It’s the best way I can think of to end a wonderful year. A morning breaking into warm sunlight, a big gang of local kids on bikes, a diverse cluster of people from across Auckland, and politicians in their finery keen to declare another project completed – always one of the happiest moments of the job.
The stage was set perfectly for the ribbon-cutting for Stage 1 of the Glen Innes to Tamaki cycleway – to be known as Te Ara ki Uta ki Tai, a perfect name gifted by mana whenua for the path that flows from inland to the sea.
The route of the cycleway is best viewed from the trains on the eastern line to Manukau. In just over a year, a steep paddock that was once only home to horses has been transformed to accommodate a wide sweep of path, snaking its way between Merton Rd and St John’s Rd.
On Friday morning, an impressive mixture of people gathered beside the Sunhill Garden Centre on St John’s Rd to await the arrival of Mayor Phil Goff and Transport Minister Simon Bridges, before making our way all together down the new path.
I was delighted to see the small people in blue school uniforms from Stonefields Primary’s cycling and walking school buses. At first the kids looked a wee bit subdued in the presence of all the people in suits and workers in high-vis gear – but they perked up once a few more big people with bikes boosted the numbers, including a tiny very new baby, and Maurice from the Electric Bicycle Hub with his super-cute toddler son, big eyes peeking out from under his bike helmet to take in all the action.
Shortly after we entered onto the cycleway from St Johns Rd, I just had to stop and drink in the wide panoramic views, sweeping around from the east (‘Is that the bottom end of Waiheke beyond that line of blue,’ I asked myself?) around to Mt Wellington and further landmarks to the south.
It really is astonishing to glimpse the city from fresh angles like this – just one of the unexpected benefits of threading cycling and walking infrastructure through green corridors and alongside transport routes.
Soon the official speaking line-up was underway. Orakei Councillor Desley Simpson was a delightful MC, first introducing kaumatua to bless the cycleway, followed by Minister Bridges, Mayor Phil Goff, and ending with me.
The speeches celebrated the quality of the cycleway and its strategic location – the way it opens up the valleys to the north and south of St John’s Rd, and looking forward to the water crossings to come over the Orakei and Hobson Bay basins. What’s also clever about the design is that the bigger hills have a series of plateaus built in, to make life easier for those going up and down in wheelchairs; they were also a godsend to the kaumatua and less certain of foot on the day itself. It’s lovely to have moments to pause and reflect and take in the view.
We heard that the day’s proceedings had begun earlier in the morning with a blessing at the Merton Rd frontage and cycleway entry, where three impressive pou stand around 5m high to protect the path. They are absolutely stunning, giving the cycleway a strong sense of place. An attractive timber bench seat with the name of the cycleway is nearby, inviting passersby to sit and enjoy the detail of the pou.
— ???Pippa C??? (@kiwipippa) December 8, 2016
Simon Bridges parked his prepared speech, as he always does at bike launches (I love it!) and spoke off the cuff, warmly and generously, expressing his boundless enthusiasm for the way the Government’s Urban Cycleway Programme is helping to change the face of our cities.
Then Mayor Phil Goff spoke with empathy of the frustration of Auckland commuters stuck in traffic queues, and praised the widespread benefits of allowing more residents – including school children – to cycle safely and conveniently across Auckland.
When it was my turn to speak, I painted a picture of how this new path will sit in an international context. My biking colleagues in Sydney and Brisbane tell me that cycling conditions in Auckland – and our mountain biking and touring trails – are attracting a lot of attention in Queensland and New South Wales. Cheap airfares, widespread publicity about Auckland’s new urban focus, and the variety and drama of our landscapes plus the accessibility of our cycle routes – these all combine to lure people from the eastern seaboard of Australia.
I predicted that the full 7.5km Glen Innes to Tamaki route, when completed in 2018, will offer an urban journey unequalled in Australasia: a remarkable mix of high quality off-road riding along smooth surfaces and on superb bridges, passing native forest, waterways, heritage areas with deep Maori resonance and strong links to early Pakeha settlers; and all the way along, the wide and continuously refreshed panoramas of the city and the sea. Plus, the option of completing the loop by jumping on a train.
Before leaving the podium, I invited Simon Bridges back up to join me. He was surprised, but rose to the occasion, allowing me to present him with a pink lei as a memento of last week’s first birthday party for the Lightpath. I told him that we’d held a wee party to mark the event (while he was taking care of Kaikoura), and that the wonderful crowd who came to celebrate gave loud and enthusiastic applause when we recalled his support for the project, and the crucial funding from the Urban Cycle Fund.
Just as I said the words ‘And the Pink Path People’s Champion Award goes to Simon Bridges’, a passing train hooted – and so did the crowd, with laughter. (Yes, the honk was officially aimed at the level crossing, but we took the perfect timing as just one of many signs and wonders!)
Truly, I never get tired of attending these openings. The symbolism of each celebration is always so strong – and is always brought home by the unbeatable joy of riding a brand new path for the first time.
And so the morning culminated with a glorious ride and walk down the new cycleway, with the Minister, the Mayor, myself and Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor in the lead, pursued by other wonderful partners in this great enterprise of a more bikeable city, like Waitemata Local Board chair Pippa Coom and Transportblog’s Patrick Reynolds, and everyone who’d made time in their day to come and share the moment.
And above all, urging us onward at speed, a great tide of the kids from Stonefields Primary, on foot and on scooters and on bikes, unheeding of their teacher’s call to rein it in a bit – coming from behind and then overtaking us in their eagerness to ride the whole way.
What better symbolism to cap off this magical day, than a flood of young Aucklanders joyfully galloping and pedaling into an active and exciting future, as far and as fast as they can?