Shopping centres are not generally what comes to mind when one thinks of great places to cycle to. But their success shows that we do like to go there (usually by car) to shop, hang out, or watch a movie. So why not make it easier to bike there?
This thought is in the background of some separate but ultimately related efforts to make Sylvia Park a true “town centre” as it aspires to be in the long run. At the moment Sylvia Park is mainly shops, a giant cinema and even more extensive seas of car parks (photo at the right – crowned by an elevated highway and further “blessed” by a large, and very cycling-hostile north-south arterial, Mount Wellington Highway). About as uninviting for someone on a bike as can be.
But Sylvia Park also has significant residential areas to the north and west of it, employment to the south, and some of those large car parks are to disappear from sight in coming years as the centre developer creates new office blocks in their stead. So to simply write it off for cycling would be way too easy.
So it is great to see that several initiatives are underway which could make the area much more accessible and inviting for cyclists:
On Mount Wellington Highway, a part of an AMETI project proposes to install some cycle lanes – and a much more extensive and connected set of shared paths on each side of the road. This project, planned for implementation in the next years, would instantly provide a safe cycle alternative to the intimidating intersections and congested roads that are currently the main entrance to the centre.
Initially, these 3m wide shared paths will extend only about 1 km in length, from south of the motorway interchange to about Longford Street. CAA has provided input into this project, and while it will not yet create a real link-up to places like Panmure (more on this later), it will help connect the Sylvia Park area internally (you wouldn’t want those future office tenants to get into their car just to get to the mall 500m away!) and to the residential areas to the west. It will also help make the SEART cycleway easier to reach.
One of the less known cycling paths of Auckland – the SEART Cycleway – actually provides a pretty great link to Sylvia Park from the west. The problem is that currently, the western end of this off-road path is accessed off a very hostile Church Street / Great South Road intersection, while the eastern end similarly spits you out into an extremely car-dominated area (at least until those shared paths). CAA is trying to help overcome this by working with the Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board in improving the western end of the route, and eventually, providing a great link to Onehunga – along both a future Mt Smart Road cycle route, and the existing Waikaraka Cycleway along the Manukau Harbour inlet foreshore.
That leaves access from the north, from areas like Panmure. As we noted, Mount Wellington Highway could really not be less inviting for cycling. And while the new “AMETI Link Road” that will extend south from Panmure (starting construction next year) will have great cycle facilities, there will still be about a 1 km gap on the MWH that would totally put anyone off who is not supremely confident of riding in heavy traffic. Plus, properties are very close to the road, so the chances of a cycleway being built there are pretty much nil in the next decade, maybe ever.
So with these opportunities, but also those barriers, in mind, Cycle Action met with the Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board, and separately discussed some ideas with various of Council’s transport planners and designers – to look at ways to close the gap between Panmure and Sylvia Park. I should note that what CAA developed is a very high level idea at this stage, and even if it meets with great support, could take years to agree and provide. But we realised that there were not just one, but two good routes that seem feasible to achieve between these two centres. We show them in the sketch map below:
The left route, on the western side of the Y starts out at the train station in Panmure, and then travels down south along the long straight of the new AMETI Link Road (which is being built in the coming 2 years as part of AMETI Panmure, and will have pretty awesome cycle facilities – cycle lanes and an off-road path both). However, about where the long straight red line starts to bend halfway (near Van Damme’s Lagoon), the AMETI Link Road will actually merge into Mount Wellington Highway, and thus won’t offer any real network connection for cyclists.
Which is where the rail corridor comes in. We believe (though admittedly, this has not yet been discussed with KiwiRail) that the rail corridor in this area, even at the tightest section, shortly north of Waipuna Road, will be wide enough to not only add a third track (planned in the long run by KiwiRail to run more freight trains to the Ports of Auckland), but also a new walking and cycling path. On such a path, cyclists could ride off-road all the way from Panmure to Waipuna Road. There they would use traffic signals to cross, and then use the (existing) cycle lanes on the relatively low-traffic Musket Road – presto, arrival at Sylvia Park, in time for the evening showing of Pirates of the Carribean VII.
The right-hand route, on the eastern side of the Y starts at the intersection of Church Crescent and Lagoon Drive. This area will receive much better cycle facilities as part of AMETI Panmure (in approximately 3 years).
Cyclists will then cross the Lagoon inlet over the existing pedestrian bridge (photo at the right – slowly, slowly, as that bridge is rather narrow – hopefully, it can eventually be replaced with something more generous for the local community). They then continue west along Waipuna Road. At the moment, this on-road section is still only for the slightly more confident cyclists, but Waipuna Road is already on the Regional Cycle Network,and will eventually receive cycle facilities. At the end, they also link to Sylvia Park via Musket Road.
Now – isn’t this a vision that is worth exploring more? We think so, and we hope locals and authorties will come to agree.