(Motorways) across the west – what legacy?

Old And New DesignSome days, it feels like all the west of Auckland is being dug up for new motorways. From St Lukes (about to begin) to Waterview (digging the tunnel now) to Pt Chev (giant fly-overs rising) to along the causeway (wide new swathes of traffic lanes being prepared) to Lincoln Road (a huge interchange project almost completed), so much money is being sunk into the ground here, to make it easier to drive.

As a civil engineer, I won’t lie – some of this stuff is quite exciting to me. But I wish I could see it with a bit less of a heavy heart. For a fraction (yes, just a small part of all this funding!) we could have a pretty sweet cycle network all across Auckland. Instead, we will push more cars into our city.

Is there a silver lining? Well, for the last 3 years, one of my personal projects for Cycle Action Auckland has been to fight for as much cycle provision in these projects as possible. If these extremely expensive works have to happen, then we can damn well demand quality for cyclists be part of the deal!

We – Cycle Action and likeminded others – had some big, big wins on the way, like ensuring a Waterview Cycleway to the tune of $8 million. And many smaller ones, brought about through persistent interaction and collaboration with the project teams of NZTA and the contractors (we have attended probably 60-70 meetings related to motorway projects in the Central / West in the last 2 years). Sometimes it is as little as ensuring a pinch point is improved. Sometimes, the result is full “grade separation” (bridging / tunneling) of a cycleway that was once proposed to suffer major delays every day for the sake of better car convenience.

The item now taking shape will be the second big win of our involvement in the Board of Inquiry process back in 2011. Our chair, Barbara Cuthbert, convinced the judge at the time that, beyond being just submitters, we should be given positions on the expert comittees as expert witnesses (Barbara in the planning / open space area, myself in the traffic engineering area). I must say, I had to be pushed into the role! A young traffic engineer, barely more than 5 years of experience, and here I was to argue – “in camera” with a whole group of specialists, and on my own time and dime of course – against paid experts with decades of experience? It was scary.

Well, I think I must have done reasonably well, because the Board agreed to the majority of CAA’s requests – including a certain impassioned (but also very factual) argument of mine that it was simply not appropriate for NZTA to take an existing cycleway – the Northwestern across the Te Atatu Interchange – and brake it down HARD, by introducing a 4-5-stage signal crossing. Why, we argued, should a cycleway suddenly suffer such a major inconvenience?

So the Board condition included a statement saying that grade separation (bridge / tunnel) had to be provided if it was feasible.

To be honest, at that time I was sceptical whether that condition of consent was going to be worth anything. But NZTA started showing their better side. Going from a certain manager of theirs telling me during the Board of Inquiry process that it just wasn’t feasible, they looked at the problem with fresh eyes, threw up a couple of options, and said “yep, we can do this”.

And now, they are finally ready to show all of us how they are doing it. And a few years from now, cyclists riding the Northwestern across Te Atatu Interchange – instead of having time to read half a book while waiting for the signals to change – will be zipping through a generous, modern-design underpass. It will be 5m wide, 2.5m high, long and straight and actually less steep than the ride is now (because it pierces the crest of the hill the Te Atatu Interchange sits on).

Overall, not the worst silver lining. Now back to work, there’s an upcoming meeting where we need to talk to NZTA / the contractor about the north-south cycleway across there…

[In other good news, they have also confirmed that a north-south Greenway under the Whau River Bridge some hundreds of meters east of here is also feasible – though so far, nobody wants to pay for it yet. Another project…]

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