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A new appreciation for Grafton Bridge

Last week Cycle Action Auckland invited me along for a walk doing with the NZTA along the Grafton Gully Cycleway route. What I ended up finding most interesting about the walk was not the details of the cycleway itself but what the project will do to the area, but it also gave me a new appreciation for the Grafton Bridge.

What the NZTA thinks the cycleway may look lik

The areas that the cycleway will skirt around, the Symonds St cemetery and the bush clad gully, are really a bit of hidden gem. The only people who seem to venture into the area at the moment tend to be a bit undesirable as they are often under the influence of various substances and this understandably has put the rest of us off visiting. This probably isn’t helped by the cemetery also being is a state of disrepair as probably not much has been done since the motorway was rammed through it in the 60s. The gully itself is littered with all kinds of rubbish from old tires (heap of them) to shopping trolleys and everything in between. The cycleway is prompting the restoration and clean up of these areas and the presence of more people, will add to safety. In many ways, what this project really seems to be doing is creating a brand new park close to town and one that is quite unique from others in the city. When people first start to ride and walk down through this new connection I get the feeling that they will be quite surprised by it. 

The other thing is the Grafton Bridge. The structure has always been impressive but looking at it from a distance, driving underneath it at speed, or even walking across it, you don’t really get a good appreciation for just how big and impressive the structure is. Again I think people will really be surprised and seeing it from ground level has well and truly enshrined it as my favourite bridge in the city, if not the country.

Grafton bridge from the ground

But its also worth looking back and seeing how things used to be, so here are a collection of shots showing just how much of the bushland we have lost to the motorways.

Grafton Gully in 1940 and 2010

Grafton Bridge, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-11627-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23009732

Just imagine if we could have retained that bush, the area could have been such an excellent natural park on the edge of town.

51 comments to A new appreciation for Grafton Bridge

  • Mr Anderson

    Can’t wait for this to be done. Has there been a resolution to the problem of cyclists needlessly having to climb up the Newton Rd offramp before going down again immediately?

    • There was no discussion about it

    • bbc

      That’s outside the scope of this project and won’t be addressed AFAIK

    • Nick R

      It’s just a matter of cost from what I understand, part of it would need to e cantilevered over the motorway, an cycling is the poorest of poor cousins in Auckland.

      • But that cantilever plan is completely unnecessary as there is the over-wide and dangerous Ian Mackinnon Drive just desperate to be narrowed by giving its western most lane to the cycle way. It would need barriers between the remaining traffic lanes but otherwise be cheap as chips and would cut two road crossings and the ride up to newton Rd out of the bike route. This would also mean less delay for drivers at intersections waiting for cyclists to dismount and walk there bikes across controlled crossings.

    • Max

      An extension through the reserve (avoiding the Newton Bridge climb) and along Ian McKinnon Drive is still indicatively planned for the 3-5 year timeframe. The works on Upper Queen Street will be designed to allow for the cycleway to in the future arrive on the western side of Ian McK, as well as for the interim (current) layout where the cycleway goes up the east.

      I won’t make any comments at this stage about HOW the path west of Ian McK will be provided, but lets just say that the current works (including some not yet shown in detail to the public) will strengthen the case a lot.

  • Agreed, Grafton bridge is a beautiful structure, especially to view from afar. It’s only betrayed by the experience of actually walking or cycling upon it.

    Meanwhile, the cycleway itself continues to look like an oversold exercise in mediocrity. The second picture in your post shows all of the more useful, direct, on-street routes it could have taken. Most of the proclaimed benefits to the area could have been hugely amplified that way, without drawbacks such as disconnection with existing frontage and development. It could have allowed us to ride with dignity right between front doors, instead of circling the town while sandwiched by a motorway and some bush at the bottom of a gully.

    However, the “park” is a unique aspect, and I do see merit in it ­— possibly great for recreational riding, fair-weather friends and escaping the city, but short of a transformative project for people on bicycles trying to get around in the area. (Still marginally better for city cycling than a mountain bike trail or velodrome, I guess?) Indeed, if I squint a little, I can see this as a rather decent project for an urban park, that just happens to have a token path open to bicycle use.

    Anyway, I’d be curious to know what the current sales pitch is in more detail, if you’d like to share in a comment or another post. And what the outlook is for Ian McKinnon Drive and Beach Road.

    • Peter M

      I struggle to see how an on-street cycleway could have been provided with anywhere near this level of priority for cyclists, except on Queen Street which is fine if you’re going down by horrifically steep going up.

      Symonds Street is the busiest bus route in Auckland and general traffic only has one lane each way along it so not much opportunity to cut that down any further.

      • Good points, and of course there will be challenges facing any potentially transformative project, but I think these can be overcome.

        Symonds Street is pretty wide most of the way. I haven’t done the numbers, but it looks to my eye like there’s enough space for a dedicated cycle path without costing public transport priority. Some median sections and free left turns may have to go, but I figure that’s a good idea regardless of cycling access. Glancing quickly: there’s a landscaped median strip, wide footpaths and on-street parking south of Alex Evans; the overbridge has six traffic lanes including a turning lane that no bus uses; from K’Rd to the uni quarter there are still wide footpaths, one unusually wide bus lane (northbound), lots of on-street parking and deeply set-back buildings; and finally north through Auckland Uni it’s a little more complicated with trees and high pedestrian volumes, but surely solvable (at worst, detour to Princes?). I’m sure there are other difficulties too, especially around bus stops, but I maintain it can be done without adversely affecting PT.

        Queen Street’s grade is unavoidable. That’s where places of interest exist, and that’s where people want to cycle from, to and through. Just because it’s steep one way doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fair access by bike. Having said that, if Auckland were bold enough, maybe we could implement systems to ease climbing up the grade — I’m sure you’re familiar with bike elevators, funiculars and other things — but I’m not going to propose that now.

        The level of priority for cyclists in the Gully is questionable. As I understand it, it will be a shared path with pedestrians (and furniture?) squeezed into ~3m total including both directions. And that’s on top of the fact that the whole cycleway is largely displaced from the heart of the city, which is a kind of de-prioritisation (although of course as Matt shows it can be valuable as a park, but that’s not as helpful to city cycling).

      • Peter M

        North of Grafton Bridge you’ve got about 160 buses an hour in the peak direction. You’d need a seriously good piece of cycling infrastructure there to stop that from becoming a death trap and I just don’t know where the room is. Last time I checked there isn’t any on-street parking left on Symonds Street – just the 24 hour bus lanes?

        • Well, as I live nearby, I just took a quick stroll down Symonds Street for a look (it’s like Street View, only real-time!)

          I can definitively confirm that there is on-street parking on Symonds Street, which is distinct from the bus lanes. Here are some pictures and commentary: http://bythemotorway.tumblr.com/symonds-st-cycleway — note especially the last picture, which gives an idea of scale with a bike. (Trivia: where there isn’t any on-street parking, there are often deeply set-back buildings with driveways or outright surface parking lots.)

          What struck me tonight was how wide the street really is, now that I was looking closely. A good proportion of a separated, on-street cycleway could be carved out of just the footpaths and berm in places where they are several metres wide (and probably rearranging some furniture). In reality, many cyclists already use sections of the footpaths on Symonds Street as an informal cycle path, so this would largely be formalising it. As I said, the hard part would be managing the interactions at intersections, bus stops, kerbs and such — but almost certainly not finding the surface area for it.

          Still, I don’t have anything quantitative as I haven’t technically measured or analysed the street. But walking down it (even in peak traffic), it’s pretty obvious that there’s a separated on-street cycleway gestating in the gaps.

      • Dan

        Non-motorist is somewhat overstating the problems with the cycleway. It provides pretty direct access to the universities, both from the north-east and south-west. These are huge destinations for loads of people. I agree that it’s disappointing that it gets the cyclists out of the heart of the city, but the effect could well be an increase in cycling and a push for better facitilies in the city centre. Since most of the funding is from NZTA (they can only build the route where they have land), building this route doesn’t preclude later building good lanes on Queen St, Karangahape Rd and Symonds St.

        • Actually, I agree. They aren’t problems with the cycleway as such, I only believe it’s a mediocre thing of lower value for city cycling than it gets credit for. I too will probably use it, and I hope it proves to be at least an excellent park and recreational facility. Even as a transport link, it clearly has residual value from the few significant connections it makes, like the university. But that pales in comparison to what we could have if money and mouth really met — if Symonds Street, for example, were the route, and the same connections and much more were made.

          The funding issue is absolutely a real problem, but as far as this cycleway goes, it’s passing the buck. If we can’t have decent cycling infrastructure because our public funding accounts are not suitably arranged, I wish that were the headline in discussions about such projects that are seriously affected by it.

        • Dan I think that’s an excellent point, even if this isn’t ideal, it will help to increase the number of people cycling which will help justify more bike lanes in the future.

          • Sorry, that bit I don’t agree with! This cycleway will get people to cycle for everyday transport like a swimming pool will get them to swim to work, school or the shops. Cycling isn’t some magical fairy dust that spreads without regard to spatiality; it needs real, concrete support on the ground, in exactly the physical spaces that people are expected to cycle. I’m happy to be proved wrong as this cycleway develops, though.

          • As in Bryces comment below, no one used to cycle along SH16 then the cycleway along the causeway was built even though there are no destinations along it. But its presence was useful to people and that prompted numerous extensions and each one has helped increase cycling numbers further.

          • Dan

            Bad analogy, Non-motorist. This will be a useful transport link for a lot of people, not a recreational facility like a pool. It provides excellent access to the universities (the largest employers in the CBD), good access to Britomart area and decent access to central part of downtown via Wellesley st. A Symonds St path would be more accessible but not vastly so. Both would follow a somewhat similar route so pople who really don’t like riding on-road could take the Grafton Gully route without a major detour.

    • Part of the point of this post is that while Grafton Bridge is beautiful from afar, it is even more so close up from ground level, something people generally don’t get to be able to stop and see. As for this route vs say Symonds St, I guess it depends on where your destination is, If it is Wellesley St or further North then this would by far be my preferred way to go, it was surprisingly not that noisy and the view is better than Symonds St while not having to dodge other vehicles.

      Also one of the things they are looking at is incorporating is a mountain bike trail down through the gully. They actually designed and started construction on one a few years ago until they realised they didn’t have the consents/approvals so had to stop. Completing it is now likely to be included in the project.

      • bbc

        It may be more scenic than Symonds St but you’re falling into the trap that people should see cycling as merely a scenic recreational activity, having cycle lanes on Symonds Street allows cyclist to be where the shops and street life is, someone cycling past a cafe on Symonds Street is far more likely to stop and go in than someone in a car.

        • Peter M

          Yes in an ideal world, but realistically where would you squeeze in cycle lanes on Symonds Street?

        • Sorry but dedicated cycle lanes on Symonds St just aren’t going to be high on the priority list any time soon as the route was only recently rebuilt. Better to fight and get something than nothing at all in my opinion.

          • Oh and there as also talk of a possible connection to Whitaker Pl which would help give more fine grained connections.

          • Sorry Matt, I don’t quite follow your logic on this one. Isn’t it just like CRL naysayers who say it shouldn’t be high on the priority list given all the upgrades and investment rail in Auckland has received recently? Or worse: because of all the investment in the state highway network in some of the same areas where rail operates. What about if AT rejected integrating electronic ticketing on buses because Snapper was recently implemented? Shouldn’t we fight for these things anyway?

            Is there ever a convenient time to ask for such a transformative project? A cycleway on Symonds Street would be the closest analogue to a CRL for Auckland cycling, in my opinion.

            Funny thing is, I can imagine if we asked again in 10 years, long after the Gully is completed, we’d hear another excuse: it isn’t going to high on the priority list as the parallel cycleway in the bush was recently built…

          • The CRL is about creating a new link that will open up the existing rail network and allow much greater frequencies. If someone wants to, they can already cycle down Symonds St so it isn’t quite the same. I don’t have a problem with asking for improvements on Symonds St but what’s better, asking till your blue in the face and still not getting anywhere or at least getting some improvements that will increase cycling numbers. There is a saying, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good and I think that applies in this case.

          • Matt, people can already travel between Britomart and the CRL nodes by rail or bus, so in that sense the CRL would appear redundant too. As a link in a network, a cycleway on Symonds Street would be similar, in that would allow much greater access, safety, capacity and respect for cycling through there (it’s literally the same connectivity benefits of the Gully, just more and better).

            Do you really think one separated cycleway on Symonds Street can be considered perfection? Let’s not let mediocre be the enemy of better.

      • obi

        “Part of the point of this post is that while Grafton Bridge is beautiful from afar, it is even more so close up from ground level”

        The arch is certainly graceful and you don’t appreciate it from above. Or from a moving vehicle. I wonder why it was ever built in 1910. The population of Auckland at the time was only around 100k people. Surely they could have just taken a route around the gully?

        On one hand, I don’t like the idea of cycling alongside a busy near-motorway. On the other hand, this could be a good way of allowing cyclists to access the north east quarter of the CBD without having to dodge CBD vehicles, traffic lights, and pedestrians more interested in their phones or iPods while they cross the road. It is sort of a bicycle expressway. The idea of a mountain bike trail is a good one.

        What is the long term prognosis of SH16 through the gully? I see it as mostly a route to the port, and it is apparent that the port is hopelessly uneconomic and uncompetitive when compared to Tauranga and likely Whangarei. At some stage the Council must face up to the fact that the land is worth more for offices or apartments. Is there then a case for dramatically downsizing SH16, or even closing the gully spur all together? That would allow some simplification through the CMJ, and that has to be a good thing in terms of safety (less weaving and merging), capacity, and maintenance. The gully could be returned to bush… with a cycle and walking path, of course.

        • Max

          “port is hopelessly uneconomic and uncompetitive”

          Gosh, where does THAT come from? Care to add any neutral figures to that claim? Why do so many people want to give this economic advantage (the port makes a lot of money not only for the city, but also for the Council!) away to other cities? Why? Just because people dislike cranes and big freighters, and would rather see some more glass and steel office blocks there? A city doesn’t live on offices alone. Sure,Tauranga and Whangarei would LOVE to take the port of our hands. They know how important it is, and what a boost they would get, while Auckland suffers from losing it.

          Also, the idea of “lets downsize SH16 when the port is gone” would come back to bite you when you then have to truck all that stuff from Whangarei through / into Auckland. Great for all those other routes!

          • obi

            “Gosh, where does THAT come from?”

            My understanding is that if you value port land at the same rate as neighbouring land, the real land value is around $1.7billion. Profit is around $24million, which is a rate of return of a pitiful 1.3%. The only way the Council claims to be gaining a (still poor) 6% rate of return is to value the port land at an artificially low $260million. The poor productivity is well known which is why Tauranga has been growing so rapidly. Partly this situation is caused by Council mismanagement. But I think it is probably inevitable that low value activities like loading ships and storing cars can’t be viable on some of the country’s most expensive real estate and will therefore migrate to cheaper sites. The Docklands in London closed a couple of generations ago, with sea freight moving to Southampton and Felixstowe. It was replaced by finance, enormous data centers, and other high value activity. Similarly, Sydney’s port activity has been gradually moving down the coast to places like Kurnell.

            The only way to secure a reasonable rate of return is to sell the port land for redevelopment.

          • I agree, phase out the port on the Waitemata. If Marsden and Tauranga aren’t sufficient for our port capacity, then dredge a channel in the Manukau and build a new facility at Puhinui Reserve or Ihumato. Heaps of cheap land, two motorways and a rail line, right next to most of the industry in the city.

    • bbc

      Well we’re getting this now and love it or hate it at least it provides a cycling route in the city, I am of the opinion that this completely misses the point that cycling shouldn’t merely be considered as something for commuting or the weekends but for everyday activities and as such relegating cyclists down a gully doesn’t do anything to achieve that. It’s good to slowly add in these cycle paths and I’m sure I’ll be using it, but I wish we’d actually get some decent cycle lanes in place through the city centre.

      • Dan

        You are missing the point that this is primarily and NZTA project. NZTA can’t build a cycleway through the middle of town as they don’t have land there. I agree that from an urbanist point of view, this isn’t perfect. But lots of people will use it and I think it will encourage cycling.

        • I had an interesting conversation with an AT engineer the other day. I was asking for some better pedestrian facilities locally and the response was that there are not enough pedestrians in their count to justify it. I countered with the fact that no-one used to ride alongside the NW motorway either :-).

          • *slaps forehead* What do we have to do to get this ninnies to see that what they build forms how we live?

            How about a policy of shooting one engineer a month until they discover that actions lead to outcomes, would that work? Or would they still conclude that the supply of guns and bullets can be increased only at the rate of engineers dying… therefore if we kill two a month they will happily see the need for twice as many engineer assassinating guns as before…..

            Ok its a bit of clumsy metaphor but you get the point, they seem determined to deny any role in shaping the city and therefore the patterns of our lives. This a big fat collective lie that they seem determined to tell themselves… do they learn it at Uni? Where is it from?

            [anyone got a gun?]

          • MFD

            Typically engineers don’t make policies; they technically implement the policies of others. Shooting engineers is classic example of shooting the messenger.

          • This is just observation from my own personal interactions with planning engineers lately but I do feel that the engineers from NZTA I have spoken with seem more interested in making walking and cycling safer and easier than most that I have spoken to from AT. This could be budget related and NZTA do have a much bigger pot of gold.

          • TimR

            Don’t buy their stance at all. AT seem happy to provide duff or no facilities in areas with high ped counts. Beach Road-Tangihua St and Britomart Place outside of the stations second exit bug me very day… Would love to see the ped counts for these spots.

  • Rob Mayo

    Once this Grafton Gully portion of the cycleway is done, the Newton Road-Upper Queen Street section will get the funding and planning attention it deserves. The final decent cycleway from out west into town will be achieved – through doing one section at a time. This is not how it would be done overseas but until NZ really ‘gets’ urban cycling culture (we only see mountain bikes, road bikes and lycra so far), this is the only way things can be achieved in little old Auckland.

    • chicken – egg stuff. Until Auckland gets real infrastructure there will be no real urban cycling revolution. This infrastructure includes 30 km/h zones in my world.

      • Max

        Much of the CBD is to become a 30 km/h zone, actually.

        • Which is a great thing but that’s only a very small part of greater Auckland and while I’m happy about it, only really concentrates on commuter type cycling. I’m thinking on a bigger scale. Imagine walkable (and cyclable of course Max) suburbs for those short trips? Kids cycling to school along 30 km/h roads with priority over cars? Cycle paths, who needs cycle paths (I know this cannot apply everywhere but as a generalisation it works).

        • Luke C

          While thats a great sign, just lowering speed limits doesn’t necessarily do much to change behaviour. Unfortunately many roads in the CBD are laid out like 60kmh to 80kmh roads, especially where there is 6 lanes with paint only. To be effective need change look of streets, and by using street furniture to narrow the road. Also need to be careful with the latest fad of traffic light optimisation to ‘reduce congestion’. Unfortunately this is likely to increase speeds substantially as will allow cars to race out of the CBD, just to get stuck in a congested motorway. Optimisation is a good thing to sort out choke points, however widespread in CBD can give the wrong outcome.

  • Peter M

    Those photos highlight Auckland’s transport history in a nutshell don’t they? Replace lovely tree-filled gully with a pile of traffic sewer motorways.

    Progress?

  • Stu Donovan

    It’s a good link; we will need more in the inner city, but this is a start.

    Looking at those old photos always make me sad for the city that was lost … but chin up; we now have a new city to build!

  • Max

    Also, the cycleway won’t be “3m wide with furniture stuck into it”. It will be 3m wide with extra space between that and any obstructions such as fences, widens to 4m on the steep sections and where pedestrian demands are higher (i.e. the lower part), and will have no street furniture in it except where cyclists need to be slowed down at the 2 road crossing locations (Upper Queen Street and Alten Road). But I don’t expect those who dislike the whole idea to change their mind about “how crap it will be” until it is built and working…

    I am proud of what is being done here. Lets dream with our eyes open. Change isn’t achieved by insisting that all those people “who don’t get it” suddenly change their mind because we talk even more at them, or by proposing to execute them (I still don’t like those jokes, Patrick – stop sounding more crazy than the people you oppose!). Change is achieved by taking functional steps on the road to where we want to go.

    • I think it’s going to be fantastic and I’m looking forward to riding along it. A cyclepath with a nice view :-)

    • Max, I do like the phrase “taking functional steps on the road to where we want to go”. How about a cycleway not on a motorway, then? ;-)

      Forgive my scepticism, but yes, it will take the final product to convince me it will be of the standard promised. It will be a first in this city in my time, and of course I hope it happens.

      But let’s not stop talking about issues that can be solved, reasonably and feasibly. Let’s not even stop talking about the slightly unreasonable and marginally infeasible — or it might not improve soon enough. People can make up their own minds, but no argument apologises for itself.

  • Christopher T

    I’m a great fan of walk/cycleways but for the life of me I can’t see why people want to cycle alongside motorways. Aside from the visual and aural pollution there’s also that little issue of emissions. Sucking all that crap into your lungs can’t do you much good although I guess it’s better than being killed/maimed/mutilated more directly on Auckland’s car-focussed roads. Lipstick on a pig sort of stuff.

    • Can’t be any worse that cycling up Symonds St, or any other arterial road.

      • Dan

        I don’t think people do want to cycle along-side motorways. But NZTA now is mandated to provide cycling routes, so that’s where many cycle ways are appearing. The new part of the north-western cycle route, below Kingsland/eden tce is thankfully isolated from the motorway itself by a large fence. The old part of that cycle route, out to Te Atatu, isn’t and is pretty unpleasant to be on — but safe, at least.

        • Don’t forget it’s only got a motorway ramp on one side, the route is mostly through bush reserve and at the bottom it joins city streets. Motorway corridors do have advantages, they can be mostly grade separated without dozens of traffic lights and side streets to contend with and they tend to be quite flat, smooth and straight.

          Just think of it as a ‘cycle highway’ as they are calling it. It doesn’t remove the need for cycle lanes on main roads, nor quiet local streets that are cycle friendly by default, but it’s certainly a fast and effective way to commute as well as a nice place for a novice to try out cycling for the first time since childhood.

          • Dan

            Sure, this new work will be fine, but generally by the motorway is not a good place for a bike (they are smelly, noisy and far from the action).

            And I’m not convinced by this whole “cycle highway” business — a bike needs only very modest paths or roads to travel in a nearly unrestricted fashion, nothing like the requirements of a highway. Highways are prefered by cars as they are faster even though the route is generally more circuitous. The only reason a bike would take a long way around is if the direct route were too dangerous or steep. In most cases in Auckland, it is the danger that puts cyclists off but the answer to that isn’t to build `highways’ everywhere.

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