After the sudden closure of the Old Mangere Bridge due to advanced deterioration, now the only way to walk and bike across the harbour – until a new walking-biking bridge is completed around 2021 – is via the underpass on SH20 under the New Mangere Bridge.
Yes, you read that right: while we’re eagerly awaiting Skypath across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, our other harbour has had two crossings for many years. But while the old bridge was popular and widely used, the underpass always felt like its poor cousin – dingy, whiffy, covered in graffiti and not very welcoming.
That’s why we’re delighted to report that the NZ Transport Agency has done a fabulous job of bringing the underpass up to scratch in a hurry, given it will be the sole walk-bike link for the area, for all sorts of users.
In extremely welcome improvements, NZTA has added new paint, lighting, CCTV, a higher handrail, smoother paths on the approach, better signage, and 24/7 security guards. Still to come: more trimming of vegetation, even more wayfinding, and discussions about artwork.
So how does it feel to ride the underpass? Below, regular rider Lisa Clist reports in with a review. (All photos by Lisa unless noted otherwise).
I live in Onehunga, so this access way is right in my neighbourhood. The Old M?ngere Bridge was great for getting to Mangere Bridge township from Onehunga: 700 metres long, flat and scenic, a wide open and visible space, with people fishing off the bridge at all times of the day.
I used the old bridge mostly for running, but also biked across a few times to explore Kiwi Esplanade and Ambury Park – both amazing gems on the southern side of the bridge. From a personal security point of view, it felt very safe, and the pathways to and from it are very easy to find. But now this seaside connection has been closed because the old bridge is no longer structurally safe.
So the only remaining option for people like me – whether walking, running or cycling – is the underpass on the western underside of the New Mangere Bridge (SH20).
Before the announcement of the old bridge closure, I’d never used this underpass. Word on the street was that it was run-down, covered in graffiti, dirty and unsafe.
Some pics of the past pic.twitter.com/EQ6h7YjhPK
— Jean Hughes (@yarningwomen) May 6, 2018
But the NZ Transport Agency had promised (under urgency) to tidy it up and make it an inviting, pleasant and safe way for people to walk and ride across the bridge.
So far, in my evaluation the people at NZTA have been as good as their word. They’ve painted away all the graffiti and brightened it up, and the markings on the pathways are clear.
— shaun (@slow_tri_guy) November 25, 2018
And, for the full experience, here’s a daytime ride-through by Alec Tang:
…also chance to check out the refurb’d cycleway under the New #MangereBridge…
looks sparkly clean and freshly painted ? [with new lights @Samhood8]
…let’s hope it lasts ?@BikeAKL @Onehunga1 @RoyalOakNZ #aklbikelife pic.twitter.com/uPhAw2gvZ6
— Alec Tang ??? (@AlecTang_) November 16, 2018
What about at night?
— Lisa Cee ? (@LisaCNZ) November 22, 2018
As you can see, NZTA have seriously upgraded the lighting. There are lights the whole way along the path, both in the underpass itself and lampposts on the pathways leading away from the bridge on either side. It’s certainly brighter than the Northwestern Cycleway!
Does it take longer?
In some ways the underpass is less convenient. It feels longer because there are sharp corners at both ends so bike riders have to slow down, but it’s the same 700m as the old bridge.
After using the underpass, the path on the M?ngere side may add another 500m or so to your journey (depending on which direction you are headed), but thankfully it’s a lovely curve through the park. The slope down from the bridge is gentle and I barely noticed it on the way back up.
The access points
There are bright orange signs pointing you in the direction of Onehunga or Mangere. Hopefully the bright orange is a reference to the temporary solution and that construction of the new pedestrian-cycling-fishing bridge starts ASAP (construction is meant to start in 2019 and is expected to take two and a half years to build).
At the Onehunga end it’s particularly narrow. This deliberately slows down cyclists so that it’s safe for everyone going through the 4-way intersection there, including a tight corner to head under SH20 past some awesome murals. I’m actually okay with slowing down here. There are four different directions to look so it makes a lot of sense to force a give way.
An enclosed, 700m long walkway – how does it feel?
The enclosed roof is fantastic for rain protection! From far away it looks uninviting, but once you get closer it looks great – fresh paint, bright lights. The ceiling feels low when you first enter, but you quickly forget about it. In saying that, I really hope the Skypath over the Harbour Bridge has a far higher clearance!
24/7 security guards!
I thought I’d read this wrong, and wondered about the cost, but actually it really makes a difference for feeling okay, at least until people get used to travelling across.
My biggest concern is whether this great feeling will last. The fresh paint and security guards are fantastic for now, but what about the long term? There are some exciting ideas for making it an iconic place for everyone to love – after all, it features in music videos like SWIDT’s ‘No More Parties in Stoneyhunga’ and Lake South’s ‘Renters’ (see bottom of this post), and apparently also has a brief cameo in the original Goodbye Pork Pie.
Putting more than white paint on the walls
A fresh white canvas is so tempting for all kinds of artists! Around the corner in the tunnel at the Onehunga end, there’s some fantastic ‘grammable mural artwork. It would be great to continue this along the bridge, using local artists and referencing the local heritage.
New signs have been put up in key places, in bright unmissable fluoro orange. They’re either pointing towards Onehunga or Mangere (although strangely none actually mention the bridge/underpass itself).
Who’s using the underpass so far?
From my experience – four visits in the past fortnight – the crossing is hugely popular with a lot of people. Men walking, women jogging, Dads and daughters and schoolkids mostly walking, cycle commuters… Here are some pics from a short 5-minute visit at 5.30pm on a sunny Monday evening:
On the Monday and Tuesday of the first week, NZTA has a coffee cart greeting people with free hot drinks, which was a nice touch.
Ultimately this route is great, and is going to continue to be popular. It’s a major connectivity route. However, it’s going to require plenty of care to ensure it continues to be the safe accessway that it is now. My personal preference would be to use the old bridge, which is more open and down by the water. Seeing as that’s not an option, I’m happy to keep using our ‘southern Skypath’ for now – although I can’t wait for the construction of the new old Mangere bridge to get underway!