This is a guest post by Jessica Rose. Jessica is a local council member in Whau, an advocate for sustainable transport and co-chair of Frocks on Bikes Auckland.
The shared track from New Lynn to Avondale (NL2A) has been planned and now delivered for the better part of a decade – and will be completed in the coming months. NL2A begins where Waterview Road ends at Blockhouse Bay Road and, except for a detour through Chalmers Reserve, runs along the rail corridor until it ends at New Lynn Station.
Dempsey-Wood, the contractor providing the path, sends out a newsletter every month or two to anyone who has figured out how to join the mailing list. Auckland Transport themselves haven’t shared much information since their last newsletter in mid-2020. But a lot of progress has been made. While there’s a lot to celebrate, there are a few things that stand out.
Just last week, the local council got its first-ever official look at the project it has been funding for some years.
Level crossings: the good and the bad.
The first thing to note is that throughout the ride, road crossings howl with inconsistency. There are 8 level crossings along the trail. Each crossover is a different design.
There are some great best practice ideas at St Georges Road and Portage Road. The St Georges Road crossing (my favourite) has a raised table crossing lollipops with traditional pedestrian lanes and a green lane for people on bikes. The Portage Road crossing is a fully controlled crossing, following a successful example in a similar situation at Penrose.
But on the other hand, there is a visually indistinguishable raised table on Chalmers Street. This level crossing exits the children’s playground into a low visibility road corridor that people in vehicles descend at breakneck speed. After the Chalmers Street crossing comes another crossing which has no new safety infrastructure, at St Jude St at the entrance to Avondale station. An old pedestrian refuge is retained and curbs have been installed, but there is not even a painted clear lane so that vehicles queuing at the crossing can make room for cyclists. A similar design occurs in New Lynn on Veronica Street.
So how were these results chosen? Why is there a great crossing on St Georges Road, but a terrible one on Veronica St near the mall? When I inquired about this inconsistency, I was informed that the crossings were out of scope for the proposed trail. This is another department’s problem. But what about the people who will have to deal with it once the way is open?
Greenery: the good and the not so good
Just like the level crossings, the approach to the plantation is random. There are beautiful plantings at Avondale Station and on the leg between St Jude St and Chalmers St. In an area that is set to see one of the biggest intensifications in the city, these green corridors are going to be essential respite from growing concrete jungle.
However, the planting stops somewhere along the leg of St Georges Road in New Lynn and gives way to a weed-lined rear fence and a chain-link cage. Closer to New Lynn, the pathway begins to look like admission to Shawshank, but without the redemption. The chain-link fence, while necessary for security between the path and the railroad, is visually about as bad as it could be. It’s also mounted about 300mm into the path surface, which will surely be a concern in the future as more people start using the shared path to get around.
I hope there is room and appetite in the activation budget to engage with the strong arts community in the Whau region to come up with solutions to brighten up the user experience.
Access: where it is and where it is not
I spotted a few missed opportunities that could have made the path more accessible from its surroundings. The path can be accessed from the large Kainga Ora development on St Georges Rd, but nothing has been done to the streetscape within the development to suggest it exists: no widened path, wayfinding or inviting pavement. In the parking area of the housing estate, there are no parking spaces for bicycles or micromobility. Where more permeability (means for people to enter and exit the NL2A path) could have been provided, it is deliberately fenced and concreted.
Meanwhile, there is a nice wide driveway and ramp (!) from the street to the parking lot. Tell me that you favor car-dependent trips, without telling me that you favor car-dependent trips.
I feel like the Arran St chair sums up my experience of the NL2A shared path. At some point in the process, I realized that there were long, uninterrupted stretches of walkway between New Lynn Station and the Chalmers Reserve, with nowhere for people to sit. So after some good old stubbornness, I managed to get a seat installed on the course. Hooray!
But how was the seat positioned? It was placed away from the path, the trains, the view and all the action. Instead, he’s staring at a retaining wall. I’m so glad we got a seat – and wish it was in a slightly better position. This may be because too many people might believe that, in the words of one site engineer, “it doesn’t really matter, it’s not like a lot of people are going to use”.
When it’s going well
Some amazing mahi passed by people working on the way. Entrepreneurs can’t be blamed when it comes to hard grafting. They regularly work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or even later. Sometimes the work ended overnight. It may not have the vast parks, games and views of Te Auaunga, Twin Streams or even the Northwestern Shared Path. But the NL2A path has some really interesting features that don’t regularly appear on the cycle network, such as a direct connection to not one but two train stations, schools, a shopping centre, two supermarkets, cinemas (Hollywood!) and even cafes, not to mention the community’s favorite hopscotch. And that’s just the beginning !
Other great solutions have been found, such as resolving a pinch point at Crawford St East. I was happy to learn that although this was difficult to resolve, the retaining wall layout was modified to achieve a result which, although not perfect, is a good compromise for everyone. This wouldn’t have happened if AT hadn’t had such a good working relationship with Dempsey Wood. It’s a job well done.
The flyover at the end of Blockhouse Bay Road is another great option. The initial design had the path at ground level and ran along kiwirail paper roads. While this version was probably cheaper and easier, conflicts between multiple stakeholders forced the design to become a steel walkway structure and the engineering shines. Light and quite beautiful, this gently swept path offers sweeping views of West Auckland and will be a local treasure for generations to come. Sometimes it’s good to have nice things.
Design for people
Although there is more to be said as the path opens up and people use it, the NL2A path is an example of what happens – the good and the bad – when a path shared is designed by engineers. The path weaves its way through its various contexts to reach its end goals, and the decks are designed to fit precisely, but it seems there hasn’t been a lot of thought given to how a person can experience the journey. The odd dangerous crossing, the narrow, caged section, and the contraflow chair are small things, but they make the difference between designing for people and engineering for structural performance.
These shared paths offer Aucklanders a low-carbon way to travel that is good for physical health and mental well-being. NL2A will be well used and well loved, but those missing details will make this beautiful, expensive path feel like a compromise.
When AT has finished constructing the path, the local council will be held responsible for any faults. If elected officials could have had a say in these small details along the way, we might have been able to circumvent some issues that now seem obvious.
That gripe aside, it’s an overall win for the community, AT, and the people who are going to benefit every day from having a safe alternative to car addiction, and the ability to add emissions-free travel to their transportation choices.
The NL2A path is expected to open in June 2022, although the exact timing is yet to be confirmed.
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