Puketapapa/ Mount Roskill is bisected by SH20, but it’s also blessed with connected ribbons of green: extensive parks where wide paths run alongside daylighted streams in the shade of willow trees. They’re a breath of fresh air for the urban cyclist. Rolling through Walmsley Park on Tuesday morning I found myself thinking, ‘Am I in Christchurch? Or Cambridge? Or somewhere on the outskirts of Amsterdam?’

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The pukeko gives it away; a trompe l’oeil bridge at the Sandringham Rd end of Walmsley Park.
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From Walmsley Park you can see Mt Roskill/ Puketapapa itself (not visible: the motorway between).

Now, thanks to the long-term vision of the Local Board and Auckland Transport, those wonderful greenways will be connected by shared paths along traffic-calmed streets to create the Mount Roskill Safe Routes, which run all the way from Mt Albert to Waikowhai Bay. (You can see some before photos here, thanks to Roskill Community Voice.)

RoskillSafeRoutesTuesday’s sod-turning ceremony at the May Rd end of the War Memorial Park marked the culmination of a long process of planning and consultation. In the bright sunlight, Ken Lee-Jones from Auckland Transport welcomed members of the community, representatives from some of the six schools along the route, local MP Phil Goff, and local board members.

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Ken Lee-Jones of Auckland Transport opens the proceedings. To his right, Fraser Wyllie of Downer.

‘We’re moving out of the parks and onto the roads,’ said Puketapapa Local Board chair Julie Fairey, noting that these routes ‘are not just for people like me, who are already riding around the city on bikes – but for all the other people who might.’

‘It has taken great political strength and fortitude to get to this point,’ said Julie, paying tribute to her predecessor Richard Barter (also a Bike Auckland committee member and founder of PATH Puketapapa Active Transport Haven) for nurturing the vision from its earliest inception. She thanked her fellow board members, Phil Goff, AT and Bike Auckland for support along the way, and acknowledged the Downer workers: ‘Come back in a year’s time and see all the people using the paths you built!’

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Julie Fairey (left) looks on as Kathryn King addresses the group.

Kathryn King, AT’s Cycling and Walking Manager agreed it was wonderful to get the project started. ‘This is going to be a huge asset to the community, and people are really excited about it,’ she said, adding that it will widen local access by connecting to the shared path along SH20, the Waterview path towards the NW cycleway, and the Dominion Rd safe routes into town.

Speaking on behalf of Downer, Fraser Wyllie (General Manager of Major Projects) said that with Beach Road and the Westhaven Promenade under their belt, his crew was delighted to be working on another cycleway project – not least because there are a lot of cyclists on the team, including himself.

He added that all four of his children bike to school (!) and, as he told me later, they compete at the top level in road racing, MTB, and track events (!!)… all of which may account for the fact there are 19 bikes in the Wyllie family garage (!!!), only two of which are his. Spectacular stuff, and so great to have people on the job who really get what cycling is all about.

Then it was time for the official sod-turning with the shiny shovels, followed by the traditional cuppa and a scone in the War Memorial Hall, a local treasure of its own.

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Kathryn King (AT), Fraser Wyllie (Downer), and Julie Fairey (Puketapapa Local Board), with mighty blingy shovels!
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Proud bike-friendly Local Board line-up: Michael Wood, David Holm, Julie Fairey, MP Phil Goff, Harry Doig – with Ken Lee-Jones (AT) and Prakash Subramaniam (Downer)

I asked project manager Prakash Ramasubramaniam of Downer about the work that had started on Memorial Ave as of Monday. He explained how the curbs were being extended to make cars slow down, and how the existing footpath was being replaced by a 3m wide shared path.

Although some on-street parking is being lost, the homeowners will gain a much wider green buffer between their houses and the shared path. ‘They could plant anything they want on it,’ said Prakash – which made me think of the famous feijoa-tree-lined side streets of nearby Sandringham. A neighbourly way to create sweet streets.

MemorialAveRoskillwideBiking home afterwards, I followed my nose through the beautiful parks, thinking about how great it will be to have raised crossings, calmed streets, and bike-signals at the roads that connect them.

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Along the way, I stopped in at the Wesley Market (Tuesdays and Fridays, 7-1), which consists of a lively fruit-and-veg scene on the north side of the stream and a bric-a-brac market on the south side next to the community centre.

The market is Mt Roskill in microcosm, which is to say, it really, really, REALLY feels like Auckland: big and small, loud and quiet, spectacularly multicultural and multilingual, bustling with old hands and new arrivals, intensely local and attractive to people from all over.

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Frankly, the quaxing potential is enormous. Get yer produce here!

WesleyMarkets2Of course, underlying the vibrancy of Mt Roskill – and why it’s a great place to empower walking and cycling – is the fact it’s where most of Auckland’s incoming refugees settle. This also makes it the perfect spot for Richard Barter’s forthcoming Bike Kitchen.

What’s a Bike Kitchen? Well, you know the long-running Bikes for Refugees programme – Richard is helping move it from the Mangere Resettlement Centre (which is undergoing a rebuild) into the heart of Roskill. The vision is to create a DIY community hub, a place to repair bikes and get them into the hands of people who need them.

The Bike Kitchen should be up and running in the next few weeks, so watch this space for more information. No such thing as too many cooks – if you’d like to learn how to create working vehicles out of bits and pieces of old ones, then Richard warmly welcomes you!

It’s a perfect synergy with local needs and skills, and with the newly bikeable streets and paths. Imagine having this stunning shared backyard as part of your new home in New Zealand… and a bike to explore it with. It’s beautiful when a vision comes together.

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