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Design: Tina Tiller.
Design: Tina Tiller.

SocietySeptember 25, 2023

How Māngere plans to become the cycling capital of the Pacific

Design: Tina Tiller.
Design: Tina Tiller.

A beloved community group is shifting transport habits in this Manukau suburb.

As I biked down Coronation Road in Māngere, a driver beeped and yelled, “Get off the road and onto the footpath!” When I didn’t get out of their way, they yelled again, telling me it was for my safety. Minutes later, on Bader Drive, a car nearly ran me off the road, which forced me to go the wrong way. These experiences weren’t surprising considering I was in a suburb that’s been something of an afterthought when it comes to cycling improvements and initiatives. The automobile reigns supreme in Manukau, an area with many of New Zealand’s busiest roads. In Māngere, I was far from my typical central Auckland commute route along safe, separated bike paths through manicured parks and down quiet, leafy, villa-lined streets.

But was I partly to blame for the road rage? As an entitled inner-city cyclist, I barely consider safety riding central’s comparatively high-quality, safe cycleways – so I was ignorant of Māngere biking tikanga. I soon realised what I was doing wrong as I neared my destination, the Māngere Bike Hub, run by Triple Teez and supported by Auckland Transport. Running their operation out of shipping containers and trailers beside the Māngere markets, Triple Teez were preparing school kids and Mormon missionaries for a group ride.

Everyone – except me – wore high-vis. Although I keep a high-vis jacket in my bag, I never use it – but there’s a first time for everything. Setting aside my central Auckland privileged peddling practices, I donned fluoro yellow to join the Triple Teez group ride. “What we always drill is safety first,” explains the group’s leader Teau Aiturau, who everyone calls Mr T.

Mr T standing outside the Māngere bike hub.
Mr T standing outside the Māngere bike hub.

Mr T and the Triple Teez 

Mr T says the Triple Teez motto is “keep the wheels spinning”, which he says means “keep doing what you’re doing and have fun – but the most important thing is keeping safe.” He has worked around biking for nine years, and was born and raised in Māngere. When we rode around his home suburb, I got the vibe that Mr T is the unofficial mayor. Dozens of people greeted him as we rode, at the Coronation Restaurant and Cafe a handful of ladies hugged and kissed him, and others offered to help with Triple Teez mahi. He is undoubtedly a local legend – but Mr T joked it was a slow day. 

Bikes taking over a carpark outside Coronation Restaurant and Cafe.
Bikes taking over a carpark outside Coronation Restaurant and Cafe.

Allyn Sims, an AT official tasked with making Tāmaki Makaurau streets more vibrant, people-focused and climate-friendly, explained that part of his job is supporting community champions who coalesce their neighbourhoods around cycling. Resourcing groups like Triple Teez “so they can do it [bike mahi] all day, every day” is part of Sims’ mandate. “Mr T has all the knowledge,” Sims said, so AT isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in Māngere. Instead, they’re learning how Triple Teez has succeeded and resourcing them to expand. 

One successful recent initiative was establishing an e-bike library, essentially a medium-term rental scheme. Sims helped secure 20 e-bikes, but the library came about after a Māngere-wide e-bike trial which successfully got locals in this traffic-lined suburb out of their cars, with one participant riding over 1,000km in under three months. Mr T thinks e-bikes, in particular, can change people’s lives, noting he has a knee issue that his e-bike essentially negates, increasing his mobility. “If I can do it, anyone can do it,” he said.

Sims standing outside the Māngere bike hub.
AT’s Allyn Sims outside the Māngere bike hub.

Improving infrastructure to make cycling safer

Work is lined up to link the suburb’s disjointed existing bike lanes into a connected network through several town centres, past roughly a dozen schools and about the same number of parks. The future network will also get cyclists to the Onehunga, Middlemore and Ōtāhuhu train stations, promoting multi-modal transport. Works are set to begin in north, central and west Māngere this year, to be completed over the next two years. Mahi in the suburb’s eastern flanks will begin next year and run until 2028. 

Kit McLean, a sustainable transport consultant, has worked with Triple Teez to develop an intuitive bike network that serves the community. But McLean acknowledged building bike lanes isn’t just about construction – the community must be brought along. He said it’s “80% communicating with the community and only 20% engineering. It’s not rocket science, but if you can’t communicate it well, it won’t succeed.” That community-focused approach has worked in Māngere, as Sims notes that feedback for local projects and trials is overwhelmingly positive.

McLean standing outside the Māngere bike hub.
Kit McLean at the Māngere bike hub.

McLean’s approach has empowered Māngere residents to participate in developing their suburb’s future, an example of which will be seen on Coronation Road. This road links to Ngā Hau Māngere, a beautiful car-free bridge over the Manukau harbour, but it currently has no accommodations for cyclists off the bridge. Ironically, stopped outside a petrol station on the road I was abused on only a few hours prior, McLean outlined Coronation’s new layout. It will incorporate the community’s wish for bike lanes on both sides to access shops on either flank. 

But there is an important question to ask: what comes first, cyclists or cycleways? Should we build bike lanes to promote cycling or wait until there are enough bikers to warrant the infrastructure? Although it’s hard to come up with a conclusive Aotearoa-wide answer, in Māngere, it’s clear, said McLean: “Build it and they’ll come doesn’t work in Māngere.” So alongside the new cycleways he is championing, he also stressed the importance of initiatives that change behaviour – like the mahi of Triple Teez. 

A map showing the infrastructure programme for Māngere.
A map showing the infrastructure programme for Māngere. (Map: AT)

Driving behavioural change in Māngere

Whatever they’re doing, Triple Teez’s mahi is centred on shifting transport habits in their neighbourhood. They’re keen to break the cycle of expensive, noisy and polluting car dependency in one of Auckland’s most automobile-happy suburbs. As we rode along the Manukau shoreline towards Ngā Hau Māngere, Mr T told me that the only people he dislikes in Māngere are those with disrespectfully loud cars and motorbikes.

When we arrived at Ngā Hau Māngere, I could envision the area’s future – a suburb ruled by clean, sustainable transport rather than cars. Triple Teez getting out and about in the community, whether with kids, churches or just themselves, brings that future closer to fruition. “Being visible out on the road makes people want to have a go,” explained Mr T. As Triple Teez group rides breezed past cars sitting in idle traffic, some drivers asked Mr T, “How can we join?” – a frequent query, given that Triple Teez runs a group ride every other day. 

The Ngā Hau Māngere bridge over the Manukau harbour.
The Ngā Hau Māngere bridge over the Manukau harbour. (Still: Waka Kotahi)

A particular focus for group rides is teaching tamariki to cycle safely. At the start of my ride with Triple Teez, they took six-, seven- and eight-year-olds on a big loop. The kids love these journeys, and afterwards, they always tell Mr T, “We don’t want to go back to school – we want to ride more,” he said. Getting to kids early makes them “get the bug”, explained Mr T. 

Triple Teez changing their community’s transport habits and the new infrastructure programme combine to help achieve Mr T’s big goal – making Māngere the cycling capital of the Pacific. That goal is proudly plastered all over their high-vis gear, bike hub and advertising. Over the last nine years, Triple Teez has gone from a dream of Mr T’s to a paid job where he can empower his community to make healthy and sustainable transport choices. 

Mormon missionaries, Triple Teez kaimahi and AT staff pull a T outside the Māngere bike hub.
Mormon missionaries, Triple Teez kaimahi, AT staff and Allyn McLean pull a T outside the Māngere bike hub.

On my way into Māngere that day, I was promptly abused and made to feel unsafe by drivers. But I had a very different feeling riding over the choppy waters of the Manukau harbour while crossing Ngā Hau Māngere when I left the suburb. I was in awe of what Triple Teez has achieved so far – but most of all, I left Māngere feeling excited about what the future holds for this magnificent Manukau community.   

Keep going!