Auckland Transport’s credibility under question

TL;DR (article summary); Auckland Transport has so far failed to implement three safe, widely supported, climate-friendly street improvements in the inner west.

The Waitematā and Albert-Eden Local Boards have each once again endorsed the funded projects within their areas, and are calling on AT to seek funding ASAP to complete the (currently paused) Waitematā Safer Routes section which sits at the heart of the project area and will complete the 7.2km network.

On Tuesday 28 February, the Auckland Transport Board will have an opportunity to retain the community’s trust by recommending that work on the three routes proceeds – after which it may yet refer back to Auckland Council’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee for one more round of approval.

If the projects don’t continue, the community will lose confidence in both Auckland Transport and the Auckland Council.

[Bike Auckland Media release 21 February 2023]

Auckland Transport’s credibility faces new doubts with public calls to explain why the organisation has hit pause on a batch of climate-friendly and resilience-focused projects. The Inner West Streetscape Improvements are shovel-ready, widely consulted and supported, and come with significant government co-investment which will otherwise be lost. 

The three interconnected projects cover 7km from Point Chevalier to the central city. Since 2016, three rounds of consultation have refined the designs and drawn strong community support. Works were due to commence in 2022, but apart from the removal of 34 large street trees, are yet to begin. 

Map showing how the three linked projects connect the inner west suburbs and the city centre.

The latest roadblock came in October 2022, when Auckland Transport paused work on the projects after newly elected Councillor Mike Lee requested a capital expenditure “stocktake” – but only for projects that include safe walking and cycling facilities.

Auckland Transport on Tuesday (21 February) asked the Waitematā Local Board to endorse two of the three projects at its Local Board meeting. However, in a stark departure from Auckland Transport’s Vision Zero commitments, it also asked the local board to agree to pausing the central project, which covers Richmond Road, Surrey Crescent, Old Mill Road and Garnet Road and is known as both ‘the Grey Lynn and Westmere improvements’ and ‘the Waitematā Safer Routes’. This would leave a large gap in the network, with no clear timeline for completion.

“In any other context, proposing to build two ends of a route with no plan to complete the middle would be utterly ludicrous. And yet we are told not to expect a safe and continuous route any time soon,” says Grey Lynn resident John Constable, who presented to the Waitematā Local Board on behalf of Bike Grey Lynn.

“It seems a funding glitch is the reason: the middle project appears to not have government funding. So, although publicly Auckland Transport has been seeking community reassurance to proceed, it appears they may not have sought the Waka Kotahi co-funding required. Yet that’s been on the table since these projects were first initiated.”

Auckland Transport originally sought funding for all three projects from Waka Kotahi in 2015. They were successful for two of the routes but not for the third route which connects them together; the Waitematā Safer Routes. Auckland Transport chose to proceed with developing all three projects with the intention of creating a safe network, using capital expenditure to fill the budget gap. More recently they had the opportunity to apply for further funding from Waka Kotahi and chose not to. Meanwhile, the three routes were put on pause by the over-cautious Auckland Transport just after the new(ish) Auckland Councillors were elected (late 2022).

Constable says they should have done better, “This would be a basic organisational failing, one that shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of the community and local board. The transport agencies need to get their heads together and fix this. We really have to ask why this is so difficult.”

Auckland Transport has told the Local Boards that since the three projects were paused it received over 50 letters supporting them, and only a handful opposed. All six schools along the routes have backed the work, along with the Ponsonby and the Karangahape Road Business Associations, the Grey Lynn Residents Association, Sport Waitākere, Cycling Without Age, and many other community groups and individuals – as shown on the graphic below.

Image showing all the logos for the organisations that support the Inner West street improvement projects

Chief Biking Officer of Bike Auckland, Fiáin d’Leafy says “with such wide-ranging community support for these street improvement projects, it is not credible for AT to back down on the vital middle section, leaving a disconnected network that strands people in a safety desert. We know people want to cycle more, and as the CEO of Waka Kotahi told the Council last week, complete and connected networks are key to people feeling safe enough to. If funding is the issue, ideally the Minister can help Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport close the gap.

“Above all, these are safety projects, consistent with Vision Zero and designed to make these streets work better for everyone using them, including our most vulnerable. These routes serve over 4000 students at local schools, and will improve equitable access to shops, sports fields, parks, and regional attractions in the inner west.”

At their Tuesday meeting, the Waitematā Local Board narrowly motioned to endorse both the Pt Chevalier to Westmere project and the Great North Road project. They also motioned to accept that the Waitematā Safer Routes will be paused and included a recommendation to Auckland Transport to apply for further funding as soon as practicable; effectively showing their support for all three projects to continue ASAP. Today (23 February) the Albert-Eden Local Board also endorsed the portions of the Point Chevalier to Westmere project which are within their local board area. 

Though the local boards opinions have great weight, the Auckland Transport Board will still be making their own recommendation on 28 February. It is understood that the final decision will then be made by the Auckland Council Transport and Infrastructure Committee.

David Hall, an IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) Contributing Author and Climate Policy Director at Toha, is one of many Grey Lynn residents who is calling on Auckland Transport to get on with the job: “New Zealand cannot meet its emissions reduction targets if Auckland does not pull its weight, especially by reducing its transport emissions.

“With rapidly growing uptake in e-bikes and micromobility, there is an opportunity to reduce emissions, air pollution and traffic congestion by simply providing the appropriate infrastructure. The majority of the community clearly wants safer roads and cycling routes, as demonstrated throughout the consultation process.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve also had a stark reminder of the importance of connected networks, resilient communities, and diverse networks that provide transport alternatives and freedom of choice.

“Auckland Transport needs to show its commitment to consistency with the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway, as recently directed in the Mayor’s letter of expectation. Delivering these projects as planned and promised will be a clear test as to whether Auckland Tranport’s commitments to road safety and emissions reductions are credible,” says Hall.

Feeling inspired? 

Check out the tips below for writing to your elected representatives about safer streets. For this one, we recommend you contact the Interim CEO of Auckland Transport, Mark Lambert, the Auckland Transport board of directors, and / or your Local Councillors, including Cr John Watson and Cr Christine Fletcher of the Transport and Infrastructure committee.


And check out our related blog posts:

38 organisations call on Auckland Transport to deliver the Inner West street improvements: spoiler alert, we are one of them! 20 February 2023

Release of project costs shows overwhelming benefits of Inner West improvements: Auckland Transport urged to move forward 9 December 2022

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