once the cycleway is built (which is going to be less labour intensive than a 4 lane highway through the same district) the few locals employed will once again be out of work.

Secondly - how do you decide where it goes? The current roading network and off-road tracks give plenty of scope and range for cyclists of all skills and interests. Make cycleways part of popular roading networks for tourists.

It does not seem the long term solution that serious government investment and support of a high-tech, high-value export market would have. Consider those small businesses making world-class software and technology which they export around the world. We should be pushing our own Microsoft's and other easy to export products and ideas - not making a cycleway that few people will ever use.

Paul   #3   09:56 am Mar 04 2009

I'd agree with most of the above. A length of the country cycle-way sounds fantastic but just looks like the kind of "monument" to their tenure that politicians love to build. Much better to build what regular cyclists need in all the cities and towns, and add in some well-chosen scenic routes linking some of those up for leisure cycling. I'd also add a plea for some more effort and money to go in to maintaining and improving the cycle-ways we already have. Too many are left in disrepair and never swept free of often dangerous debris.

Kevin   #4   10:44 am Mar 04 2009

$50,000,000 divided by 4,000 is $12,500 per job not $125,000. So they are thinking of paying the workers $3/hour (based 40 hours a week for two years).

emjayg   #5   11:53 am Mar 04 2009

I am a professional in my 50s who has commuted, rain hail or shine since my school days. Regardless of the merits of My key's plan, it is heartening to see cycling now entering mainstream political discussion. The absence of forwarding thinking city fathers to cycing as a priortiy (prime example Hamilton, where our city leaders think enlightened leadership is racing V8s around city streets) is a disgrace. Designated priority cycle lanes (and not just a painted line)in our cities gets my vote - the cars have ruled for too long. I'm on yer bike with this one Bruce!

David   #6   12:07 pm Mar 04 2009

Fair enough, the cycle way could be a winner for the future but all of these projects need to stack up, not just be judged on the number of jobs created. Here's some (mostly private funded) that we could tackle tomorrow: 1/ convert a significant part of our vehicle fleet to gas 2/ facilitate more renewable electricity projects 3/ free up areas and regulations for aquaculture 4/ upgrade our farms, many are badly run down 5/ facilitate development and or leasing of suitable Maori land 6/ more online education/qualifications/skill development 7/ first $20,000 of bank interest tax free for individuals

Most of these will have limited benefit to the cities, I don't know what's to be done with these wealth black holes other than a mass evacuation. Any other ideas?

Cheers, David.

Ben   #7   03:46 pm Mar 04 2009

In principle I think it is a good idea. However I would have preferred the money first to have been spent on making all of our cities 'cycle friendly'. Every city in New Zealand should have dedicated commuter cycle ways and when this has been done then the links can be made between the cities.

I would also suggest that Kiwi Rail be more accomodating to those living some distance from a city who would like to take a bicycle on the train in the rush hour and then cycle from the station.

Finally perhaps each city should have 'cycle depots' as in some oveseas cities where one can pick up a cycle using a coin release and then leave it at another depot. Unfortunately this would need dealing with the more anti-social elements of our society who would try to wreck such a scheme.

Kevin Campbell   #8   07:29 pm Mar 04 2009

Bruce, whether the cycle track is one long on or several tracks is irrelevant to me, not that it isnt a good idea but mate - is that it?

Are those three ideas the best that our Kiwi brains trust can dredge up? Sadly, one of the ideas even came from an ocker.

It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that these three ideas wont happen overnight. By the time all three are worked through a select committee and put in practice we will be onto the next global economic crisis, probably in a decade and caused by the seriously dumb emissions trading scheme.

Why dont we just cut about 10,000 non frontline govt staff, cut all govt projects that dont provide a commercial IRR then bring forward personal and business tax cuts to the equivalent amount saved?

That could happen really qucikly and it would accelerate growth and investment long-term.

Sam   #9   09:05 pm Mar 04 2009

I note that the Greens have as yet not commented on the idea? Should be right up their alley!!

Love the Bays...   #10   09:55 am Mar 05 2009

Actually, there is no reason for you even being on the road at Mission Bay- there is a cycle lane. In fact, the behaviour of cyclists along Tamaki Drive and Kepa Road is why I have reservations about this plan. I have never seen such arrogant and dangerous behaviour as about 2/3rds of these buffoons demonstrate- including riding two abreast (it may be legal, but common sense should tell you to ride single file and allow cars to pass), running red lights, almost hitting pedestrians, riding at full speed onto footpaths to use pedestrian crossings and forcing elderly people and children to move out of the way in a hurry and not to mention not keeping to the left- even if there are no cars parked. The law around cycling needs to be made clearer, and cyclists as road users should have to have number plates to allow for enforcement of appropriate behaviour and pay road reguistration to contribute to the costs of providing these roads for them. With the cost of ACC going up, why shouldn't all road users contribute? In theory, I like the idea for cycle lanes but only if they force the cyyclists to use them and get out of everybody elses' way- including the bus I take to work, which almost hit two cyclists using the bus lane and refusing to move over to allow a bus of 45ish commuters through this morning... And I used to be a cyclist but consider it an act of insanity in Auckland- whoch may explain the problems with cyclists...

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