Paths that are intended to be used by walkers and cyclists (and wheelchairs, and pushchairs, and mobility scooters). Nelson and Tasman have a number of these in their urban areas and beyond. Our biggest shared paths are the Atawhai path, the Waimea Bypass path, the Stoke Railway Reserve path, and further afield, the Great Taste Trail. Some of these paths are very heavily used; user counts from 2010 showed some sections of the Stoke path had over 250 walkers and 200 cyclists just within the morning peak, and a recent survey indicated that over 50% of Tasman residents had walked or ridden the Great Taste Trail.
Shared paths can be an effective way of providing an off-road facility for walkers and cyclists where space or funds are limited - not uncommon in Nelson and Tasman. Some key shared paths were essentially funded and built only because they would provide for cyclists; the Atawhai path and the Waimea Bypass path, for example, each attracting critical NZTA funding. The Great Taste Trail in Tasman was built as a cycling project but is used by walkers as well. A number of bush trails around Nelson and Tasman which were built for walkers are also used by bike riders, and some trails built for riders are similarly used by walkers.
Shared paths and spaces are increasingly used in larger cities like Auckland (Wynard Quarter waterfront development) and the Wellington waterfront, both carrying large numbers of users on foot or by bike.
The Maitai path is occasionally referred to as a walkway, despite being an official council cycle route for some time. Other shared paths are similarly referred to as walkways at times(1), and the extensive raised platforms of the Great Taste Trail in the Waimea Estuary are labelled ‘boardwalks’ (2).
One of the North Island’s larger and most successful shared paths is the 12.7km Coastal Walkway running along New Plymouth’s sea frontage. This walkway is also a designated cycling route, and every photo on the city council’s official website page shows a cyclist on the path(3).
The answer to this is yes and potentially no. Many walkers of all ages use shared paths, but there is anecdotal evidence that some older walkers are intimidated by, or at least uncomfortable with, the behaviour of some cyclists. This can lead some walkers to withdraw from shared paths, which clearly represents a failure for achieving the facility’s potential if this situation is not addressed.
Shared paths often provide an off-road alternative for more vulnerable cyclists, like the young or more mature riders, and many mature riders only ride because they can use these facilities. Our region has a large number of more mature riders - a recent survey of riders on the Great Taste Trail revealed that most were in the 50-79 age group, and slightly over half were women (4).
Most walkers who object to cyclists on shared paths identify problem behaviours which concern them, rather than the existence of cyclists as such. An obvious example of this has occurred in Wellington on its waterfront (5) and, as tends to be the complaint from walkers elsewhere, the issue boils down to some cyclists not riding appropriately for the environment. Some cyclists similarly cite problems with walkers who block the path or respond unpredictably to calls from cyclists that they are about to pass the walker, other users identify the risks posed by uncontrolled dogs - on or off the leash.
In some instances mountain bike trails have been built (with council approval) in areas previously used by walkers and the local community without adequate prior consultation by council. This creates subsequent conflicts between riders and locals/walkers.
In most situations of human conflict there will be some who define the problem in terms of a group of ‘others’, and present the solution as being the elimination of that group. And so it is with shared paths and cycling.
A more constructive and community-building - rather than community-fragmenting - approach involves a combination of planning, education and design-engineering. One Australian analysis of shared path conflict lists ten common sources of conflict, six needing to be addressed by community education, promotion and shared pathway etiquette, and three by design (6). Since shared paths are council owned and controlled spaces it is appropriate that these actions are council initiated and led. Real engagement and consultation with walkers, cyclists, and affected communities is critical.