Hard News by Russell Brown


We can make things better here

It was nice to get up this morning and see that the Herald's editorial today has acknowledged last week's post here about the walking and cycling infrastructure improvements going on around the the major transit projects on the edge of our suburb. I saw it as a little effort at local reporting. The kind you can only really do on a bike.

And I like the tone of the editorial in general. This kind of coverage is in itself an incentive for the people who make decisions on walking and cycling infrastructure. The editorial concludes:

There will be inevitable grumbling from motorists, but in many instances the needs of all can be accommodated by careful redistribution of space taken by traffic islands and median strips.

This weekend much focus will be on the water, with the Anniversary regatta, but Auckland is not just a city of sails, it is a city of shores, given its isthmus setting between two harbours. The public programme of making it easier to cross that isthmus and to reach more points on the coast has been a welcome plus.

The completion of the Waterview Connection project will include, quite remarkably, a foot and pedal path across New Zealand, spanning the isthmus from harbour to harbour. It will connect with the SH16 cycleway. That's the beginning of a real cycle network. The new "greenways" on the Point Chevalier side of the northwestern motorway are also part of the deal.

It's vital to note that these things didn't just happen – they were the result of the advocacy of groups like Cycle Action Auckland, which eventually obliged NZTA to build or fund the overground stretch of the SH20 cycleway traversed by the new tunnel.

The progressive extensions of SH20 also gave rise to the cycleway that stretches alongside the existing motorway. By the same token, it would have been difficult to improve the SH16 cycleway without the Causeway upgrade (which is in part necessary to take the traffic from Waterview). The raising of the Causeway also means that for the first time, there will be proper capture of run-off from the motorway, so pollutants don't enter the part of the harbour where we swim. When the project is completed, there will be longer, wider bus lanes and a dedicated SH16 busway seems likely in the longer term.

The authorities have unfortunately baulked at times – the daunting 1km climb northbound to Hillsborough Road on the SH20 cycleway is a showstopper for commuters and weekend cyclists alike – but the principle of major roading projects meeting the needs of walkers and cyclists is an important one.

So I wasn't entirely down with Paul Little's column in the same paper on Saturday, damning the Waterview Connection to hell:

Although no one has actually been seen embracing them, the stand of six 80-year-old pohutukawa on Great North Rd near the SH16 interchange works could use a hug right now. Auckland Transport has approved their removal to widen a road we don't need.

Hugs would also be welcomed by a lot of Aucklanders who have recently begun to see all too plainly what a hellish plan is being put in place between here and the Waterview connection (cost $1.4 billion). The pillars and overpasses can now be seen to be on a scale so colossal they appear not to be made with humans in mind at all.

And all to make the city even more dependent on cars and less likely to get decent public transport, because, well, sorry, but do you have any idea how much the Waterview connection has cost?

More roads for cars do long-term damage to Auckland as well as the regions. It deprives the latter of public funds for development and funnels their people into the mega-city, at a time when many regions' main industry is filling in benefit applications because they have no jobs left.

As I noted in last week's post, the expansion of the St Luke's Road overbridge, opposite Western Springs, is part of the same wider project as the Waterview Connection and the Causeway upgrade -- but is worse in almost every way. With two local boards, NZTA and Auckland Transport all in the mix, it lacks purpose and vision and any real connection with the local community. The potential loss of the six heritage pohutukawa and the buggering up of of an already bad intersection for pedestrians are functions of that.

But hey, I'll say it: I live right on the edge of the Waterview Connection and I'm mostly okay with it. Yes, it will get me to and from the airport more quickly -- but in a way, it's the reason for that that's more important. The time saved will be saved because the Waterview Connection will take traffic off my local roads. Half the journey time to and from the airport is curently the grind through streets and intersections designed for local traffic, not airport transits.

From 2017, I expect that traffic through the middle of my suburb, especially on Meola and Point Chevalier roads, will decrease notably, because there will be no direct access to the Waterview Connection via Point Chevalier. I worry about that St Luke's interchange, but I'm pretty happy about the prospect of fewer traffic jams on Carrington Road.

I'm also undaunted by the scale of Waterview. Indeed, I'm somewhat in awe of the engineering going on. Yes, there will be lanes high in the air at the north end, but they're in the space over the existing motorway. Waterview residents will have their own views about the degree of mitigation embodied in the project, but people I've heard from seem fairly happy with it.

Anyway, in conclusion: three dates for you. One is at 9am tomorrow, for the opening of the new Oakley Creek bridge alongside the motorway and a little ride around the new infrastructure in the area.

At 6pm tomorrow there’s a public liaison meeting with the contractors representing Auckland Transport and NZTA at the Western Springs Community Centre opposite the park. If you're concerned about the pohutukawa or anything else about the redevelopment of the St Luke's Road interchange, this is the place to air those concerns.

And finally: Friday's deadline for submissions on the Skypath across the harbour bridge. No, it should not be relying on private funding, but it's still a fairly exciting development. We can make things better here.

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