We’re a pretty tight team in Bike Auckland; a close collaboration of talents and interests. I’m very lucky to be at the centre of the team, orchestrating our work. Since the arrival of our inspirational contract staff, Communications Manager, Jolisa Gracewood, and Events/Partnerships Manager, Olivia Lynch, I feel I am either sitting in the audience, applauding Jolisa’s and Olivia’s creativity and achievements, or on a significant event like our recent AGM taking centre- stage to conduct the proceedings.
My years of work as a RMA planning consultant have taught me to value mediation and negotiation. They’re useful in our Bike Auckland work as sometimes we’re faced with opportunities to work around the edges of major national road projects to get a better outcome for cycling. The East West project (between Onehunga and Otahuhu), one of the Government’s Roads of National Significance (RoNS), is a classic instance. The Northern Corridor Improvement (NCI) project, is another RoNS and has been another such opportunity. Both projects are working their way through the Board of Inquiry system, and Bike Auckland has been involved as a submitter.
Both projects involve improving cycling by providing new separated roadside cycleways, in the case of the new East West expressway, and beside the wider motorway with its busway on the NCI.
Bike Auckland’s first involvement with a Board of Inquiry was at the SH16 and SH20 link for the North Western Motorway and Waterview Tunnel. The project included some valuable cycling improvements, but significantly omitted these where the motorway disappeared into the tunnel. Bike Auckland argued with the local community that the NZTA was obliged to connect up the SH16 and SH20 cycleways as well as the respective motorways. We were over the moon when the Board of Inquiry agreed with our submissions and imposed a consent condition requiring cycleways to be built in parks above the tunnel.
It’s super exciting to be writing these words this morning, as later today the ribbon will be cut on the cycleway.
Whoo hoo for Waterview cycleway!
Bike Auckland can be conflicted in our work on major road projects, as often we would like them to demonstrate more commitment to integrated transport. The North Western widening was a case in point. It was obvious the SH16 motorway needed to include a busway. The NCI project is therefore easier to commit to, because it includes extending the overwhelmingly successful Northern Express Busway.
The East West project has been a hard pill to swallow. Bike Auckland questions the intention to spend up to $1.8b on a new road in a location that will alienate the Onehunga Harbour foreshore from direct public access. Our infrastructure leader, Max Robitzsch, has dedicated hours to working with the NZTA on the project, attending consultation meetings and finally writing a very comprehensive submission stating our opposition.
We focused primarily on the cycling improvements, stating that while the project included millions of biking investment, its utility was limited because of the lack of connectivity to the local cycle network. The result was that East West represented low priority investment compared with cycling network needs across the City.
Max passed the ball to me to represent Bike Auckland at the East West Board of Inquiry hearing last month. Before the hearing we had a frank chat with the NZTA to identify the major missing cycling links. I was the driving force to do this, as Max struggled to see scope to gain benefits from the project. We joked about swallowing dead rats (Max) while I mentioned biting bullets for cycling. Despite Max’s sentiments it’s proof of his superb collaboration and cycle design talents that he burnt the midnight oil to prepare the plan below, working around his demanding day job. The plan identifies local schools, train stations and bigger transport stations and regional destinations like Mt Smart. All of these are priority nodes for the network in the vicinity of the East West route.
We shared our plan with the NZTA, asking for additions and extensions to the cycling improvements for funding and delivery within the East West project. Our request was well received where the new cycling links were within the project designation. We were aware it was more complex to include the links which were outside the designation on land controlled by Auckland Council (parks) or roads controlled by Auckland Transport.
The night before I presented to the East West BoI we finalised our negotiations with the NZTA, resulting in text for a side agreement recording the Agency’s commitment to build a number of add-ons to the project and ensuring that Bike Auckland would be involved in the detailed design for these. A second category of improvements was classified as being ‘out of scope/designation’ items. The Agency agreed to use its ‘best endeavours’ to deliver these elements in conjunction with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.
The side agreement included the plan below identifying these two categories.
Next morning at the BoI hearing I explained that we worked closely with AT and NZTA on the design and delivery of cycling infrastructure in Auckland . I showed them our ‘Bike Blueprint’ showing the key network improvements for the city’s next tranche of cycling investment. This usefully provided context for our goal to achieve a cost effective cycling network for Auckland. The Blueprint has separate plans for AT’s and NZTA’s cycling network. Here is the plan for the NZTA’s network.
I also spoke to the BoI about the tight constraints created by the of fast tracking consents for RoNS. My view is that the NZTA is placed under extreme pressure to develop a design in a short timeframe for a road project that is generally poorly integrated with other transport modes. This is a major issue as NZ cities suffer from years of poor public transport and cycling integration in national transport programmes.
I presented our East West side agreement to the BoI, referring to our strong relationship with the Auckland office of the NZTA which allowed us to reach such a productive outcome. I also pointed out that due to the constraints of the designation, some elements had been ‘parked’ with the hope that the NZTA would bring them to fruition at a later date in collaboration with Auckland Council parks. the Mangere- Otahuhu and Tamaki- Maungakiekie Local Boards and Auckland Transport.
We now await the outcome of the East West BoI’s decision. We have made it clear that we oppose the consent, but have been transparent in asking that if consent is granted, it must include new links to expand the local cycling network.
I can’t end without giving credit to Brett Gliddon and Tommy Parker from the NZTA who were crucial to our East West side agreement. We have worked closely with Brett and Tommy for many years. Bike Auckland values their practical approach and vision that cycling are essential to Auckland’s integrated transport network. While Max would say I’m now skilled at biting bullets, I say my work orchestrating Bike Auckland’s operations would be almost impossible if it weren’t for the trust and respect Bike Auckland has for Tommy, Brett and the Auckland office of the NZTA.
Lastly, on this momentous day of the opening of the Waterview Cycleway, we have another story to tell you soon of our side agreement for the NCI project. Bike Auckland’s North Shore infrastructure leader, Steve Southall, is the star of that agreement, so I’m hoping he will find time away from the long hours at his day-job to write that blog.
See you at the Waterview Opening this morning and the First Hoon tonight at Waterview!