Auckland’s SkyPath – a walking and cycling track to be hung under the Harbour Bridge – will be fully-funded by the government – as long as a detailed business case confirms the economics of the project.
Auckland’s cycling community went from disgust to delight this week. A nasty incident of sabotage, where rocks were strewn across a cycling path on a steep blind corner, shocked them. But today’s Government announcement that the SkyPath would be fully-funded has been met with absolute joy.
“Auckland has been waiting for this for so long,” said Bike Auckland’s Barbara Cuthbert. “Everybody is so hungry for it.”
The funding is part of a $390 million package of investment in walking and cycling projects around the country over the next three years. Transport minister Phil Twyford calls it “transformational” – a project that will “give Aucklanders the freedom to walk and cycle from the Shore to the city, all while taking in an amazing view”. The money, $67 million, will come from the National Land Transport Fund. Full details of the NLTF package, including information on other projects, will come at the end of the month.
Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw calls the coming package the single largest investment ever in walking and cycling infrastructure for New Zealand, representing a $96 million increase on the previous three years.
“SkyPath is the obvious, critical missing link in Auckland’s cycle network and will become an iconic feature of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge.”
Twyford says NZTA will complete a detailed business case for SkyPath by mid-2019, which will provide more certainty around the design and timing. The project will only proceed if that business case confirms the economics of doing it.
Auckland University architecture and planning expert Dr Stephen Knight-Lenihan has long argued the project should be paid for by the Government, which is responsible for the bridge, as it is part of State Highway One. However when he was advocating for it the price was touted as around $33 million – less than half of today’s allocation. While still in favour of it (“I’ll use it”) he questions if it will stack up against cycling networks as a whole, especially as the surrounding infrastructure to connect the SkyPath into a cycling network is not yet in place. Planning for the SeaPath, which will create that network, is well under way.
He also points out that while the funding announcement relieves the cost burden from the Auckland Council, it remains in the hands of the community – it’s just been transferred from rate-payers to taxpayers. “That’s a significant chunk of money,” he says.
“Yes, it’s stupid that we don’t have cycling and walking lanes across the bridge – most cities do have that. We are fixing a mistake. The problem is that retro-fitting is always more expensive,” he says.
“The tricky thing with anything like this it that it’s iconic. It’s like the Light Path – done partly to make a statement. But the real question is, how does it fit into the overall network?”
Bike Auckland is ecstatic with the Government’s announcement.
Cuthbert says it’s a visionary move, and is backed by decades of work to make SkyPath a reality, fulfilling a huge and long-felt need. She compares it to the Waterview Tunnel, saying it will be “used and celebrated by thousands of Aucklanders every day, and will change lives”. She says people are now starting to look for property based around where the cycling networks are, and the SkyPath will allow people to ride from the Shore to the city, connecting to networks in the west, east and south.
“Walking and biking access over the bridge has become increasingly crucial …. visitors to Auckland naturally assume they can bike or walk across the bridge and circle the harbour.”
Cuthbert points out that Northcote, where the northern end of the SkyPath ends, currently has no ferry as the wharf has been deemed unsafe. Once it is fixed however, people will be able to walk and ride across the bridge and return by ferry, which will be a great showcase for Auckland for both locals and tourists.
She’s confident the Transport Agency will deliver the project quickly. “It knows Auckland has waited too long.”