‘What’s up with SkyPath?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions we hear. And we occasionally hear from people who somehow haven’t yet heard of Bevan Woodward’s visionary SkyPath project, but are just curious or flummoxed about why there’s currently no way to walk or bike across the harbour, which puts Auckland in a very firm minority of world cities.
So where is our bikeable, walkable crossing?
The story so far… Remember how jubilant we were this time last year, when resource consent was granted back in July 2015. Good to go? A SkyPath under way by Christmas? Well, potentially – but the legal process allows for appeals, and appellants must be allowed their day in court. (Curious about who’s appealing and why? This great article in Metro gives an overview).
That appeal process began in December and continues to this day. It’s also sub judice, which means the proceedings aren’t made public until a decision is filed.
So, patience is required for a little while longer. Some action highlights in the year since the resource consent was granted, though:
• The mediation process served its purpose in clarifying the appellants’ ongoing concerns; unfortunately, they were not fully settled by the end of March deadline. The Environment Court has now set down a timetable for the provision of evidence, and the SkyPath Trust’s expert evidence is due in early September.
• In the meantime, wind tunnel testing was successfully completed.
• On 6 July 2016, the Herne Bay Residents’ Association gave notice it was abandoning its appeal, which means there is now no opposition from the southern side of the bridge.
• That leaves the Northcote Residents’ Association as the major appellant, along with the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society.
• Along the way, some Northcote residents spoke up about how (un)representative the NRA is.
• The NRA continued to predict dire outcomes if people were to be allowed to walk and bike over the bridge (Stuff; NZHerald), and launched a Givealittle page to raise money for its appeal. One wag made a donation and a point at the same time.
[May we suggest: if you’re also tempted to make a satirical donation to the NRA, perhaps – as well or instead – consider a sincere one to the Givealittle for Red Lunday de Waal’s walk the length of New Zealand to support Teau Aiturau’s work in Mangere?]
• Paul Little of the Herald had some thoughts about the situation, including this one: ‘The opposition to Skypath demonstrates all the lack of vision, spirit and creativity that has bedevilled Auckland’s development since we lost John Logan Campbell.’
• Happily, as well as expressing support for SkyPath, Aucklanders got behind a related project in massive numbers: SeaPath (the proposed walking-cycling connection between Northcote Point and Esmonde Rd). NZTA is progressing with the design, which will be a crucial connection for the North Shore towards the city.
• And on Thursday 21 July, Auckland Council’s Finance and Performance Committee will consider the business case for SkyPath as a PPP (private public partnership). Barb Cuthbert has 5 minutes speaking time at that meeting, along with representatives from Generation Zero and from the Waitemata and Kaipatiki Local Boards (i.e. both ends of the bridge) who will also speak in support of SkyPath. Kevin Clarke from the NRA will speak first. The meeting starts at 9.30 in the Reception Lounge in the Auckland Town Hall, and is open to the public. You can read the agenda, which includes the Business Report and other detailed background, here.
In the meantime, a major anniversary approaches. 26 July 2016 will mark exactly 70 years since the 1946 Royal Commission first recommended a harbour crossing for Auckland… complete with pedestrian and bike access.
As we know, when the bridge finally opened in 1959 (one hundred years after the first plans were sketched!), the footpaths were left off for budgetary reasons.
And even when the clip-ons were added barely a decade after the bridge opened, they were for motor vehicles only. No wonder Aucklanders have been petitioning for decades to have this connection made right, in constant hope it’ll finally happen in our lifetimes.
Is there an alternative to SkyPath? Well, NZTA has said Auckland could wait till the construction of the Alternative Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Transportblog has been following this story; the plan appears to favour tunnels for cars only (although a recent survey by Generation Zero showed much stronger support for road-and-rail).
The idea is, once that crossing is built, we can wait and see how the traffic patterns play out, and then perhaps dedicate a lane of the by-then-seriously-vintage Harbour Bridge to pedestrians and people on bikes.
(Something like that actually happened in 1974, for one brief shining moment. Meet Mr E.T. (Trevor) Lanigan, our new mascot. What a legend.)
But even that scenario would add 20-30 years to the timeline. In other words, if SkyPath didn’t go ahead for whatever reason, it could yet take a full century for the government to make good on its plan for a fully accessible walking and cycling connection across Auckland’s harbour!
So you can see why our hopes are invested in SkyPath. Otherwise, when 2046 rolls around, New Zealand could find itself celebrating the centenary of an unfulfilled promise. And that would be a terrible shame.
(How can you help? Tell anyone who doesn’t already know that a crossing is finally well within reach – and, all going well, we’ll get across in our lifetimes!)