Ground was broken on Friday for the new Waterview Shared Path. If you’re not familiar with this project, it’s an overland connection for walking and biking where SH20 dives underground.
The cars get tunnels – and walkers and cyclists get three new bridges and a continuous 2.5km link between Mt Albert and Waterview via parks and greenways. It will also link up with other new shared paths – the Northwestern at the north end, a new path westward to Avondale and New Lynn (from 2018), and another almost completed path to New Windsor and the SH20 cycleway towards Onehunga.
This project was fought hard for by the community and by groups like Bike Auckland (then Cycle Action Auckland), who saw that it was needed: as a crucial off-road connection between neighbourhoods, as a link between major cycleways, and as a way of partly making up for lost greenspace and extra traffic noise and pollution at each end of the tunnels by providing new access to all the hidden parks along the way.
Anyway, I was very glad to be invited to represent Bike Auckland at Friday’s sod-turning ceremony – for what, I admit, are very selfish reasons. You see, I live in Avondale and I work in Mt Albert and I’m going to use this path pretty much every day as soon as it’s been built and they let me on it.
Right now, I ride from home to work, along two regular routes: sometimes down New North Road, sometimes along Great North Road, and then the last section over the Oakley Creek.
I ride New North Road on the days when I need to get to Pak n Save for my weekly quaxing. I’m usually riding my 3-speed Schwinn basket bike, I’m polite, and I ride safely rather than aggressively. Even so, three times someone has almost run me off the road out of sheer impatience or just not looking for me. It’s terrifying. And if I ride on the footpath instead, people roar out of driveways; I’ve almost been knocked off this way twice in the last year too. That might not sound like a lot, but what it amounts to is that approximately once every two months, I’m nearly wiped out on my way to work by someone in a car.
The traffic along Great North Road is worse than New North Road – in fact, it’s usually nose-to-tail and barely crawling, so on that route, it’s less a case of drivers seeing me as a nuisance for holding them up, and more that there’s just not room for me to ride on the road. So when I go that way, I choose the lesser of two evils and almost always go on the footpath.
This section of footpath is wide enough to park a station wagon lengthways across it – I know, because sometimes I need to ride around that station wagon! When I’m on the foot path, I stop for pedestrians, or walk my bike past them if they happen to be walking four abreast. Otherwise I can usually pass with a smile, as can all the kids riding with their mums and dads to school. Although once, I was verbally and nearly physically abused by a man for being on a bike on the footpath; that was scary too, as he tried to push me in front of oncoming traffic.
You might ask, why do I keep riding my bike? I do have a car, so I could just get up half an hour earlier and start my sedentary lifestyle good and early: line up in the traffic, burn some petrol and money and clean air, get frustrated and then get to work late after driving round in circles looking for a car park at the other end.
But I ride partly because the second half of my commute makes it all worthwhile. I can assure you that riding past the Oakley Creek waterfall every morning, smelling the trees and calling hello to the morning dog walkers and joggers – then getting to work after a light exercise – is wildly more attractive and worth intermittently risking my life for (even if riding my bike on the slippery unkempt path, as it currently exists, once had me toppling down the bank upside down, luckily only hurting my pride and staining my shirt).
An upgrade to that part of my ride, and also being able to share this beautiful, relatively unknown park with more people, is something I’m wildly excited about.
This is why I wanted to be at that sod-turning, because it is going to positively affect not only the people of Mt Albert, but all the surrounding suburbs. This will be a hub of connectivity that stretches west to New Lynn and north to the City.
It’s been a bit of a saga to get here: back in January 2011, Council and NZTA were still debating how and even if the project would happen, but in May that same year, the Board of Inquiry came down on the side of the community, a huge win that delivered even more than had been initially asked for as reported in the Herald. In July 2012, the preferred route was outlined, and in 2014 we reported on progress (which was a bit slower than we’d hoped). Then in 2015, the Urban Cycleways Fund springboarded off this project to propose more local connections, including a long-planned path along the railway line to New Lynn.
In the end, Council and Local Boards and Auckland Transport put in a lot more money into this path than originally envisaged – NZTA’s funds from the motorway project would have paid at best for a barebones version. Now it is a half metre wider (3.5m), a new bridge/boardwalk was added in the middle section (to avoid having the choice between having to go back on local roads or having to cycle down into a steep gully and back out a few metres down the line). Also, the two bridges over the rail line and Oakley Creek that were already planned got some urban design upgrades – and the first part of the route to Avondale (to Trent Street) was roped into the project.
So I’m proud at this collaborative effort that has drawn together many community groups in over 10 years’ worth of planning and discourse. It is a collaboration between government and local council and communities. It is a positive thing for the people, for the environment, and for a more liveable city.
Albert-Eden Board councillor Margi Watson led the opening ceremony along with Len Brown, Paula Bennett, Ernst Zollner, Margi Watson, and mana whenua from Ngati Whatua Orakei and Te Akitai Waihoua.
To quote from Margi Watson’s speech:
“Today is the start of a project 10yrs in the making. Groups such as Friends of Oakley Creek, Cycle Action Auckland (now Bike Auckland), Tunnel or Nothing, the North Western Community Assn, local schools, the local kindergarten parents, the Mt Albert Playcentre, community groups and residents [who] all fought to stop or bury a motorway. Backed by the Eden-Albert Community Board and its successor, the Albert-Eden Local Board from 2010, we all pulled together working collaboratively to get better mitigation for surrounding communities that could be impacted.
Ironically, these groups all took their battle to the streets and the court and won not only mitigation for their local community but for everyone across Auckland.
This Shared Path will connect Pt Chev, Waterview, Mt Albert, Owairaka, and on to Avondale and New Windsor. It provides access to alternative open spaces to mitigate for those lost through the SH20 project. And it is not just those suburbs but everyone who walks and rides for work, play, school, fun, fitness and leisure. Auckland will reap the benefits a very small group secured.
So I must also acknowledge Judge Lawrie Newhook and the panel he led at the Board of Inquiry. He recognised that SH20 Waterview couldn’t be considered a transport project without a connection for those above ground and not using the tunnel… where rail, busy roads, the motorway and the divide that is Oakley Creek exists. He saw that this connection was critical. As a result we have more transport options – I do believe that decision has changed how NZTA have viewed their more recent motorway projects and pushed them to consider cycling and walking wins as part of their builds.
I would also like to think this is about commitment to climate change action from the Government. Investment in public transport and cycling and walking initiatives is crucial to this community, this city, our country and the global community”
The Minister, Paula Bennett, mentioned that she and her family have been taking an active interest in learning about climate change as it’s so important to recognise and respond to it. She noted that this connection is an important link in the city cycle network allowing people to use alternative transport methods (I should also note that acknowledgements were made on the day to David Shearer and Carmel Sepuloni, who were on Te Tii Marae at the time, and who have supported this project throughout its life cycle).
Now all I’m waiting for is the sod-turning for the new Avondale – New Lynn path, which will open up my safe biking options in a completely new direction. And as my daily commute shows, and as Max pointed out last year, the fight goes on: these backbone routes need arms and hands (i.e. safer cycling conditions on all the streets that connect to them), which is a whole other battle we’d love your support for while we celebrate this win – for example during the upcoming local area links planned around New Lynn to complement the backbone. Bit by bit, it’s all coming together.
Watch this space!