One of the best projects the government announced funding for as part of their NZ Upgrade programme four weeks ago was $360 million in funding for the
Northern Pathway SkyPath and Seapath. Construction is expected to start in 2021 and take about 2½ years so it’s also good to see the agency aren’t wasting any time, yesterday announcing they’d already shortlisted two teams to design and build the SkyPath section. They are Fulton Hogan/HEB/Aurecon/Freyssinet and McConnell Dowell/Arup/Rizzani de Eccher.
What is also promising is that the agency has already started a business case to look at extending the path further north from Esmonde Rd and link it to the path being built from Albany to Constellation as part of the Northern Corridor project. That would make a walking and cycling path almost identical in length to Northwestern path which was recently extended to Westgate.
As part of moving forward with SkyPath and Seapath the business cases for each have been released and so with this post I thought I’d look at some of the most interesting aspects from them. Before I get into that, let’s just address the names quickly.
The NZTA are trying to distance themselves from the name SkyPath in favour of the bland “Northern Pathway”, saying the former is “synonymous with a particular design, that’s the danger with it, that the name is associated with a specific design that is not the design that we are going to deliver”. But I doubt they’ll be successful, SkyPath was never about any particular design but about the idea and will live on in the public imagination. So for the purpose of this post, and future posts, we’ll keep using them as they also remain the best descriptors for what each of the two stages of this project are.
As part of solving the problem of walkers, cyclists, whether residents or tourists, not being able to get across the harbour, the business case lists two Investment objectives
- Increase the mode share of walking and cycling travel to work trips across the Harbour Bridge from 0% to 4% by 2028.
- Increase the number of daily walking and cycling recreation and tourism trips across the Harbour Bridge from 0 to 2,500 by 2028.
To address this, they say they considered twelve different options including the one consented by the SkyPath Trust and even one that went over the top of the arch of the bridge. As we’ve seen before, the option they considered the best was a 5m wide path alongside the existing bridge (as opposed to over or under it) That would include three observation decks up to 100m long and that extend up to an extra 4.2m wider than the path itself. Another change is that it appears the NZTA want to extend the path all the way down alongside the motorway and means they’ll likely need to buy the remaining handful of houses on the eastern side of the bridge.
With that future connection to Albany, they estimate that by 2046 there is the potential for over 3,500 cyclists and 2,000 pedestrians a day across the bridge. To put that in perspective in January the NW cycleway saw its busiest use to date at just under 2,000 cyclists in a day and annual usage nearly quadrupling in just over eight years. Even more interesting as they say in 2026 the forecast average daily number of cyclists on the Northwestern Cycleway is 1050 – even averaged across the entire year we’re already seeing more than that.
Because of the improved design they say there is no longer a technical requirement to control access in relation to loading like the original SkyPath design had. One of the things they note that supports that high number of users is the effect of e-bikes, which they say increases the potential catchment within a 30-minute cycle to town by around 60%. A breakdown of the volume forecasts is below.
It appears the bridge could end up the single busiest cycleway in the city, so I do hope the agency look at ways to separate pedestrians and cycles.
As mentioned, the path is now expected to continue down alongside the motorway to Shelly Beach/Sulphur Point Boat Ramp but is still expected to have a connection to Princes St in Northcote Point and gives two concept designs with the detail to be worked out in the detailed work now being undertaken.
On the Southern side the design remains similar to what was proposed as with the original SkyPath.
Within the business case the cost of the project has been withheld but they do say it has a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.3 and stays at or above 1 under a variety of sensitivity tests.
Seapath is expected to be a mostly 4m wide and about 4km long shared path from the bridge through to Esmonde Rd. Like above with SkyPath , I worry about there not being enough separation between pedestrians and cyclists and worry we’ll see conflict issues such as we’re seeing on the NW Cycleway right now.
Perhaps the thing that stands out to me the most about the preferred design is that involves a significant amount of bridge structures, with 1,351m of bridges and another 414m of boardwalk. This includes a bridge over the entire Onewa Interchange.
The bridge structure is approximately 800m in length including all ramps and bridges spans across the motorway on and off ramps. These bridges structures would place the shared path above the motorway level for its entire length which improves the user experience of the facility by providing better vantage points, increase noise and air pollution separation from motor vehicles and improves the resilience level of the facility for walking and cycling.
Some more detail is in this alternative image. One thing that does stand out though is the path will narrow to 2.5m to get around a Pohutukawa tree.
For Seapath the business case doesn’t hide the costs and suggests it’s expected to cost $72.3 million and have a BCR of 1.2. I not sure this means the SkyPath cost is $288m though as it seems like the costings for all NZUP projects have been pumped up a bit.
I’m really looking forward to being able to use both these projects, especially as I work on the Shore and often commute by bike – although it turns out it’s almost exactly the same distance as my current route via Upper Harbour.