Building a wall, and making the rest of us pay for it?

The Bike Kaipatiki team, representing bike folk of the North Shore to the west of the bridge, has been asking Auckland Transport to revisit the traffic-calming design for the Lower Queen St section of the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (NSCR). Along with Bike Auckland, we feel that with SkyPath on track to open in 2018, AT needs to design the NSCR to the highest standards to service the pedestrian and cycle patronage SkyPath will bring – not to mention, the growing number of people biking to and from the Northcote Ferry Terminal. 

So what better idea than to enlist the support of local Queen St resident, the Hon. Dr Jonathan Coleman, MP? It seemed a sensible approach for so many reasons:

  • As Minister of Health, he’ll surely be supportive of initiatives to get more people walking and on bikes.  It’s a key part of his Ministry’s campaign to combat diabetes and obesity.
  • He’ll also support this in his role as Minister of Sport and Recreation, with a specific focus on childhood obesity, not to mention promoting healthy outdoor recreation generally.
  • As a medical professional he’ll be keen to write “green prescriptions” to get people out of their cars and into more active ways of getting around, with fewer toxic emissions aggravating respiratory conditions.
  • As a local MP he’ll be keen to see Northcote businesses thrive, and he’ll have seen the huge groundswell of support for SkyPath from his Northcote electorate during the submissions process.
A small island of no in a sea of yes: overwhelmingly, the Shore is as sure about SkyPath as the rest of Auckland is.
A small blur of nah in a sea of yes: overwhelmingly, the Shore is as sure about SkyPath as the rest of Auckland is. (Image by Timothy Duhamel).
  • As a member of the Government, he’ll be familiar with the fine work his colleagues are doing to encourage cycling. He’ll see John Key’s promotion of Nga Haerenga, the cycle trails the length of New Zealand, which are bringing life to the provinces and being an outstanding success. And he’ll see Simon Bridges pumping additional money into urban cycling to great effect – witness all the excellent bikeways popping up on the city-side of the Bridge, and the corresponding month-by-month surge in cycling numbers.
  • And of course, as a resident of Northcote’s Queen St, he’ll be delighted that he, his family and his neighbours will have a safe cycling route running right past his front door. Just think – to be able to choose to hop on a bike and safely get to the Ferry Terminal, the CBD, Birkenhead, Northcote, Takapuna, local cafes, schools and sports facilities in just a few fresh-air minutes without having to worry about traffic conditions or parking! We should all be so lucky.

Yes, I thought to myself, this one will be a no-brainer.  Surely my MP will be tripping over himself to support SkyPath and a good design for its local gateway route, the NSCR.  Perhaps he’ll even be able to have a little word to AT to move things along. Maybe pull a few levers in the corridors of power so his electorate can sooner enjoy the transport, health, recreational, commercial and environmental benefits that accrue to a community when you build safe space for cycling.

So, full of confidence – and armed with Bike Kaipatiki’s superb document to AT supported by 400+ submissions detailing what’s needed for the NSCR – on 18 November, I headed for Jonathan’s office.  But not without a nagging doubt. Hadn’t I read something in the paper, a year or so ago, that Jonathan was not in favour of AT’s design for the NSCR?

Ah yes, there it is: “Dr Coleman, who is the MP for Northcote and lives on Queen St, sees no need for the [raised] tables on a road he says carries little traffic and is already safe for cyclists”. Still, that was over a year ago, and I’m sure that when presented with the evidence, sound traffic engineering theory, and the need to cater for SkyPath patrons, he’ll lend his enthusiastic support.

Er… no.

We had a 20 minute discussion where I gained a good appreciation of his views, which I summarised in bullet form.  But I’m told I can’t use these or attribute them to him.

Here’s Jonathan’s formal statement, which he kindly sent me after our meeting on 18 November:

While I am supportive of walking and cycling across the Harbour Bridge, I am concerned about the potential impact of SkyPath on the Northcote Point community.

My view is that it is best to wait for NZTA’s final decision on SkyPath and to understand the detailed design of the connections at the northern end (including to SeaPath) before deciding on alterations to the configuration of lower Queen St.

So what does this mean? It’s certainly not the enthusiastic support for the NSCR I was expecting. Instead, he wants to maintain the status quo on lower Queen St for perhaps another 6-12 months while detailed design for SkyPath and its landings takes place. The problem is, AT is currently finalising the NSCR detailed design, and will start to build it next year to deliver in 2018 – so if there’s a delay now, there’s no way this street will be ready for SkyPath.

And instead of a wholehearted support of SkyPath, he expresses concern about the ‘potential impact’ (presumably negative) on the Northcote Point community, which seems misplaced to me. Yes, the Northcote Residents’ Association and the Northcote Point Heritage Protection Society have been very vocal in their opposition to SkyPath. Auckland Council listened to them – and granted resource consent, with mitigations put in place to address their concerns. Then the Environment Court listened to them again, and immediately reconfirmed the resource consent. Asked, and answered. Twice. 

It’s really worth reiterating this: the Environment Court decision is confirmation that the overwhelmingly positive impacts of SkyPath should prevail for the greater community good – and that any adverse effects can be ameliorated by minor design changes and allowing for flexibility in SkyPath’s Operational Plan. 

To more fully understand exactly what my MP thinks about the NSCR and SkyPath patronage, I had to email my follow-up questions. I explained to him that Auckland’s cycling community was eager to know his position.  I haven’t had a reply yet, and I probably won’t until SkyPath’s detailed design is complete and NZTA have granted their “Licence to Occupy”.  

(I’ve pasted my follow-up questions at the bottom of this blog post, leaving room for Jonathan’s responses when they arrive.)

In the meantime, what can we make of the conspicuous silences in the formal supplied statement? The lack of enthusiastic support for a project so thoroughly in line with his constituents’ wishes, so clearly aligned with his portfolios, so obviously part of a wider transport vision for Auckland, not to mention the missing link in the walking and cycling trail from one end of our country to the other?

I would like to be wrong on this, but it feels to me as if Jonathan wants to build a wall around Northcote Point and lock it in a little 20th century time warp where there’s only limited access (and only by car, but not if you’re parking to enjoy SkyPath). Everyone must wait until SeaPath is built, and funnel through that way instead. It’s not for the great unwashed streaming over the Harbour Bridge on foot or on bike to disturb the enjoyment of local burghers of this leafy suburb. Goodness – the squeak of shoes, the click and whir of gears and the laughter of children might distract the locals from enjoying the roar of trucks thundering along the adjacent motorway! 

West Birkenheaders weighing up the risks of making a dash for it through Northcote Point. Or, West Berliners observing the creation of the 'death strip' on the East side. October 1961.
West Birkenheaders weighing up the risks of making a dash for it through Northcote Point. Sorry, that should have read: West Berliners observing the creation of the ‘death strip’ on the East side of the Berlin Wall, October 1961. (Image via Wikipedia)

And what is the message for locals of all ages and abilities who hope to bike safely to the Ferry Terminal and SkyPath, including outsiders to Northcote Point who nonetheless live in Jonathan’s electorate? As a visitor from Birkenhead, for example, I wonder what I should do if I’m pedalling down Queen St on my way to the Northcote Point ferry terminal, and I receive a text message advising sailings are cancelled due to weather conditions? Must I immediately turn around and head back up to Onewa Rd to access SeaPath (assuming it’s built) in order to get to SkyPath without disturbing anyone in Northcote Point?

Or I suppose I could pretend to be a local and run the gauntlet along the shortest route, through Alma/Princes St? That’s if I can get through the wall… 

But above all, Bike Kaipatiki believes there should be no wall (metaphorical or otherwise) between Northcote Point and the rest of our great neighbourhood. And we strongly hope our MP and Minister of Health and Sport can turn his thoughts towards building a bridge instead, so we can all get over it.

A map showing the Northcote electorate (boundary in purple), the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (in green), and the proposed route of SeaPath (in blue, with logical catchment shaded in blue). For most of the electorate, the NSCR will be the most intuitive route to the ferry terminal and to SkyPath.
A map prepared by Bike Kaipatiki, showing the Northcote electorate (boundary in purple), the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (in green, with the contested section in red), and the proposed route of SeaPath (in blue – as you can see, the long way round to SkyPath and the ferry for most people in Northcote). As the map shows, for most of the electorate, the NSCR will be the most logical route to the ferry terminal and to SkyPath, which is why it’s imperative to build it to the highest standards.

Bike Kaipatiki’s questions awaiting answers

Regarding the Northcote Safe Cycle Route (which is being designed now independent of SkyPath, so isn’t dependent on SkyPath’s design or delivery):

Do you support AT’s original design for the NSCR (ie protected cycle lanes in lower Queen St, with the loss of some on-street parking)?

Jonathan: <to be advised>

Do you support AT’s revised design for traffic calming in lower Queen St (ie most on-street parking retained, but slowing motorists down so they can mix more safely with cyclists on the roadway)?

Jonathan: <to be advised>

If SkyPath proceeds:

Do you support SkyPath patrons using Queen St to access the Northcote Point entertainment precinct (Northcote Tavern, Bridgeway, Sausalito, Engine Room, Stafford Rd Wine Bar)?

Jonathan: <to be advised>

Do you support SkyPath patrons using Queen St as the conduit between Northcote Point and the western/northern Shore (Birkenhead, Birkdale, Beach Haven, Glenfield, Northcote, Hillcrest)?  If not, how should they access SkyPath?

Jonathan: <to be advised>

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