Submission on Northern Pathway 17 April 2020

Submission to New Zealand Transport Agency
on
Northern Pathway

Background

1. The Saint Mary’s Bay Association Inc. (SMBA) is an incorporated society. As the name implies, its 100 plus members are residents of the St Mary’s Bay area (bounded by Beaumont Street, College Hill, Jervois Road, the eastern side of Curran Street, and the harbour bridge approach/Westhaven marina).

2. SMBA, in principle, supports the concept of a pedestrian/cyclist connection between the Auckland Isthmus and Northcote Point. However, we have long had concerns about the effect of this connection on the existing, over-loaded bridge, and on the residential neighbourhoods that will be the starting point for many of the cross-harbour pedestrians/cyclists.

3. SMBA shared and supported the concerns along these lines expressed by Westhaven Marina Users Association Inc. in a submission to a resource consent hearing for the construction of SkyPath (2015), and by Herne Bay Residents Association Inc. and Northcote Residents’ Association Inc. in an appeal against the grant of that resource consent (2016). We understood that NZTA shared some of our concerns about SkyPath. The present proposal for a Northern Pathway appears to be its response to those concerns, at least in part.

4. SMBA did not oppose Skypath per se, but was concerned that the planning for it properly takes local effects into account. In particular it was concerned about the effect on traffic and parking in local neighbourhoods – St Mary’s Bay, Herne Bay and Westhaven. The SMBA recognises that there are very similar issues for the Northcote area. This remains its position in relation to Northern Pathway.

5. At the same time, and acknowledging that the present government has made a commitment to a pathway linked to the harbour bridge, SMBA remains of the view that money spent on the Westhaven to Akoranga section would be better spent on a 2nd central Auckland crossing, plus a cycling/pedestrian pathway using existing harbour bridge infrastructure, i.e. reduction of traffic on the bridge would free up a lane for cyclists and pedestrians.

NZTA’s proposal

Traffic/parking issues

6. SMBA notes that the Northern Pathway proposal has already had a gestation period of many months. In that context it is disappointing that the public information remains at such a high level of generality. Our experience (gained in addressing many projects in the area over many years) is that ‘the devil is in the detail’ and in that respect the information on which the public is being asked to have its say is sadly lacking.

7. On the key concern of traffic and parking effects, the recently distributed brochure merely gives what are no more than aspirational statements:
“We have heard residents are concerned about parking in the area, so we are discussing parking schemes with Auckland Transport and working to ensure people understand their public transport options to and from this location.”

8. A general public understanding of public transport options to and from the entry points to the pathway will not change the high likelihood that the wider public will drive to the start points and then look for parking nearby. Those nearby areas include St Mary’s Bay, Herne Bay and Westhaven:

(i) SMBA fought long and hard to get a residential parking scheme in place to manage commuter parking. It is almost certain that the 2 hour parking restriction Monday to Friday will be put under severe pressure by Northern Pathway traffic, as users seek to find a park within walking distance of the start of the pathway. The impact will be even greater at weekends when the current restrictions do not apply.

(ii) Herne Bay residents will experience the same problem, without the present benefit of a residential parking scheme. As its streets reach capacity, there will be spill back into the streets of St Mary’s Bay.

(iii) Parking around Westhaven marina is already at a premium. Although this is likely to be addressed more extensively by boat clubs and other marina users, SMBA understands that recent developments in the marina have reduced carparking for boat owners so that there is no spare capacity in the parking dedicated to them. Additionally, the relatively small amount of public parking currently available is barely sufficient to meet present needs, without adding the potential influx from the Northern Pathway.

9. And even if there is a significant take up of public transport by intended pathway users, including tourists, there is an absence of information about drop-off and pick-up points for that public transport and how this will be managed without adversely impacting on marina users and pedestrians and cyclists using the waterfront walkways, as well as local residents.

10. Depending on the timing of construction of the Westhaven on/off ramp, there will be need for construction traffic management to accommodate Auckland Council’s St Mary’s Bay/Masefield Beach water improvement project (now underway in Pt Erin Park and lower Curran Street and due for completion in 2021). That is a major and critical infrastructure project. SMBA seeks a commitment from NZTA that the SMB/MB project will have priority in traffic management considerations.

11. What SMBA, other affected groups, and local residents need is a clear plan now for traffic management (using ‘traffic’ in its broadest sense). This should include an analysis of anticipated use (including assumptions made as to the numbers of the various groups of users expected to move onto and off the access ramp), anticipated access routes for these users and impact on existing users of those routes, and an explanation as to how parking for local residents, marina users, and existing walkway users will be protected. If the latter requires input from Auckland Transport then now is the time to get it.

Health and safety issues

12. SMBA is also concerned that the proposal is silent on a number of health and safety matters. We see it as critical that these matters are factored into the design, and that key stakeholders are given opportunity to speak to NZTA about them, before the design is set in stone:

  • What is the proposed gradient of the pathway; what studies are relied upon/what assumptions are made as to whether it is realistic for both pedestrians and cyclists?
  • What is proposed for management of cyclists – for speed, and for sharing the pathway with pedestrians? The proposed 5 metre width of the pathway means that old and young pedestrians, as well as dogs and scooters, will compete with fast moving cyclists in both directions. Anecdotal information given to SMBA is that cyclists assume a priority in relation to speed and space, creating a significant safety hazard. The steep gradient is likely to encourage downhill speeding.
  • What wind strengths are anticipated and how will potential adverse effects from high winds/wind gusts (particularly on cyclists) be managed, given that it will be an open pathway? This is an important consideration for safety of the pedestrians whom cyclists will be passing.
  • What security measures are planned to prevent falls/jumps? The measures used for Grafton Bridge come to mind – but the pathway is far longer and presumably far harder to protect/police.
  • What toilet and other facilities will be made available to users of the pathway and where will these be sited?

The existing Westhaven shared pathway already has substantial patronage. The proposal is silent as to whether and how it will cope with an influx of cyclists off the bridge.

13. Your brochure mentions interest in the curve and slope of the ramp into Westhaven Marina. It talks of slowing measures but neither the text nor the diagram give any detail, preventing any informed comment.

14. SMBA seeks details on these matters and an opportunity to discuss/present our views before the design is finalised.

Financial considerations/exploring alternatives

15. SMBA understands that the government has taken a policy decision to build the Northern Pathway. That is not (or should not be) licence to proceed regardless of cost, where other, cheaper options are or could be available.

16. The cost of a pathway – initially SkyPath and now Northern Pathway – has escalated dramatically since SkyPath was first mooted. SkyPath, which initially seemed a good idea (following similar projects in cities overseas), foundered on the rocks of reality, but not before its cost had run well beyond initial projections – as the cost of meeting technical requirements rose. Northern Pathway has taken the cost escalation even further as the section of pathway over the bridge has become free-standing.

17. The Northern Pathway lacks a disclosed cost/benefit assessment – particularly for the Westhaven to Akoranga section. That assessment needs to take into account the economic impact of Covid19.

18. A second central city harbour crossing has been under investigation over an even longer period than a public walkway/cycleway. One of the critical considerations driving it has been concern about traffic loading on the harbour bridge – a factor in the demise of SkyPath. The bridge also carries a number of service facilities to the North Shore and failure of the bridge would severely threaten supply.

19. The Northern Pathway proposal appears to have been developed in isolation from and without consideration of potential options/cost savings offered by the 2nd central Auckland crossing.

20. Without attempting to break out the cost of the Westhaven to Akoranga section of the Northern Pathway, it is estimated to cost a substantial proportion of the total cost of $340m. What consideration has been given to the potential benefits of putting that cost into the 2nd central Auckland harbour crossing, and creating a pathway on part of the existing bridge (e.g. securely fencing off the existing lane on the east side of the bridge), freed up by traffic diverting to the second crossing? This would not undermine the government’s policy but would be a helpful stimulus for the vital 2nd crossing.

21. SMBA submits that NZTA should make this information available to the public before it proceeds with Northern Pathway in its present form.

David Abbott
Chair
The St Mary’s Bay Association Inc.

17 April 2020