One Question Quiz
Image: Archi Banal.
Image: Archi Banal.

OPINIONPoliticsMarch 2, 2023

The future of Auckland’s inner west street improvements is looking bleak

Image: Archi Banal.
Image: Archi Banal.

These infrastructure upgrades have strong support from all corners. But now it looks like they’re set to be watered down.

Long-planned street improvements for Auckland’s inner-west have hit hurdle after hurdle, including a prolonged pause and now a de-scoping. The Inner West Projects (IWPs), initiated more than seven years ago, were planned to span Grey Lynn, Westmere and Point Chevalier, and they were due to start construction late last year. But in October 2022, under the direction of newly elected Waitematā ward councillor Mike Lee and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown, Auckland Transport (AT) paused the work on all the Inner West’s long-awaited improvements. Construction was so close to starting that much of Meola Road, a key section of the planned project in Point Chevalier, now has zero tree cover after 34 mature trees were felled in preparation for the works.

Meola Road felled trees.
Meola Road with and without tree cover. (Image: Supplied)

These proposed projects would form a direct and consistent connection through Auckland’s inner west suburbs to recently upgraded infrastructure. The route was planned to go along Point Chevalier Road, Meola Road, Garnet Road, Old Mill Road, Surrey Crescent, Richmond Road and Great North Road (at which point it would link to the existing network). 

The proposed route.
The proposed route. Note the proposed construction dates, well overdue to start. (Image: AT)

Some have wrongly characterised the IWPs as expensive “gold standard” cycleways. However, AT’s Murray Burt has explained that the IWPs include a combination of bus, bike and pedestrian improvements, roading changes, street lighting and roading surfaces renewals, streetscape improvements and much-needed stormwater upgrades. Undergrounding of power lines (part of why Meola Road’s trees were felled) and new planting are also proposed. 

A NZ Herald article about this kaupapa “is riddled with distortions,” and “lies” said Hayden Donnell and Russell Brown respectively. The article inflated the price of the Westmere-Point Chevalier cycleway to “$39m to $45m – the equivalent of $18m per kilometre.” Yet, AT’s proposed budget, seen below, only allocates $6,230,914 of $47.5m for the cycleway (making it the fourth highest expense). The biggest expense – $9,002,427 – is rebuilding the badly sinking Meola Road. Also, quotes from Tony Mitchell, Bike Auckland’s (BA) chair, make it sound like BA is against the enhancements. In reality, BA has “joined a broad range of community groups calling on AT to continue as planned with the three Inner West street improvement projects“. 

AT's budget for the Point Chevalier section of the upgrades.
AT’s budget for the Point Chevalier section of the upgrades. (Image: Supplied)

In his letter to mayor Wayne Brown that initiated the delay on these projects, Lee said that 30+ Grey Lynn residents and organisations had made clear to him their disapproval of the upgrades. But since the projects were paused for a stocktake, very few people have officially written to AT to echo Lee’s call for a halt. 

AT says since October 2022, they have received over 60 responses supporting the renovations and about half a dozen in opposition. Those against included one local car dealership and Occupy Garnet Road (OGR). Intriguingly, the IWPs would provide the car yards with new, extended loading zones. Currently, the dealerships illegally unload goods into live traffic near Newton Central School, which AT’s safety adviser acknowledged as dangerous. OGR’s stance comes as no surprise, as the group formed in opposition to local bike lanes. The group has protested safety upgrades in the past, like when they took to streetscape enhancements with a sledgehammer or opposed the Quay Street cycleway. An OGR representative recently told politicians to “put your brains on” because “arterial (main) roads are only for cars” and “cycleways only require paint”, while calling IWP supporters “not intelligent”.

Supporters include six schools, advocacy groups, community groups, residents and business associations. This diverse support for all the projects should be no surprise; it simply continues the strong support shown at each previous stage of public consultation and engagement. Letters from the community liaison group (CLG) AT convened to give local expertise for the Point Chevalier portion provide some helpful context. The CLG “included business owners, parents, elders, a school principal, business, environmental and placemaking groups; representatives from the local football club; and locals who walk, drive, cycle and go by bus.” They advocated for a “dig once” approach, which maximises value and minimises disruption while delivering multiple upgrades simultaneously. They note that these shovel-ready projects connect to recently completed MOTAT/Zoo precinct upgrades and will complement two more planned local improvements. 

Some of the rōpū who support the IWPs.
Some of the rōpū who support the IWPs. (Graphic: Bike Auckland)

AT’s acting-CEO assured the council that the IWPs’ value lies in improving streets for all transport modes, cars, pedestrians, public transport and active/micro-mobility (bikes, scooters, mobility aids, etc). When people have more non-car options for trips, that frees up roads (and parking) for those who need to drive. Overall, the projects strongly align with AT’s safety review, Auckland Council’s emissions reduction plans and the government’s Vision Zero commitments. 

The schools along the 7.2km route – Newton Central School, Grey Lynn School, Westmere School, Western Springs College, Pasadena Intermediate School and Point Chevalier School – all support the remodelling. The six schools have each individually written to AT in support. In February 2023 they wrote collectively to reiterate their concerns, saying: “These projects have been planned for seven years or more. Many children have started and finished at our schools during the time they have been delayed, and it is only a matter of time before we see tragic outcomes for our students.”

Western Springs College student representative Radha Patel echoed these sentiments when presenting to Auckland Council in December 2022: “We can’t wait for a tragedy to happen before we start valuing and prioritising the lives of students and our community.” In 2019, after delivering a petition (2,653 signatures) to their local board, students received a commitment from AT for a pedestrian crossing. They’re still waiting for it, said Patel at a February 2023 Waitematā Local Board hui. Meola Road, near the college, doesn’t have a pedestrian crossing for the Outer Link bus stop that many students take to and from school. Councillor Josephine Bartley commented that Meola Road feels like a highway. Not only is crossing Meola Road physically dangerous, confirmed Patel, but students receive daily verbal harassment when traversing the highway-esque road. The ongoing delay in fixing these unsafe streets is even more egregious when you factor in that 41% of Springs’ roughly 1,800 students walk or bike to school – approximately 740 teens – and some students from nearby Pasadena Intermediate also use Meola Road on school days.

The schools, kindergartens and ECEs in the area.
The schools, preschools and kindergartens in the area. (Image: Bike Auckland)

The tumuaki (principal) of Point Chevalier School/ Rangi-mata-rau, Stephen Lethbridge, wrote to AT on the primary school’s behalf that the roads around their school “are busy and dangerous places for our children as they walk and cycle”. Last year, the school’s road crossing attendant was hit by a car and injured so severely that they couldn’t work for several months. Lethbridge writes that because their community eagerly supports safer cycling and better crossing points, they “were left perplexed hearing that the project is now in doubt.”

As Jolisa Gracewood, a local parent and advocate, noted recently, Point Chevalier already has a much higher-than-average number of kids biking. Gracewood wrote, “Pt Chevalier’s bike-to-school mode share was 8.3% in Pt Chev East and 14% in Pt Chev West. And in the census block where the local intermediate and high school are, 18% of arrivals are by bike. (All of this is in comparison to a city-wide average of 1.5%).” In Westmere and Grey Lynn, too, kids bike to school more than in the rest of Tāmaki Makaurau, so the support for safety improvements is a no-brainer from the schools in those areas also. By taking more cars out of school drop-offs everyday traffic could more closely resemble blissful school holiday traffic. 

Since kids already bike to school, it might sound as though bike lanes are unnecessary. But because bike infrastructure is lacking, the kids, like the Point Chevalier school bike train, have to bike on footpaths. Biking on the footpath is not only illegal (except for posties and tiny bikes), it’s also risky given driveways and road crossings – and takes space from already space-poor pedestrians. 

A Bike Point Chevalier graphic about driveways from 2019.
A 2019 Bike Point Chevalier graphic about driveways. (Graphic: Supplies)

Many politicians also support the upgrades. These projects span two local boards, Albert-Eden and Waitematā, both of which have repeatedly endorsed them in the past, including in February. The remodelling covers the rohe of three city-wide councillors, the aforementioned Lee (Waitematā) and Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa councillors Julie Fairey and Christine Fletcher (who is yet to reply to our request for a comment). Fairey and eight other Auckland-wide councillors support the full IWP package. Their reasoning can be seen here. Continued delays to the projects mean they have been offered funding by the Key, English and Ardern governments – yet they still haven’t been delivered. AT sought and received 51% funding from the Beehive for the two outer portions of the IWPs, and if they don’t get on with them soon, they will lose their government funding.

Further support comes from local business associations. They’ve clearly been keeping an eye on the business benefits that come with regenerated streetscapes and connected networks. Rhetoric sometimes focuses on businesses wanting to keep parking, but from Fort Street to Vancouver, businesses have supported renovated streetscapes to reap the business benefits. The Karangahape Road Business Association (KBA), representing 600 businesses and property owners, endorsed speeding up the construction of the IWPs. From 2020-2021 Karangahape Road endured its own streetscape upgrades, culminating in wider footpaths, increased planting, more public spaces/furniture and a bi-directional bike lane. At first the upgrades were divisive, with vocal opposition and even the KBA temporarily withdrawing their endorsement. However, since its remodelling, the precinct has gone from strength to strength, including being named the world’s sixth coolest street by Time Out

The KBA thinks that the benefits of their own refurbishment will not be fully realised until the IWPs and the City Rail Link are completed. These projects will benefit Karangahape Road by increasing customer accessibility from multiple transport modes, says the KBA. A particular focus for the KBA is maximising their bike lanes. They want the Karangahape Road cycleways to branch westward into a functioning network that connects to Grey Lynn, Point Chevalier, Ponsonby and Kingsland. Karangahape Road is perfectly placed at the heart of a planned central Auckland cycling network. The precinct already links directly to the northwestern path as far as Westgate, Nelson Street (via Te Ara i Whiti) to the waterfront and from there, as far out east as Glen Innes and Saint Heliers. Adding Inner West links will make Karangahape Road Auckland’s most accessible neighbourhood by bike while freeing up road space for buses, emergency vehicles and those needing to drive. 

Karangahape Road under construction to provide more space for people.
Karangahape Road under construction to provide more space for people. (Photo: AT)

The Ponsonby Business Association (PBA) also supports the IWPs, and rejects the characterisation of the projects as locally unpopular and expensive. A letter from the PBA to AT says “that every interest group’s ideas and concerns have been heard and considered,” but “some particularly outspoken groups continually criticise the process when their point of view isn’t incorporated in the final design.” The PBA urges for the urgent delivery of the IWPs. After all, Ponsonby Road is up for renovation in 2025, and much like Karangahape Road, its full potential will not be reached without also filling in the network westward. 

The Inner West Projects have garnered broad support from the communities along its route and those who value an accessible, climate-friendly, widely connected transport network. Recently, even Councillor Lee – who formally initiated the delay – has officially endorsed the Point Chevalier-Westmere section, citing the strong community support. But AT has a new plan. The good news is that construction of the Point Chevalier section (Point Chevalier Road, Meola Road, and Garnet Road) has been approved by AT’s board. But the bad news is twofold.

Even after being endorsed – once again – by both local boards last week, Great North Road is yet to be given the green light. Although AT seems broadly supportive of this portion it will be subject to a finance review and consultation with Auckland councillors. The Westmere-Grey Lynn sections (Surrey Crescent, Old Mill Road, Garnet Road south of Meola, and Richmond Road), however, have officially been indefinitely paused because of funding constraints. The nine Auckland councillors who support the full IWP package are concerned that car improvements are being prioritised over sustainable transport projects.

This decision leaves a safety black hole through the heart of the proposed route. The strong, varied support for the IWPs was for the full package, not a de-scoped version. “In any other context, proposing to build two ends of a route with no plan to complete the middle would be utterly ludicrous. And yet we are told not to expect a safe and continuous route any time soon,” says John Constable from Bike Grey Lynn. This approach “would strand so many people in a safety desert,” according to local parent Jolisa Gracewood. This watering down might partly plug Mayor Brown’s big budget deficit. However, in the aftermath of two Auckland climate catastrophes in less than a month, can the city afford to delay sustainable solutions? Transport is Auckland’s number one contributor to global warming, and the urgency for reform – like improving transport options – has never been more unmistakable. 

Keep going!