Cycling postcards from Tauranga

Last week I spent the week in Tauranga while attending the TRAFINZ Conference, focused around local authority transport. Staying on for the weekend, I was able to have a good look around the city (which I hadn’t visited in 15 years) and see how it was doing in terms of transport and particularly cycling.

Nice cycling around the Waikareao Estuary
Nice cycling around the Waikareao Estuary

Tauranga has been one of the fastest growing areas in the country for many years, with people drawn by the allure of the sunny region (ironically it rained much of the time I was there…). All that growth has put pressure on the transport networks, and there has been a huge amount of road widening and expressway building in and around the city over the past couple of decades; many people only half-jokingly have referred to it as a “mini-Auckland”. Perhaps not surprisingly that hasn’t really stemmed the tide of traffic; even a pretty decent bus network can only do so much. So there has been efforts to also develop some cycleways around the city.

Tauranga's cycle network
Tauranga’s cycle network (click to enlarge)

Some of these cycle routes have taken advantage of the wonderful harbours and estuaries that ring the city, as well as river corridors like the Kopurererua Valley. Unfortunately, some of the afore-mentioned expressways have also found these corridors convenient locations, leading to the weird (but common) juxtaposition of cycleways and multi-lane highways next to each other.

Cycleway below, state highway above
Cycleway below, state highway above

As you can see from the above map, Tauranga has a mix of on-road and off-road cycle facilities. Sometimes a route might even have both, to cater for the range of user abilities and confidence levels.

Cycle lane or shared path - take your pick
Cycle lane or shared path – take your pick

The challenge with off-road facilities is often how they are dealt with at intersections, where side-roads typically have priority. Contra-flow (wrong-way) cycling can also suffer from higher crash rates due to motorists not expecting you to be there.

On- and off-road cycleways - are the latter actually safer?
On- and off-road cycleways – are the latter actually safer?

One thing that was a very pleasant surprise were the street treatments in the central city; traffic calming and shared spaces made for a pleasant walking and biking environment downtown. Interestingly, this hadn’t been backed up with a 30km/h speed limit, which the area was crying out for.

Wharf St shared space - nicely done
Wharf St shared space – nicely done

As with many cities, Tauranga suffered from the problem of doing the easy bits, but then giving up when the going got a bit tricky. This led to some gaps in coverage that might be fairly unnerving to the less confident rider.

A bit of a squeeze - so the cycle lanes disappear
A bit of a squeeze – so the cycle lanes disappear

Pathway widths were also often pretty tight, particularly on supposedly shared facilities. Perhaps not a problem yet while cycle numbers are still relatively low, but some significant retrofitting might be required in due course.

This railway bridge clip-on provides a useful link between the CBD and Matapihi, but there's not a lot of wriggle room to get past
This railway bridge clip-on provides a useful link between the CBD and Matapihi, but there’s not a lot of wriggle room to get past

Ultimately, it was difficult to shake the feeling in some of the busier parts of the network that cycleways had been included to “tick the box” but were hardly going to appeal to all but the hardiest riders.

Plenty of cycle lanes, but would you cycle here?
Plenty of cycle lanes, but would you cycle here?

Here are a few more pics from around the city:

A nice little cycle training park and jump/ramp area
A nice little cycle training park and jump/ramp area
Cycle lanes on the main transport route into town
Cycle lanes on the main transport route into town
Lots of seemingly unnecessary wiggles in the Estuary boardwalk route - speed management?
Lots of seemingly unnecessary wiggles in the Estuary boardwalk route – speed management?
A cycleway past shops - does this work?
A cycleway past shops – does this work?

Tauranga and neighbouring Western Bay of Plenty District have received some of the Urban Cycleway Programme funding to extend their existing cycling network. Much of it is targeted on routes around the periphery, however; there doesn’t seem to be much planning to improve the existing networks. From the relatively low use of these facilities (or the continued use of footpaths instead), it seems clear that in many places there isn’t much for the less confident rider (or would-be rider).

Never mind the bike lanes - some people will stick to the footpath...
Never mind the bike lanes – some people will stick to the footpath…

So, definitely plenty in the “must improve” category. This was highlighted when less than 24hrs after my return, an American tourist was killed while cycling there (prompting calls to improve cycling safety); earlier in the year a 5-year-old was also killed in Tauranga riding her bike. Maybe these unfortunate incidents will be a spur for Tauranga to redouble their focus on cycling around the city.

Have you visited Tauranga? What do you think of cycling there?

2 thoughts on “Cycling postcards from Tauranga”

  1. I am rather intrigued by the give way rule for off-road paths to side roads. Would changing this rule be a quick win for cycling? Are there any advantages to the current give-way rule?

    1. It’s being looked at by NZTA. It might get more people cycling if councils can create off road cycleways with priority. Still need to design them well to minimise crash risk, especially for contra-flow riders. Otherwise the danger is that riders assume they have priority (and don’t check or slow) but crossing traffic still doesn’t stop/look.

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