A bunch of us got talking about recent stories about getting to the beach, or having difficulties doing so, and Jolisa and Marita put together this post as a result.
With the weather – and the water – warming up, Aucklanders are flocking to the beaches (including some newly swimmable ones, hooray!). And we do mean flocking. As travel options have been limited for over three months now, that’s putting more pressure than ever on our precious outdoor spaces, especially on weekends.
And looking ahead, even with restrictions set to relax somewhat, many of us may choose to stick around the city this summer for good reasons.
Of course, one of the secret delights of staying in Tāmaki Makaurau over the holidays – whether by choice or necessity – is how quiet it can be. For a few weeks, there’s a bit more breathing room in cafes, at parks, on the beaches… and out on the streets. A small window of opportunity to walk, skate, scoot, and cruise around on bikes having 80s flashbacks.
But we can’t necessarily count on having that extra urban breathing room this summer. So it’s going to be interesting, and challenging. Covid and climate are tag-teaming to reveal some pretty stark constraints in how we organise our lives, our public spaces, our journeys. We can see the world is changing, and we know we need to as well.
So the question is – how can we get there?
Bus to the beach? If you can…
Over recent weeks, AT has been making last minute announcements that the 66 bus – which crosses the isthmus from Sylvia Park to Coyle Park – will stop a kilometre short of its destination at Pt Chevalier beach. Why? Because of “congestion”.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the third summer in a row that it’s been happening! We covered the story back in the summer of 2019/2020, and it happened again last summer. And here we go again. Why is this still happening?
The short version: people drive to the beach and park on the yellow lines in the tram turning circle at Coyle Park, making it hard for buses to turn around. People are also parking in bus stops, and double-parking, and parking on berms, and circulating looking for places to park.
The answer, of course, is for AT to enforce the parking rules. This proves difficult when parking wardens (and bus drivers) face abuse from the public. But reducing or abandoning enforcement won’t solve the problem.
Reportedly, there’s already been some ticketing this year. There have also been a couple of small infrastructure changes since that first summer. The triangle in the above image now has hatched white lines, which hasn’t stopped people parking on it. And with Local Board input, AT built a 2-minute drop off zone in the turning circle, so people could unload passengers and picnic gear and then find parking elsewhere.
But clearly, none of this is enough to restore reliability to the bus service.
As the tweets above spell out, this situation illustrates some self-imposed barriers to AT’s own overriding mandates – which include a safer transport system for everyone, and rapid mode-shift for climate action. Not to mention, AT’s “customers” (i.e., people) deserve the “easy journeys” that are AT’s key promise.
Not everyone’s plugged into travel apps constantly, or even has a phone. So, when timetables change like this, people find themselves waiting for ghost buses that never appear, or are unexpectedly dropped off a kilometre away from where they’re trying to get to, or suddenly discover they need to walk over a kilometre to or from the bus they’re counting on.
Of course, a brisk fifteen-minute walk can be a healthy and enjoyable option for some. But it can also be an absolute barrier to access, safety and wellbeing. Imagine you’re disabled, or elderly, or encumbered by kids and gear, walking that distance on a hot day, crossing multiple side streets amid circling traffic. Or say you’re a free-range teen, who discovers at dusk that your planned safe trip home has evaporated while you were at the beach.
Beach-going aside, this is surely an unfair imposition on anyone who relies on the bus for everyday travel.
So what’s next? Will the buses make it to the beach this coming weekend? Watch this space, and/or the AT travel alerts…
One bit of good news: this time last year, an impressive series of bollards was installed at Harbour View Reserve, another handy parking spot nearby. So far, they’re doing a solid job of fending off most parking on the grass…
— Jolisa Gracewood (@nzdodo) December 7, 2020
… although not all of it. As one of our commenters noted yesterday, the attitude of so many Auckland drivers when it comes to parking is, “If I fits, I sits.”
Drive (on)to the beach?
You could say that the thrill-seeking activity of launching one’s car (or rented campervan) onto a vast, open stretch of sand is a Kiwi rite-of-passage (or maybe “right” of passage?). There’s the classic hoon up Northland’s Ninety-Mile Beach, endangering beach walkers, fishermen and others on foot. Utes towing boat trailers bouncing over low-tide rocks is a common summer sight at New Zealand’s holiday destinations, smothering precious seagrass colonies beneath their tyres as they go (did you know that seagrass captures carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforest? If it hasn’t been smushed by a ute, that is.)
So why not just drive to the beach? Heck, just keep going: why bother with that tiresome walk from the carpark when you can just park on the beach itself? That’s what visitors to Castor Bay on the North Shore have started to do. So convenient!
“Vehicles do not belong on beaches”
“I have [called] on many occasions and council passed the buck and advised to call AT. A child nearly got run over when I called 2 weeks back.”
“So unsafe for our kids”
“I think its bad to have that many vehicles parked on the beach. Don’t be lazy people, park your car elsewhere & walk to the beach like everyone else has to“
The freedom of the beach is integral to the experience of a New Zealand summer. But a beach that’s a free-for-all for cars cannot be a place of freedom for a child.
Amelia Geary, the regional conservation manager at Forest and Bird, said when people drove through sand dunes and on beaches it had severe ecological impacts.
“Sand dunes are incredibly sensitive and fragile habitats. These dunes are home to many different species that you can’t even see from your car such as lizards and spiders.
“By destroying that you are also destroying the homes of all these critters that you didn’t even know were there.”
Furthermore, driving is not actually allowed on any beaches in the Auckland region other than Muriwai and Karioitahi (and even then, a permit is needed to drive on those specific beaches.) Auckland Council consulted the public about driving on Muriwai Beach in June this year. Two-thirds of submitters reported seeing concerning driver behaviour on the beach.
So if your only option is to drive to the beach? Keep your vehicle a safe distance from those more vulnerable – people and the environment. That five or ten minute walk from the carpark is a great way to warm up before your swim.
Bike to the beach?
So, what’s the end-game here? How are we going to get to the beach without ruining it for everybody else – not least future generations?
Not everyone lives near enough to a beach to walk or cycle there. But many do – which means AT needs to be taking every single opportunity for road reallocation, to make it a lot easier for those who’d love to get there on foot or little wheels. And of course, once you can safely bike to a beach, you can almost certainly bike to school, shops, sports, and other local destinations.
Meanwhile, how about not removing buses from beach routes, but adding them? Here’s a suggestion we can get behind:
Blows my mind no one from AT has called up one of the tourism operators whose business disappeared during covid and set up a trial run to piha from Henderson or New Lynn for this summer holiday
— Jon Turner (@JonTurnerNZ) November 22, 2021
It’s going to take fresh ideas, and a whole lot of fast, clever, committed action by our city. Because, one way or another, this is going to be an issue all summer long. Just as we most need a break, and when tempers are already fraying on our streets. And unless something changes, it’ll happen again next summer, and the summer after that, and so on and so on, getting hotter and hotter, and worse for us, every time.
Maybe the beloved summertime beach visit is where we can most clearly start to see that something’s gotta change. Otherwise, where will we end up?