On Saturday, the government announced that it had scrapped the pedestrian and cycle bridge crossing the port, which was first reported in August.
The government has listened to New Zealanders’ comments and has decided not to continue with the stand-alone bridge component of the Northern Pathway project and to reallocate funding to other transportation projects that reduce emissions and congestion, including the track bus routes from the east, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced today.
“The government has both listened and acted, which means the Sentier du Nord stand-alone bridge will not move forward,” said Michael Wood.
âThe government is committed to providing better access to walking and cycling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through our investments in transportation, but this particular project will not be part of that mix. He did not get the necessary public support for a project of this magnitude and we recognize that.
âWork will continue on an additional port crossing directed by public transport. We allocated $ 60 million to the Auckland Transportation Alignment Project (ATAP) earlier this year for work planning and property acquisition.
It’s incredibly disappointing and is exactly what many defenders feared would happen when the last proposal was announced in June, given the history of bigger and better passages announced to be scrapped later.
Perhaps more concerning than the decision itself is that it highlights that the government does not have the courage of its convictions. They talk big game about the need to give people better options and tackle climate change, but then they get scared and back off at the first sign of opposition to that. Especially when most of this opposition seems to be in the form of unscientific click-trap polls and media opinion pieces.
This is incredibly worrying given that they are due to release their emissions reduction plan this month, which, if it is to do something serious to meet the targets set by the Climate Change Commission, will force them to commit to dramatically changing the way people travel. The Department of Transportation document on how we can achieve this suggests that we will need a 40% reduction in kilometers traveled by light vehicles by 2035 and a 55% reduction by 2050 – in other words, we will need action to reduce more than half of our existing traffic. down the road and it is likely that many of the interventions needed will not be cheap or popular.
Thinking a bit more about why opposition to this project has arisen, I think there are a few issues involved.
- When the announcement was made in June, it was a total surprise to everyone, including cycling advocates. Typically, in large projects like this, there have been discussions with advocates and / or the public about issues that have arisen or ideas being explored, allowing concerns to be expressed. This did not happen with the last proposal. The bike the bridge protest a week earlier was motivated by the fact that Waka Kotahi had suddenly gone silent and refused to engage with our friends at Bike Auckland.
- I think there are broader issues with Waka Kotahi which I will discuss below.
- I also think it highlights the complete lack of strategic communication on why projects like this are needed. A single press release announcing it and maybe a few media interviews is not enough. There has to be a systematic program from leaders in government and city councils to talk about issues like the one we need to get people out of their cars. One area showing some leadership in this space has been the Auckland Light Rail project’s communications.
Also, while defenders can help in this regard, it is completely unfair to blame (unpaid) defenders for not doing this job, as Councilor Chris Darby did.
Minister @michaelwoodnz is our ally for SkyPath not our problem. The divergent views of supporters of the cycle sparked opposition to his announcement. The Otaki – Levin highway with its negative BCR slipped through without any questioning. Labor MPs in their Utes don’t get towns.
– Chris DARBY (@DarbyatCouncil) October 1, 2021
The role of Waka Kotahi
In addition to the issues described above, I think much of the responsibility for the failure of this project lies directly with Waka Kotahi. In fact, in many ways, it appears to be the exact outcome that many in the organization were hoping for. As we learned from a ministerial briefing on the project that was released in July, a better option in all of their assessments was to build a combined public transport and active mode bridge.
They said the bridge itself will only cost 10% more than the $ 685 million the bridge is expected to cost in active mode only. It would also have required up to $ 1 billion more on public transport approaches, but it is likely that it could have happened at a later date. Although we also need to modernize the busway and possibly convert it to a light rail, this is not a bad result.
Waka Kotahi’s excuse for not going with the combined bridge option was essentially that they had been told to deliver a crossing on foot and by bike and so anything that wasn’t exactly that was ignored. I suspect that a more realistic reason for not including it was that it would have been too successful and jeopardized what they really want, a $ 15 billion road tunnel that they believe will worsen the congestion.
Where from here
I firmly believe that the best long term option is still a public transport and active mode bridge, preferably on a more direct alignment like towards Wynyard. This would help provide viable alternatives to driving and would be a much more acceptable solution to the public. Combined with other measures such as road pricing, this would also help reduce vehicle trips while providing the option of replacing clips or an additional level crossing if it can be justified.
A bridge is also preferable to a tunnel because it is less expensive to build, maintain and operate, and this means that both PT and active modes can benefit from an optimal design rather than having to be inserted into the existing bridge. which was designed with only cars and trucks in bother. Had the government announced a bridge like this over the weekend, it also wouldn’t have seemed to have bowed to criticism so easily.
The disadvantage of such a solution is its cost and its longer delivery time. In June, they said the active-only bridge would be completed around 2027. We can probably expect a combined bridge to take a little longer as it will require redesign and agreed work. So what happens in the meantime?
It should be noted that the government has also ruled out the permanent reallocation of one lane, with Minister Wood saying:
âI know there will be calls from some to permanently allocate a lane on the existing bridge for walking and cycling, but we will not pursue this option. Decisions regarding access to the state road network formally rest with the Waka Kotahi board of directors and I have now formally written to them to express my support for a temporary trial that could take place during the quiet months of the vacation of summer, provided that safety considerations are observed.
Reassigning a clip-on on weekends, with the bridge in a three-way setup, would at least be a way to start supporting more options. But I would have thought by now that the government would have learned that asking nicely means the road engineers in charge at Waka Kotahi will simply ignore them.
What about the money?
If there is a positive point in the decision, it is that other good projects are now funded with the money.
First of all, Seapath that goes from the bridge to Akoranga will continue, although they say with some overhaul at the end of the harbor bridge
The money will also be used to move the rest of the Eastern Busway forward, with the government increasing its share of the project – something ATAP has acknowledged it should do. Although that doesn’t really move it forward as the project was only recently pushed back by Auckland Transport due to a lack of funding. All in all, it is essential that the Eastern Busway is delivered as soon as possible, so this is a positive point.
Another good addition was the inclusion of a new bike path to bridge the 1.9 km gap between the new path from Glen Innes to Tamaki and the path under construction along the Eastern Busway.
âAnother project that we want to highlight to give the people of East Auckland more choice is a 1.9 km link between Glen Innes and Panmure to link the new Eastern Busway cycle path to the Glen Innes cycle path in Tamaki . Further work will take place in the coming months to identify other key links in Auckland’s strategic cycling network that can be delivered.
It will be interesting to see what other strategic links could be provided. The most immediate that comes to mind might be the Northern Pathway section between Akoranga and Constellation Drive. If not, how about a program to build safe cycling facilities around schools?
Finally, the government said it would use some of the money for a “range of high quality regional transport projectsThe only example they give is a project in Ashburton.
âWe also plan to invest $ 2 million in the Ashburton rail hub to unlock a $ 14 million upgrade to freight operations in the region. This partnership with local freight company Wareing Group, KiwiRail and Ashburton District Council will triple rail freight capacity, helping to get more trucks off the road, reducing emissions and supporting the regional economy.
It looks like more projects will be announced in the coming months and it would be even more disappointing whether it was a bundle of national roads or local roads projects.
Will the Light Rail meet the same fate?
One thing that worries me is that the Light Rail Transit (LRT) takes the same path and could end up suffering the same fate as the North Trail. Like the Sentier du Nord, work on ALR has been extremely secretive and there has been no real public debate on issues such as costs, routes and modes as well as other trade-offs. . A recommendation on all these elements has already been sent to the government. I am concerned that they have been presented with an option that is extremely costly and which, once made public, will be the subject of significant criticism and eventually be abandoned.
The fact that they abandoned the North Trail so easily gives no hope that they would resist any criticism of the streetcar and now opposition parties, local groups opposed to change, and the clickbait-focused media. have a plan to stop it.