Congratulations to the big crowd who arrived on bikes to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Waterview Shared Path. What a momentous day for NZ’s most ground-breaking cycling project!
It was great to see the Albert-Eden Local Board’s Margi Watson in wide-smile mode and on the podium. She has been an impressive spokesperson and leader for years for the Waterview/Owairaka/ New Windsor communities confronted by the Waterview Road of National Significance (RoNS) project; an outstanding role model for any local board member serving an apprenticeship for a local board role. (You can read Margi’s excellent speech here).
How we got here
As I wrote yesterday’s blog post on the East West RoNS I reflected on how far the infrastructure community – including Bike Auckland – has come since early in 2011. That’s when we cut our teeth on the first Board of Inquiry (BoI) for the RoNS consent at Waterview.
I refer to our involvement as ‘backroom work’ as much of our success was due to the caucus meetings where cycling and community representatives gelled to form trusting, productive relationships.
As background, it’s vital to recall that the BoI hearing was the culmination of years of anxiety and threats to local people, their homes and communities. It takes huge courage and presence of mind to appear before BoI hearing commissioners, especially for such an enormous and complex project. As a planning consultant, I’ve engaged in Environment Court proceedings; they can be demanding and for participants they can be intimidating. Margi Watson was a godsend in leading residents to gain the most from their David and Goliath struggle.
I was inspired by the commitment from the Board and their support staff to open up and break the process down by appointing a ‘friend of submitters’ and convening a series of expert and non-expert caucus sessions. Bike Auckland’s infrastructure guru Max Robitzsch and I were invited to join the expert caucus sessions to work through issues such as the project’s social impacts and designs affecting parks, cycleways etc. I also joined the non-expert caucus group.
Max was a little apprehensive about the expert sessions; he had no experience of giving expert evidence before the Environment Court and had big demands on his time in his day job. As the process evolved, he shone in every aspect. Even before the hearing began Max’s excellence was evident in his superbly well-researched submission written for Bike Auckland. The BoI subsequently praised it as “an extremely detailed commentary on many of the open space and connectivity issues before us.” (para 241, BoI Decision Volume 1).
Max met and debated with professional colleagues in the expert sessions, many of whom were his peers. I could not have asked for a stronger talent with whom to work. By the end of the BoI hearing, I knew that Max and I would be joined at the hip; he is such a colossus of cycling design.
How we made the case for connections
My attendance at the non-expert caucus still resonates with me. I arrived at a large meeting room filled with a wide mix of local people. The facilitator asked us to identify our goals. Imagine my delight to hear many people talk about their need for safe cycleways! They spoke of immigrant residents, many of whom have no access to cars and rely on walking and biking to access local schools, shops and community facilities.
A week later, I was presenting to the BoI. The Board subsequently reported in its para 240 of its decision:
“[Ms Cuthbert]provided us with detailed and thoughtful evidence about the need for provision of a walkway and cycleway through sector 8, the need for better connectivity to the proposed walkways and cycleways generally, the need for better cycling connectivity over interchanges, and the need for timely construction of walkways and cycleways.”
The stakes were high for the hearing as the NZ Transport Agency refused to accept responsiblity for connecting the SH16 and SH20 cycleways, on the grounds that the motorway was below ground. Max and I totally rejected this approach; after all, the project was all about connectivity! The project goals quoted in para 30 of the BoI decision are worth reading:
The Project is described by NZTA as the “final critical link in the Western Ring Route”, and its completion is expected by NZTA to have a number of significant benefits locally, regionally, and nationally. The objectives for the Project are …. recorded here in summary form:
1. To contribute to the Region’s critical transport infrastructure and its land use and transport strategies;
2. To provide accessibility for individuals and businesses and support regional economic growth and productivity;
3. To improve resilience and reliability of the State Highway network;
4. To support mobility and modal choices within the wider Auckland Region;
5. To improve the connectivity and efficiency of the transport network.
“Many submitters pushed very hard for a north-south cycleway on the land surface through sector 8 by way of mitigation of adverse effects on open space and reserves within the SH20 corridor generally, asserting that there were wider issues than the apparently simple approach by NZTA that, because the motorway was tunnelling underground in sector 8, there were no adverse effects on above ground features there.” (para 381 BoI )
“Ms Cuthbert was critical of the ongoing debate between NZTA and Auckland Council about who should fund the bridging of the cycleway gap where the motorway would be tunnelled. She submitted that the cycleway should not be seen as a mitigation feature, but like the motorway tunnels themselves, a legitimate new transport link, and a key part of making Waterview a really multi-modal project. It should remain integral to NZTA’s and the Council’s overall transport policies and objectives. Ms Cuthbert therefore submitted that it was neither inappropriate nor too late for NZTA and the Council to settle on an appropriate funding agreement to provide the cycleway as part of the Waterview project, and that it should be a public priority given the transport responsibilities of both bodies.” (para 242 BoI)
“We find that the somewhat clinical approach by NZTA, focusing unduly on “like for like” and insufficiently on qualitative and networking aspects, has led it to rather shut its eyes to the sheer enormity of the effects during 5 to 7 years of construction, and the short and long term division of communities to the north and the south of the tunnelled portion. (While recognising however that division of Owairaka and New Windsor from each other would in due course be mitigated to some degree by the proposed Hendon Bridge). In these regards we identify a significant shortfall in terms of mitigation offered, even when one takes account of the potential for people to move somewhat more widely than the geographic area analysed by the submitters.” (para 415 BoI)
How we made the case for timely delivery
In addition to asking for a connected cycleway, we also asked the BoI to ensure that the connection would be built sooner rather than later in the construction programme. It was both practical mitigation for the years of community severance and disruption and an investment to link them to neighbouring suburbs, schools, supermarket etc. Community representatives and experts from the caucus sessions added their voices to our request.
“The experts resolved that a completed cycleway would be beneficial in providing the missing link between SH20 and SH16, and providing access to a number of open spaces. They agreed that Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and NZTA would need to work together on this. They also agreed that there would be open space benefits if the cycleway could be constructed as early as possible through sectors 7 to 9, subject to considerations of user safety and construction sequencing.” (para 259 BoI )
The Board granted consent for the project – with pages of conditions. We were very pleased to see Condition SO-14, requiring $8m to be allocated by the NZTA to fund the north-south cycling connection. We celebrated this as the success it was. We were also pleased the Board recorded that the cycleway could be delivered in stages if necessary to speed up its delivery.
In practice, the time needed to obtain resource consents and deal with landowners such as Kiwi Rail meant that the cycleway was left to the end of the project. We also observed delays caused by differences in delegations and protocols for the procurement and delivery between AT and NZTA. Friday’s opening of the cycleway is months behind the completion of the tunnel, rather than being years ahead of it. But we’re still rejoicing it’s open at last.
A shared success for all to enjoy!
As plans for the ribbon cutting have evolved in recent months, I’ve been surprised to find Bike Auckland being treated as an outside party, rather than as a key stakeholder with a close and significant place in the birth of the cycleway. While Bike Auckland was acknowledged on the day by both the Local Board and NZTA, our influence – and particularly Max’s role from the genesis of the project and subsequent hours of attending the community liason group and in giving input to the cycleway design – were totally overlooked in AT’s speech on the podium.
We’re not grieving. Our huge workload means our eyes are lifted to the horizon. Our perspective and our motto is ‘Onward and upward’. What matters above all to Bike Auckland is that the cycleway exists – and that it is a thing of great beauty, already packed with people walking and biking, overwhelming the neighbourhood with joy. That is why we do what we do.
And I bet if you ride the path today, you’ll find it full of people, despite the rain. Kia kaha!