The since approved removal of 6 Pohutakawa trees at the St Lukes Interchange (by Auckland Transport, for an extra turn lane) was in the news a lot recently. CAA did not submit on the notification of the proposal, because at the time we were too busy with other projects, and thought that this was solely about trees alone and thus a bit out of our core subject area.
However, now that Auckland Transport is claiming that providing a cycleway is one of the main reasons / benefits of the tree removal, we feel we need to state our position on this:
- We do not support the trade-off – the trees are worth more than the (minimal) cycle improvements. In reality, the “cycleway” proposed here is just some 110m of shared path extension, on one corner of the intersection. Even ignoring that shared paths aren’t ideal for an urban area, there are currently no cycleways east of this short extra stub – i.e. people have to ride through the massive intersection / motorway interchange (opposite the speedway), and past wide petrol station driveways to even get to it in the first place. Only confident road cyclists – who tend to ignore shared paths anyway- are likely to do so. The path thus provides little benefit to increasing cycling or making it safer. Auckland Transport are also not providing cycleways on the northern side of the intersection, despite rebuilding the whole layout. In short, these six great trees are not going in support of cycling.
- We believe other options are feasible. While we have not been involved closely enough in the project to speak confidently about the alternatives already discussed, we consider that where there is a will, there is usually a way. One option mentioned recently is putting a walk/cycleway behind the trees, on the southern side. AT responds that existing car parking there prevents this. This does not seem to us a sensible argument on a main arterial, and we do not believe the parking loss would be that massive anyway.
- This “trees or else” choice offered to Auckland is a consequence of more car capacity. The various CAA blogs about motorway cycleways – and the good cooperation we had with NZTA over the last years – should not hide the fact that we never supported the new motorway capacity in the first place. These motorways – directed by government – are sold to Auckland as taking traffic off local roads, and keeping us all moving. In reality, their flow-on effects mean larger motorway interchanges, leading to more local road traffic etc…. Then you add in trying to keep buses and cyclists and pedestrians running, and something has to give. In this case, Auckland Transport decided it had to be the trees. We do not agree – especially not for a turning lane which we understand will mainly be added to cater for car traffic 5-10 years in the future. Why make it easier to drive now by adding this capacity up-front? Induced demand is Auckland’s story – lets encourage public transport, walking & cycling first.
[Regarding the further process: After the removal of the trees has now been approved by comissioners, AT has stated that they intend to proceed. However, there will be an appeals stage, where (only) the original submitters can decide to go to the Environment Court. We understand that some are planning to do so]