One less objection to Skypath

Some great news yesterday that the main objector to Skypath, the Northcote Residents Association (NRA), has withdrawn their appeal against the project. That leaves just the Northcote Point Historic Preservation Society (NPHPS) – made up of many of the same people as the NRA – opposing the project and it appears that their appeal is just on operational matters, not opposing the project itself.

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

The second-to-last residents group holding up construction of the $33.5 million SkyPath bridge has withdrawn its appeal in the Environment Court.

The planned SkyPath would be a tube-like structure suspended beneath Auckland Harbour Bridge for use by for pedestrians and cyclists, with an entrance and exit point at Northcote Point.

On Wednesday, August 24, the Northcote Residents’ Association withdrew its appeal against Auckland Council’s resource consent for the SkyPath.

……

One other residents’ group is still appealing the SkyPath resource consent: the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society (NPHPS).

However, the NPHPS do not object to the SkyPath project outright but rather have requirements for its operation including: limitations on user numbers, a suitable parking scheme and their own recommended operating hours.

I don’t know the reasons the NRA withdrew their appeal but it wouldn’t surprise me if the cost of funding lawyers and experts to speak for them simply became too much, especially when compared against the chance of winning. We do know the NRA were actively trying to crowdsource funding with this givealittle page.

Of course saying that NPHPS are only seeking operational changes likely doesn’t reflect the true story as they could be seeking operational restrictions so tough as to try and make Skypath pointless.

Regardless of the reason, this is great news and hopefully means that consenting issues can soon been put behind us and focus can shift to construction.

There is no indication yet when funding could start but I’m hopeful we could see people crossing the harbour under their own steam, on foot or bike, by next summer.

Increasing cycling and walking in New Zealand cities

This is a post from Caroline Shaw and Marie Russell who are researchers at the University of Otago Wellington

Having high levels of walking and cycling for transport in our urban centres is a crucial component of having a sustainable, people-oriented, 21st century transport system. The benefits of active transport (walking and cycling in the context of this blog) are well-known.

Active transport is good for health, the environment and the economy (1-3). While we know that New Zealand cities need to do better in promoting cycling and walking, we don’t have any comprehensive way of evaluating cities, of assessing how well they are doing in comparison to each other and over time.

In this study, which is a baseline assessment, we have compared the six largest cities in New Zealand (Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) for some of the key inputs to cycling and walking (levels of funding, policies and programmes, amount and type of cycling and walking infrastructure, and people working on these areas) and the outputs (who cycles and walks, how safe it is and how healthy the populations of each city are).

Some of the findings are from this report are:

  • Walking is the most common form of active transport; however the proportion of trips taken using this mode ranges from 12 to 27% of journeys, depending on the city.
  • Cities in New Zealand with higher levels of active transport (cycling and walking combined) tend to have populations with higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of physical activity-related health outcomes, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
  • In all cities studied, people who live in more deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to walk to work compared to people who live in less deprived neighbourhoods. However, for cycling to work, the association with deprivation varied by city.
  • Cities in New Zealand with more rain, colder temperatures and higher wind speeds tended to have higher levels of walking and cycling.
  • The number of city council staff working on cycling or walking issues ranges from 1.5 FTE/100 000 people (Christchurch) to 3.7FTE/100 000 people (Dunedin).
  • Given the opportunity (i.e. no congestion) in all cities, except Wellington, half of people will drive above 50km/hr in an urban 50km/hr zone.
  • Christchurch reports the highest levels of cycling infrastructure, with 231km of on-street cycle ways, however Tauranga and Hamilton also report 100km of on-street cycle lanes each. Physically separated cycle lanes remain rare in all cities, with Christchurch reporting the most at 5km (the survey was conducted in 2015, so this will have increased subsequently in some cities).
Photo credit: Jenny Ombler

Photo credit: Jenny Ombler

To obtain the information for the report we surveyed councils, collected information from council websites, and analysed information from the New Zealand Health Survey, the Household Travel Survey, the Census, and the Crash Analysis System. Our study was based, with their permission, on a successful series of reports undertaken in the USA by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. One of our aims was to find out how readily we could gather and analyse information on cycling, walking and health in the cities. It took much more work than we expected: customised data extraction was required to ensure standardised geographic boundaries. Data supplied by the city councils were sometimes unclear or incomplete. But this pilot study found that benchmarking is feasible, and laid the groundwork, with recommendations, for future benchmarking studies.

While this study had a number of interesting findings, one of the main benefits will be to repeat it regularly and show any changes that are happening over time, who is doing well (or not so well) at increasing walking and cycling in their city and what they are doing to achieve this.

We know, intuitively, from visiting or seeing cities where there are higher levels of cycling and walking, as well as from academic research, that what happens at a local level (as well as national) is important for cycling and walking levels (4-6). This report is the first attempt to try and systematically document the important components in determining cycling and walking levels in the largest New Zealand cities. We hope it will be useful for advocates, policy makers, researchers and planners as they embark on the necessary project of transforming our cities.

  1. Macmillan A, Connor J, Witten K, Kearns R, Rees D, Woodward A. The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modeling. Environ Health Perspect 2014; 122(4): 335-44.
  2. Woodcock J, Edwards P, Tonne C, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport. Lancet 2009; 374(9705): 1930-43.
  3. New Zealand Transport Agency. Benefits of investing in cycling in New Zealand communities. Wellington: New Zealand Transport Agency, 2016.
  4. Keall M, Chapman R, Howden-Chapman P, Witten K, Abrahamse W, Woodward A. Increasing active travel: results of a quasi-experimental study of an intervention to encourage walking and cycling. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015; 69(12): 1184-90.
  5. Goodman A, Panter J, Sharp SJ, Ogilvie D. Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: a longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study. Soc Sci Med 2013; 97: 228-37.
  6. Goodman A, Sahlqvist S, Ogilvie D. New walking and cycling routes and increased physical activity: one- and 2-year findings from the UK iConnect study. Am J Public Health 2014; 104.

Editor note: I suspect this report will ultimately be quite useful in helping to show the impact of the government’s urban cycleway programme.

An improved design for the Tamaki/Ngapipi mess

My post yesterday about the hot mess that is the proposed Tamaki-Ngapipi intersection resulted in a lot of discussion, especially around the design and the role consultants play. Reader George who is also an engineer decided he could come up with a better design and posted it on twitter last night. He says that the design fits well within the proposed reclamation.

To me this is a vastly superior solution and one that caters for for all users. Compared to the official version:

  • People in vehicles appear to be no less inconvenienced, there are still exactly the same number of lanes.
  • For those on bikes, whether squeezed into lycra or just out for a cruise with the kids, it appears to be considerably safer and offers more options, such as only having one crossing to contend with to turn right onto Ngapipi
  • For those on foot also benefit, especially on the northern side where the cycleway is more defined and so less sharing is needed.

Perhaps the only thing that is needed is to ensure the cycleway on the northern side is wide enough for bi-directional movement for those who do use the current (sub-standard) shared path.

Tamaki-Ngapipi Concept - George

As a reminder, here is what AT propose

Tamaki-Ngapipi Intersection Consent Plan

I guess the focus of the resource consent AT are currently pursuing is the reclamation and as such I hope the actual design of the intersection can improve within that new wider footprint. Regardless it would be good to have a high quality design right from the get go.

So what do you say AT, how about going back to the drawing board and pursuing an idea like this as the base option.

A Hot Mess on Tamaki

Auckland Transport have announced they’re installing some interim safety measures at one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire country, the notorious Tamaki Dr/Ngapipi Dr intersection. The changes are hoped to improve things until they can do a proper upgrade on it. The road also happens to be the busiest road in Auckland at least for cycling.

Cycle Sensors and Warnings

Road surface lights with sensors are just some of the traffic calming measures that have been installed at the corner of Tamaki Drive and Ngapipi Dr to improve safety for all road users.

The lights, one of the first times they’ve been used in Auckland, will illuminate to warn drivers that a cyclist is approaching.

In addition, the left turn from Ngapipi Dr into Tamaki Drive now has new road markings and a new recommended speed of 25km/h.

The traffic calming measures are an interim solution ahead of the overall intersection safety upgrade providing traffic signals at the intersection.

This project is expected to start towards the end of this year.

The interim solution will make it safer to cycle on Auckland’s busiest cycle route says Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking manager Kathryn King.

“We have a lot of people now choosing to cycle into the city for work and study. On this intersection, people cycling into the city end up in between two general traffic lanes and have to merge with traffic turning left into Tamaki Drive from Ngapipi Road, and these measures will make it safer,” she says.

Bike Auckland chair Barbara Cuthbert says it’s great to see this interim work for this important intersection.

“As well as slowing traffic, we hope the lights and new signage will remind drivers to look out for people on bikes and to merge with care,” she says.

While it is good to see AT putting in some interim improvements, they are really ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. To see how bad the situation can be, this video from our friends at Bike Auckland is useful, their post on the interim changes is also good.

The last time we heard anything about a long term solution was late last year when AT confirmed the decision to put a signalised intersection in. The local board had been pushing for a roundabout (which would have been terrible for cyclists) but AT said their modelling showed it would have resulted in long queues as with a constant stream of traffic coming along Tamaki Dr in the mornings, users of Ngapipi would never have been able to get out. Both options would result in AT extending the seawall further out into the harbour.

So it’s a good time to ask what’s happening with the long term fix?

As it happens AT currently have a consent lodged with the council and open to submission to extend that seawall so they can upgrade the intersection. The issue though is that what’s proposed can best be described as a hot mess.

Essentially it looks like someone has designed it is trying to cater for two completely different types of cyclist, the casual person on a bike out for cruise and the high speed road warrior but to me what’s proposed does neither well, for example:

  • On the northern side we’ve got the existing cycleway continuing to mix with pedestrians – just with a bit more space.
  • We’ve got on-road cycleways for “confident” cyclists but on the Northern Side there are also ramps so those confident cyclists can bypass the lights and race through the pedestrian area if needed.
  • On the southern side we’ve got bike lanes that can only be reached after crossing two lanes of traffic.
  • There are bike advance boxes galore but also bike crossings.

Tamaki-Ngapipi Intersection Consent Plan

Instead it seems to me that they should just design one good and high quality facility that caters to all users, after all if they’re widening the seawall to the extent shown there is a heap of space available. Do it right and if Jacobs can’t do the job (which based on this they clearly can’t), then perhaps it’s time to get in some friendly Dutch or Danish designers/engineers who can*.

While also briefly digging through the consent documents I also came across this version of the design. It seems to suggest that one of the reasons for so much width is so that AT has future space should the wish to widen the road.

Tamaki-Ngapipi Intersection Consent Plan 2

* I’m sure there are many others who could also design this better.

The New Old World Order

The demolition of the Downtown Centre for the start of the CRL and the replacement of this 1960s structure by Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay office and retail development is an important moment for Auckland on many levels.

Along with the obvious boon of the actual beginning of the CRL there is also something deeply symbolic here. The entire conception of the previous building was anti-urban, it was a suburban mall stuck right in the heart of the city. I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion; instead of the usual order of things, where a smaller centre tries to present its developments as a new sophistication by reference to a bigger more glamorous centre, this whole building seemed to represent an inversion of this idea; determinedly aiming to be nothing more than a little bit of Lynn Mall in the city.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3187

But then it comes from that peculiar age in the history of city making; the second half of the 20thC, when, uniquely, dispersal and edge took over from concentration and centre as the formula for commercial success. See here for a fascinatingly detailed history of this development by architect Malcolm Smith, it is clear from this that it was extremely hard in those times to make such a location work, the city centre had just lost its mojo. To see how this came to be so in what now is so obviously such a valuable location, it is important to understand the historical context in which this development took place. This is well summarised on Auckland’s Wikipedia page (source).

The relocation of industries to outlying suburbs became especially pronounced in the 1950s, partly due to incentives made by council planners to create industrial areas in Penrose and Rosebank Road (amongst others) and thus rid the inner city area of noise, pollution and heavy traffic. This was mirrored by the development of suburban shopping malls (the first being LynnMall in 1963)[4]which enticed retailers to vacate the inner city as well. Attempts by the council to halt this pattern by constructing numerous public car parking buildings met with varying success. The rise of suburban supermarket and mall shopping that was created in places such as Pakuranga from 1965 onwards has been added to by the appearance of Big Box retailers in places such as Botany and the North Shore.[5]

It really is a perfect example of this zeitgeist, from its introverted retail pattern [blank walls to the street; its formation it actually consumed a city street], car parking orientation [Downtown parking building and airbridge], clunky sub-modernist massing, right down to the hideous 70s baby-kaka colour scheme.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3228

And now, it is my contention, its demise is also a perfect expression of the new zeitgeist; the return of the city. The inversion of the pattern in play at the time of its creation.

Which, as the name suggests, is simply a return to the timeless urban pattern of the preeminence of proximity and concentration: Where the centre is by definition the busiest and most valuable retail and commercial precinct. A pattern that would be recognisable to city inhabitants throughout all ages and nations, and is only worth emphasising here because everybody adult today has grown up under the opposite, and anomalous, pattern. So what is in fact abnormal and inverted in the long history of urban settlement is strangely conventional and may even seem natural.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3200

This explains the confused incomprehension of people like Herald writer John Roughan, a deeply committed 20th Century dweller who just can’t get to grips with this return to the natural urban order of things this century in Auckland, with the city reshaping itself again on urban terms, building proper city kit like underground rail and the volume of pedestrians pushing out the car from city streets. As opposed to the suburban auto-privileging order he is comfortable with. This is the pattern of the mid-late 20th century in Auckland; the good old days of auto-dominated yet unpeopled city streets, a commuter city completely unlived in, and dead at nights and on weekends; everyone having fled to the haven of the suburbs. So he confuses the vibrancy of crowded city pavements and new construction with some sort of disorder:

Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging.

Whereas to city lovers the scale and ubiquity of construction currently underway in the city is exhilarating and full of promise*. Auckland now has something of the energy of early 20th century North American cities; alive with commerce, construction, and crowds. Rather than the plodding predictability of the old provincial town that Roughan seems to be yearning for.

This kind of confusion and conflict is to be expected in times of significant change that it is clear that Auckland and many other cities are experiencing now. The bewilderment and anger of some older people at the [largely misunderstood] Unitary Plan is another sign of this: people tend to react fearfully when much of what they always assumed would be permanent and unchallenged starts to melt away. Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3234

So we can expect more lashing out and confused editorials by those unable or unwilling to move with the times, because I am pretty certain this is a powerful and irresistible trend, as shown by the scale of work, over $10 billion of new construction underway or about to be in Auckland City along the CRL route. As powerful in fact as the last time our city conformed to international trends and profoundly altered its form and movement systems: yup that’s right, when we went all in for motorways, suburban living, and dispersed shopping malls.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px

Auckland Star April 1973

We are just changing horses again, and this time back to a normal urban pattern based on a hierarchy of concentration, but as with all evolutions or even revolutions, they still take place in the context of what went before. So Roughan’s sacred suburbia, with its rituals of weekend car washing, lawn mowing, and BBQs, will still exist, and in fact can still be the enveloping context for many people’s entire Auckland experience if they so desire. The wheel turns, but also rolls forward, building on the old, as well as replacing it. Just as buildings of earlier phases of Auckland’s history, particularly from its most urban period in the first half of the 20th Century, can (thankfully) still be seen in these photographs, so will the monuments of the second half of last century persist, the motorways, the malls, the parking buildings, the stubby towers, but the new emphasis is increasingly now elsewhere.

Only I would contend that this time we are being much less destructive than before; we are not dismantling the motorway system, or even running it down, although we will stop adding to it; importantly this is unlike what happened to the tram network and passenger rail during the motorway/sprawl era.

This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive.

All palaces are temporary.

Lower Queen St demolishion 60:70s

*= which isn’t to say that every change is ideal, see here for a critique of the public space issues at Commercial Bay: Are we getting the Public Space…

 

Thoroughly modern commuting

This is a guest post from reader Isabella

“You’re going to Auckland how?” said yet another person.

Why did it feel like I was doing something crazy? It was simply that in this day and age, I was eschewing flight in favour of going by train from Wellington to my conference in Auckland – and taking a ten-speed bike, no less.

After the nth explanation of why I was doing it (as an experiment, and ‘cause I could), I promised to write honestly whether my next Tamaki – Pōneke trip will be back on the plane, bikeless, like a normal person.

Northern Explorer At Strand

The Northern Explorer at The Strand station, Auckland (photo: Kiwirail.co.nz)

So here’s how, from my data point of one, the Northern Explorer stacked up vs the Boeing (and its buddies): on time, cost, emissions, and convenience.

If your boss or some other constraint forces you to fly, well, you have my sympathies. But if you have any say in how you get around, read on!

Carbon – way better

Emissions might not factor much in many people’s travel decisions, but I’ve always been (slightly) bothered by the carbon footprint of flying. Now I’m at liberty to choose how I travel, I thought I’d factor it in. Results are below (note that my loathing of long solitary car trips precluded driving).

Enviromark’s carbon calculator gives a Wellington CBD to Auckland CBD trip (one way):
Aeroplane + bus for the airport-CBD connection = 147.56
Aeroplane + taxi / Uber for airport-CBD connection = 152.7
Train (goes directly CBD to CBD) = 17.98

So from CBD to CBD, the Northern Explorer comes in at just under 12% of flying plus taxi/uber for the connections, or just over 12% of flying plus the airport buses.

It’s still dirty ol’ diesel but the emissions are tiny in comparison. I can “go around in a cloud of climate smugness” as a friend said.

Time – way longer, and great

This is the biggie.
From roll up (for checkin) to roll away (at the destination), the train is just under 12 hours – a full day. The opportunity cost of the time is what makes many people go “Oh hell no I couldn’t do that”.

Northern Explorer Smallest Seats

The smallest seats on the Northern Explorer

But for those of us whose office is mainly their laptop, it’s a different story.

Vodafone’s gappy provincial reception meant I couldn’t dial into one regular meeting. But once I switched off data, I had a rare and precious gift: several hours of truly thought-based work. It felt fantastically luxuriant to be able to think continuously – compared to the shallower, time-bound, interrupted thinking that’s so common (and much less productive).

Breaks were great too! Reading novels in the café carriage, downing (pretty decent) coffee, and wine, and Wishbone food, taking in fresh air and stunning scenery in the open-sided observation carriage.

Northern Explorer Ruapehu

Things to enjoy on the train: Ruapehu from the observation carriage

Northern Explorer Books

Things to enjoy on the train: Tools for relaxation

Northern Explorer River

Things to enjoy on the train: River gorge from the observation carriage

So – 12 hours, yes. But account for the productivity, the relaxation, and avoided airport connection hassles – it’s a great use of time.

Cost – comparable or less

For a return trip, the train was a grand total of $358.

($303 for tickets, including a checked bag and $10 each way for my bike, and $55 on food, wine and coffee).
That’s it! No extras. Here’s a table comparing my alternatives:

Main trip + connections: taxis + connections: Ubers + connections: airport busses PLUS bike costs Total
Air NZ: $209 $439 $329 $259 + $90 box & packaging $529 – $349
Jetstar: $139 $309 $229 $171 + $90 $399 – $261
Northern Explorer: $283 +20 $358 incl my gluttony

Whaddayaknow? The total cost of going by train is at the low end of the total costs of flying.

Destination convenience – a whole new world!

Gotta say it: doing short trips across Auckland’s sprawling centre(s) is infuriating. A bike makes it doable – one with a few gears, that’s easy to hop on and off, and has a decent rack. So Queenie the Morrison Monarch was coming along to make the destination better – and she would also tow my little Burley trailer with the check-in luggage. (Yes obviously four pairs of shoes for four days.)

Northern Explorer Bike and Trailer

Queenie and Burley trailer, homebound, with the loot from Auckland shopping

Getting there

Wellington end, 7.30am: cruise to the station. Check in bike and trailer. Settle in with coffee. Ahhhh.

Auckland end, 6.45 pm: retrieve bike and trailer. Don my lights. Follow another bikey person onto Beach Road, thence ten minutes (of protected cycleway gorgeousness) and I’m outside my Air BnB on K Road. Woohoo! Dump the luggage and hightail it to Coco’s Cantina.

Northern Explorer Fresh of train

Fresh off the train – an aperitif while waiting for my Air BnB host and getting excited about coming back for dinner

Homeward bound was even easier: downhill (early morning) means eight minutes to the station. I did have to ask some roadworking guys how to get into The Strand station – it’s not well signposted, and I didn’t pre-read the directions.

Northern Explorer Bike and Trailer Grafton Gully

So much protected cycleway serenity

But compared with the stress, cost and unpredictability of getting across Auckland to the airport – especially with a bike (and no don’t even ask about riding all the way), not to mention the hassle of re-assembling a bike and readjusting everything… train + bike is completely delightful!

Getting around

Auckland’s CBD is improving but is still oases of “place” in deserts of inhospitable stroad. For an out-of-towner, seeing friends and contacts (and shopping) around conference sessions is only really doable with a bike – avoiding hassle / lugging laptop and conference bag / Uber cost / asking people to come to you. (Not to mention night time – my lone female self safely biked back to my accommodation after nights out, where walking would feel very sketchy at several points).

And now it’s way safer and more relaxing to bike around AK, and improving all the time – the Quay Street cycleway actually opened while I was there. The incomplete cycling network wasn’t a biggie (and the bits that are done are great). With multiple transformations on my whim between lane-owning, traffic-pacing Friendly Cyclist, humble, courteous wheeled pedestrian, and true pedestrian (i.e. wheeling Queenie), Auckland city was my oyster.

I shopped, I coffee’d, I went for runs, I beer’d and dined, I conference’d, I mixed it all up and did it again, riding and walking and gently scooting, all over the city, usually grinning.

The verdict: for a trip of more than a day, train + bike = a great way to go. Definitely how I’m rolling for my next visit.

Northern Explorer Luggage Label

Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway Consultation

Auckland Transport are now consulting on a cycleway that will make live a lot quicker, easier and more pleasant for users of one of Auckland’s busiest cycle routes. The Ian McKinnon Dr cycleway will cut out the need for the steep climb up to Newton Rd, either cross the road or loop around under it and then having to cross again at the intersection with Upper Queen St. Instead a two-way cycleway will pass through Suffolk Reserve, under Newton Rd and up the western side of Ian McKinnon Dr. AT suggest that people on bikes could save around 2.5 minutes per trip by using new cycleway which also sheds about 6m in height off the route.

Ian McKinnon Cycle Route

This section of cycleway as one of the busiest in Auckland and the counter at Kingsland has been seeing some of the strongest growth across all counters in the region. Usage has almost doubled in just under 5 years.

Jun-16 - Cycling Monthly - Kingsland - Annual
As you can see from the map earlier, the project is split up into two sections, the link through Suffolk Reserve and the section on Ian McKinnon Dr

Section 1

The first section will see a shared path slip between the existing ramp up to Newton Rd and the houses then through Suffolk Reserve before joining Ian McKinnon Dr under the Newton Rd Bridge.

This section of the cycleway is approximately 200m long and is proposed to be a 3m wide concrete path that is shared by pedestrians and people on bikes. The route of the path through the reserve is currently indicative until further onsite investigate works are completed.

The current route has been selected to minimise the impact on surrounding properties and vegetation, while avoiding the steepest parts of the hill.

Ian McKinnon Cycleway - Suffolk Reserve

In a discussion with AT about the project a few months ago, we and our friends at Bike Auckland urged AT to make this section as wide as possible as it’s bound to be a popular walking route too and so we want them to design it with that in mind. Overall, this section is fairly straight forward.

Section 2

This section of road is likely to undergo a lot of reconstruction in coming years due to the prospect of light rail. As such and like Quay St, AT are looking at options which can enable the cycleway to be built a bit more temporary than some of the other projects they’ve been developing. There’s no point in spending millions on a route that might be dug up again in just a few years. This means that they’re also trying to keep the costs down by not moving kerbs or building expensive structures such as retaining walls or cantilevering the cycleway over the motorway wall. AT have realised it’s more important to get something in now than wait for projects that might not eventuate for years (although we hope it will be soon).

For this section there are two different options AT are looking at. Both are the same on the upper part (the end closest to Upper Queen St) but they are different on the lower part of Ian McKinnon Dr. For reference here’s what the road layout currently looks like with four traffic lanes and then a shared path, there is also a narrow median on the lower half.

Ian McKinnon Cycleway - Existing Layout

Option A: 

In Option A, a 3m two-way cycleway is added to the western side of the road in lieu of one of the southbound traffic lanes. The southbound direction loses a lane as it is only expected to have minimal impact. A longer term option, such as when light rail is built, might be to permanently shift the cycleway with some more expensive engineering solutions – which in the scheme of $1b LRT project would be fairly small.

Ian McKinnon Cycleway - Option A

Option B

This option is the same as above for the upper section but on the lower part where there is more room, would send the cycleway down a motorway maintenance road allowing for the second southbound lane to start again a little earlier. The extra protection is nice but is only for an extra ~150m and does cost a little more to build. With it only being fairly short and the cycleway on the street being protected, I’m not sure it makes a huge amount of difference what option is chosen here.

Ian McKinnon Cycleway - Option B

When completed, as pointed out with AT when we met them and by Max over at Bike Auckland, this cycleway is likely to be a magnet for walkers too. Like we’ve seen with other cycleway projects such as Beach Rd stage 2, Nelson St and many more, pedestrians are almost certainly going to end up walking up on western side too and like those on bikes, avoid having as steep a hill to climb and having to cross the road multiple times to get to the city. This has a chance of creating conflict which we obviously want to avoid. One suggestion from Max is to try and have a small footpath for as long as possible on the western side.

The consultation is open till Monday 29 August. Unfortunately, the project won’t be happening any time soon with it not scheduled to be completed till about mid-2018 so if you’re using the NW cycleway you’ll have a few more years of slogging up the hill to Newton Rd yet. Who knows, by then we might have more information on if and when the light rail project happens.

Ian McKinnon LRT

An earlier impression of what LRT on Ian McKinnon could look like

Council unanimously approves Skypath

It was a fantastic day for transport in Auckland yesterday with the council’s Finance and Performance committee voting to support the project Skypath and doing so unanimously. Yes even long time opponent George Wood eventually agreed to support the project. It was decision that took over five hours to reach after listening to supporters and opponents of the project including our friends at Bike Auckland and Generation Zero.

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

 

The council agreed to the recommendations from the agenda (below) with two amendments from Cathy Casey, that the council support children under 5 using Skypath for free and that dogs on leashes be allowed subject to negotiations with NZTA and health and safety regulations.

That the Finance and Performance Committee recommend to the Governing Body that it:

a) agree to proceed with the SkyPath project and that the hybrid Public Private Partnership proposal is the preferred procurement option to deliver SkyPath.

b) authorise the Chief Executive to enter into all necessary agreements in relation to the SkyPath proposal, subject to minimal financial impacts, and to take any other actions in the Chief Executive’s delegation to facilitate the progress of the project.

c) agree to make appropriate provision for the project in the 2017/18 Annual Plan and the 2018/28 Long-term Plan.

I wasn’t able to be there, but thankfully this is one of the meetings that the council live stream and publish on YouTube. If you’re interested you can watch the various parts of the meeting here.

Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland spoke passionately about the project, from about 5 minutes in the first video

One of the funnier interactions of the day involved our friend Niko from Generation Zero. I thought his presentation was strong and effective, on top of which he handled the questions from councillors masterfully, and in particular George Wood and Cameron Brewer. A couple of highlights included:

  • George Wood saying to Niko that he’d love to actually meet the people who supported Skypath in Northcote, to which Chris Darby quipped that they’ve been emailing him.
  • Shortly after Wood asked Niko if he’d read the NRA submission to which Niko replied only briefly. Wood then followed that asking if he agreed they had some grounds for concerns leading to one of the replies of the day of No I don’t, that’s why I stopped reading”

There were plenty of other funny or noteworthy moments – such as the guy who referenced a truck falling off a cook straight ferry as a health and safety issue for Skypath.

Then there were the comments from councillors themselves. There were a lot of good comments from so many of them which was pleasing to see but also hard to include everything. So I’ll leave it with a few points from George Wood’s speech that I did agree with

  1. That Skypath should connect directly to Seapath. Where I probably differ from him is that I think it should do that as well as connect to Northcote Point.
  2. That the NZTA should be funding the full thing. In my view it’s crazy that such a vital piece of transport infrastructure needs to be proposed and funded by a private company because our transport organisations in the past simply ignored cycling. In perhaps a bit of irony, had the private company not been funding this, there is a good chance it would have been included in the Urban Cycleway Funding projects.

 

Here’s what the council had to say in their press release following the decision.

Auckland’s SkyPath project has been given the go-ahead to be delivered through a public private partnership, after a unanimous decision at today’s Finance and Performance Committee.
Auckland Council’s Governing Body will formalise the decision at their next meeting on Thursday 28 July.

Mayor Len Brown says SkyPath is a uniting project that brings Auckland together.

“In a short space of time we have made Auckland a cycle city – and this is the vital link for walkers and cyclists.”

The partnership with H.R.L Morrison and Co’s Public Infrastructure Partnership Fund (the PIP Fund) is set to be the first of its kind for significant infrastructure in Auckland by the council.
The public private partnership means construction, operation and maintenance of SkyPath would be financed and delivered by the PIP Fund for the contract period and there would be an admission charge for users of SkyPath.

The council would then provide a limited underwrite of the revenue. This means if minimum revenue streams from fares and sponsorship etc are not met, council will need to top-up funds to meet a pre-agreed amount. In turn, if profits reach a certain level, council and the Auckland Harbour Bridge Pathway Trust will receive a share in these.
Auckland Council would also receive ownership rights and obligations at the end of the contract period.

Lastly, with this meeting, one thing that stands out to me is just how long it took. As mentioned it took over five hours of sometimes intense debate for councillors to agree on a critical project for the region being built by a private developer and for which the council have a very limited exposure to. Yet this same council will hand wave through a $2 billion roading project like the East West Link with barely a question or concern.

Still, lets celebrate a fantastic result and thank you to all who have helped make it happen. Now we just need to wait for the envrionment court appeal to be sorted and lets get this thing built.

Council to decide on Skypath funding this week

The council will decide on Thursday if they will go ahead with a funding arrangement for Skypath.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

An item (Page 21) at the council’s Finance and Performance Committee gives an update on the project, much of which will be nothing new to those who have been following it. This includes that progress has been made on a number of areas such as that the wind tunnel testing requested by the NZTA found no significant concerns and that progress has been made on connections to Skypath with projects such as Seapath having been consulted on and getting strong public support.

Seapath March-16 Route

Seapath Proposed Route

The second item (Page 25) is the key one though and looking to get agreement from the councillors to move forward with the project. It has the following recommendations to councillors.

That the Finance and Performance Committee recommend to the Governing Body that it:

a) agree to proceed with the SkyPath project and that the hybrid Public Private Partnership proposal is the preferred procurement option to deliver SkyPath.

b) authorise the Chief Executive to enter into all necessary agreements in relation to the SkyPath proposal, subject to minimal financial impacts, and to take any other actions in the Chief Executive’s delegation to facilitate the progress of the project.

c) agree to make appropriate provision for the project in the 2017/18 Annual Plan and the 2018/28 Long-term Plan.

The council have been working with the private backers of the project (the PIP Fund) for a few years now to investigate options for financing the project. The preferred approach is for the PIP Fund is to build it as a PPP in which the council underwrites revenues up to a certain level.

The PIP Fund’s PPP proposal is to finance, design, build, maintain and operate SkyPath as a user pays facility for 25 years, after which it “reverts” to Council ownership. In return:

  • Council would underwrite actual revenues to a pre-agreed dollar amount in the “base case” (the agreed financial model that sets out the cost envelope), and have a share of upside profits above a specific threshold.
  • The PIP Fund’s returns depend on it managing its costs and performance within the parameters of the fixed base case. Any cost overruns are the PIP Fund’s responsibility.

That this private project will likely have a portion of its revenue underwritten by the council has long been one of the key arguments for those opposing it. They claim it will be a failure from not enough people using it – lumping costs on ratepayers while simultaneously claiming it will be so popular the local streets in Northcote will be overrun by people on bikes

Unfortunately the attached reports have blacked out the exact details of costs, revenues, thresholds etc so we can’t see just what those are. But unless something drastic has changed, it is still likely to represent a good deal for Auckland even if the council has to honour the underwriting. The last we saw the project was expected to cost $33 million, a significant sum but since the government came to the cycleway funding party with the Urban Cycleway Fund, there are already projects underway that cost more and are not likely to be used as much. One such example is the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr shared path. This is not to say the GI to Tamaki Dr project is bad, it’s a great project in its own right but that when it comes to benefits, it simply can’t compete with opening up a walking and cycling connection between the North Shore and the city.

In the past the council have been largely very supportive of the project – or at least supportive of investigating it. Only two councillors have consistently voted against it being George Wood, whose constituents stand to benefit the most from the project, and Sharon Stewart. In addition Cameron Brewer and Dick Quax also voted against providing some extra funding to the investigations. Given his ardent opposition to the project, George is almost certainly going to continue to try and fight the project.

While the council will be making a decision this week on whether to financially support the project, we might be still waiting for some time to the outcome of the Environment Court Appeal. It is currently expected that the hearing for it will happen in October or November. In saying that we learned recently that one of those appealing the project had pulled out citing the costs of fighting the project. I’m guessing they more likely realised that it was a fight they wouldn’t win.

Meanwhile, the Herne Bay Residents Association Incorporated has withdrawn its appeal because it believes the project is not feasible so will not “see the light of day”. Therefore, its efforts were “a waste of time and money”.

The group’s co-chair Christine Cavanagh said as a responsible organisation it did not intend to waste residents’ money on an “unnecessary appeal” that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Northcote Residents Association are still fighting though and are appealing to the public for cash to help them do that. As of writing this post they’d raised almost $9,500 but that is a long way from the potential hundreds of thousands their Herne Bay brethren suspect will be needed. They’ve also sent this out in response to Auckland Transport looking at implementing a residents parking scheme which would prevent people from driving to the bridge and then using Skypath, one of the key arguments the residents have used against the project.

Lincoln to Westgate Motorway Widening Underway

On Friday while we were basking in the glow of the opening of another great cycling project, the government were busy turning the sod of the next motorway widening project to get underway, something with decidedly less fanfare – to the point there hasn’t even been a press release about it. This was for the Lincoln Rd to Westgate section of SH16 with the most prominent thing I’ve seen being this tweet from Prime Minister John Key

The NZTA also published this video which includes Transport Minister Simon Bridges praising the project.

As mentioned, this $100 million project is widening SH16 between Lincoln Rd and Westgate includes: adding more motorway lanes, some bus lanes, a cycleway as well as upgrading the Royal Rd interchange. Some of the work was originally meant to have been done as part of that the over budget Lincoln Rd interchange project.

Lincoln Rd to Westgate Motorway Widening Map

While there are a few useful things coming as part of the project, like all non-motorway features, they generally appear to be half arsed and incomplete. This includes:

  • The cycleway will be a useful addition, mainly because it will be at a nicer grade than the local road alternatives. I currently ride through this area when going to/from work on the North Shore and the local network options drop below the motorway before rising up above it creating some very steep streets to navigate. But while the cycleway will be useful, the NZTA will force cyclists off at Royal Rd interchange, up a steep section of Makora Rd and through the intersection with Royal Rd. Given the grades, a simple underpass of the off-ramp seems like it should have been easy as well as presenting an easier grade for cyclists.

Makora Rd Steepness

  • Bus shoulder lanes are being added to the motorway. While this is definitely an improvement it’s not the dedicated NW Busway that we need and buses heading further west will be forced to merge out of the bus lane at the Royal Rd interchange. That means to get a proper busway in the future we’re going to have to go back and widen the motorway further, likely taking homes and probably rebuilding the cycleway again when it could have all be integrated at the same time. I recall that back when the NZTA were consenting Waterview and the causeway, they used the excuse that the former ARC plans didn’t list that section of SH16 as a rapid transit route as to why they weren’t including a busway. But those same plans did list Henderson to Constellation via the motorway as a future RTN route as one so it seems the NZTA pick and choose which of the plans it listens too.

Busway schematic

There’s another feature of this project the NZTA have not said a single word about, that they’re taking 7547m² of land from a local reserve under the public works act plus another 1666m² as an easement for access, all of which is hidden under the brief bullet point above of Stormwater treatment. Information on the NZTA’s plans for Lowtherhurst Reserve are detailed in the agenda to the Henderson-Massey Local board at the beginning of April and the land they want for a stormwater pond is shown below in pink. The land in question is also what can be seen in the background of the video above.

The reserve is almost 44,000m² but most of that is steep and covered in bush. Only about 14,500m² is flat and grassed so the NZTA want to take half of that. I know somewhat well as I ride through it as part of my commute.

Lincoln to Westgate - Lowthehurst Reserve Land

The NZTA offered the council/local board one of two options:

A. base option is financial compensation for the land only. Boundary fenced off from the reserve

B. the development and use of a wetland walkway and multi-activity use area for the local community with Auckland Council maintaining the footpath and multi-activity area at an ongoing cost of $500 a year (this will be cost neutral as there is a cost saving of $555 from reduced mowing on the reserve resulting from the divestment of land).

More detail on each of them is provided in the report but the minutes show the local board supported selling the land and chose option B. They’ve also requested the money received by the council for the sale of the land go to other open space priorities in the local board area.

According to the NZTA website, the project is due to be finished in February 2019.