Bringing history to light – an Auckland bikeway pioneer

Tamaki Drive’s famous cycleway turns 41 today. Despite showing its age a bit, it’s our jewel in the crown, and part of Auckland’s busiest bike route.

To celebrate its birthday, we’d like to share some wonderful never-before-seen photos of opening day that recently came our way. The photos arrived in an email to Skypath champion Bevan Woodward from David Lewis, who signed himself “Birkenhead Resident and Passionate Skypath Believer”. As you’ll discover below, David has a very special connection to those early Auckland bike visionaries, who not only believed in miracles but managed to accomplish one.

David’s words were so resonant we’ve included his message in full, along with the magical photos of the early believers. Do you recognize anyone? We’d love to know if you were there, and where you are now. It’s a joy to see those shining faces and classic bikes … reminder to all of us that indeed, the road may be long, but it is full of hope.

Dear Bevan,

I was rummaging through my deceased father’s possessions and came across documents and news briefs about the very start of Auckland’s Cycleways.

My father is John Lewis, a passionate cyclist, Chief Inspector Traffic Officer and planner for the Auckland City Council Traffic Department, who – with Engineer Graham Dickson of Town Planning and Development for Auckland City – compiled a 50 page report with photos to present to another cycling advocate ‘Mayor Robbie’, in early 1975, for the development of Auckland’s FIRST cycleway.

A little known fact: John was the catalyst behind beginning a network of cycleways throughout Auckland including the dream of a bikeway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. However, after completing the Tamaki Drive Bikeway, he realised that the physical and mental toll to get a bridge crossing was simply an impossibility in the 1970s, in terms of beauracracy etc.

With that in mind, he would have loved to have met you, an obvious leader as you have battled every conceivable negativity to get your dream of completion of the Skypath. Sadly, John passed away 3 years ago. But his Tamaki Drive legacy remains.

I have followed your passion and even listened in on public meetings about Skypath and Seapath. I must sincerely congratulate you for what I feel will be one of the most majestic, magical and mesmerising tourist amenities in New Zealand. It ranks up there with John Key’s national cycle pathway, the development of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour or even the impressive Skytower. So hats off to you. You deserve a knighthood in the future.

I have a copy of the 50-page book titled ‘BIKEWAYS’, which was presented to Mayor Robbie and Councillors to get the go ahead for the ‘construction’ of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway dated October 1975. No doubt it may well be available through Auckland libraries. [Ed note: indeed, the central library has three copies, two for research purposes]

ACC Bike Report J Lewis copy
From the Bikeways book: a 1974 letter from John Lewis proposing bikeways for Auckland. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)
ACC Bikeways report 1977
The cover of the Bikeways report (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)
A timeless quote from the Bikeways book (Photo: Kirsten Shouler)

The booklet mentions the construction budget [for Tamaki Drive]. It was just shy of $1,000. This included white paint for the separation strip on the footpath which ran from the Ferry Building to St. Heliers, wooden signs placed stategically to advise ‘Bikeway’, and even parking stalls for bikes along Tamaki Drive. Not bad for so little budget.

So why did my father get involved? Dad was a passionate private cyclist who cycled religiously from Takapuna to Devonport, across on the ferry, then would cycle for coffee to Mission Bay… and back again. He was also passionate about Road Safety Education. When one hears or reads the title ‘traffic officer’ one immediately feels the hairs on the back of your neck bristle as we associate them with ‘punishers’. But Dad’s role was mainly Traffic Education. A great speaker, he went to thousands of schools and businesses promoting safe inclusion of cyclists alongside vehicle drivers. In the period 1964 to 1973, dozens of Auckland cyclists lost their lives on Auckland City streets. Now that’s insanity. Hence Dad’s desire to start a safety project around Auckland cycling.

I have attached a few early photographs of the Opening Day of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway, on Saturday March 6th 1976. (I also hold many articles from the Auckland Star and NZ Herald. Some complimentary, some awfully negative. But that’s life for the cycling advocates…)

In the photos, you will see the commencement group of riders and a variety of equally passionate bike folk, including the then Mayor, Sir Dove Myer Robinson. It was a moment for Auckland’s 100,000 future cyclists to say, let’s roll out a network of safe cycleways throughout Auckland.

Here come the people on bikes, for the opening of the Tamaki Drive Cycleway, 6 March 1976. (Photo: David Lewis)
Lined up and ready to go. Who are they? Where are they now? (Photo: David Lewis)
Mayor Robbie leads the way on a mint Healing Cruiser. (Photo: David Lewis)
Following the white line. (Photo: David Lewis)

But the one shot I especially love is one man riding along the foreshore of Tamaki Drive, scoping out his idea of the Tamaki Drive Bikeway. That’s John.

John Lewis, riding along the Tamaki Drive footpath, dreaming of cycleways. (Photo courtesy of David Lewis)

If you can use these photos for future promotions, please do so. John would have loved that.

The Skypath is no doubt the pinnacle of the ever growing cycling movement in New Zealand. I’m excited to try out the pending Skypath and think you are onto a winner. You are definitely an Auckland Legend.


David Lewis

Birkenhead Resident and Passionate Skypath Believer

Where are these gorgeous wee people now? (Photo: David Lewis)
A cherished souvenir of the day. And kudos to our national airline for supported other forms of travel! (Photo: David Lewis)

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