Letter to the Editor: The Implications of Soft Openings

A Letter to the Editor of the NZ Herald from our Chair, Barb Cuthbert:

As reported in the NZ Herald, another instance of a lumpy cycleway surface is causing discontent amongst people biking Auckland’s cycleways. The first instance involved the extension of the Quay cycleway on Tāmaki Drive to Ngapipi Rd. The second instance involves the Karangahape Rd cycleway.

Lumpy cycleways can be unpleasant for people to use, especially if the bike has no suspension. However, it is important to note that both of these new cycleways are still under construction. Some sections are substantially completed, but none of the work has been signed off. The contractor is still working on site, including doing remedial work, where needed. Where it is permitted the public can choose to remain on the existing or an interim path or to use a section of new infrastructure.

Early use of a project before it is fully completed is known in the industry as a ‘soft’ opening. Allowing cyclists to use infrastructure early can be beneficial if the existing infrastructure is outdated and the new sections of work are safe and convenient for the travelling public. Where the public are allowed access before completion, the site may be missing landscaping, planting, pavement markings, and signage as these are typically built near the end of a project.

The downside of soft openings is that it exposes AT to the risk of complaints from people who think the work is finished and signed off as fit for purpose and the contractor is no longer responsible.

AT is often criticised for being slow to deliver projects, and validly so. In the instance of Tāmaki Drive and Karangahape Rd, I accept the recent ‘soft openings’ because they give people on bikes early access to new, improved, albeit not fully finished, infrastructure. Bike Auckland is working with the project teams for both cycleways on the understanding the new work will not be officially opened until it is fully compliant with roading standards, including smooth finished riding surfaces.

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