This is a guest post by Jessica Rose. Jessica is a member of the Whau Local Board, a sustainable transport advocate, and co-chair of Frocks on Bikes Auckland.
The New Lynn to Avondale (NL2A) shared pathway has been in planning and now delivery for the better part of a decade – and it’s going to be completed in the next few months. NL2A starts where the Waterview Path ends at Blockhouse Bay Road, and other than a detour through Chalmers Reserve, runs along the rail corridor until it terminates at the New Lynn train station.
Dempsey-Wood, the contractor delivering the path, sends out a newsletter every month or two to anyone who’s found out how to get on 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 is much to celebrate, there’s a couple of things that stand out.
Just last week, the local board got their official first ever walk through of the project they’ve been funding for the last few years.
Road crossings: the good, and the not-so-good.
The first thing of note is that throughout the journey, the road crossings scream with inconsistency. There are 8 road crossings along the pathway. Every crossing is a different design.
There are beautiful best-practice ideas at St Georges Road and Portage Road. The St Georges Road crossing (my personal favourite) has a raised table, crossing lollipops with traditional pedestrian stripes and a green stripe for people on bikes. The Portage Road crossing is a fully controlled signalised crossing, following a successful example in a similar situation in Penrose.
But on the other hand, there is a visually indistinguishable raised table on Chalmers St. This crossing steps out from the children’s playground into a low-visibility road corridor that people in vehicles hoon down at breakneck speed. After the Chalmers St crossing comes another road crossing that has no new safety infrastructure at all, at St Jude St at the entry to the Avondale Train Station. An old pedestrian refuge is retained, and some curb cuts have been installed, but there’s not even a clearway painted so that vehicles queuing for the level crossing can leave space for people on bikes to get through. A similar design happens in New Lynn on Veronica Street.
So how were these outcomes chosen? Why is there an excellent crossing on St Georges Road, but a terrible one on Veronica St by the mall? When I enquired about this lack of consistency I was advised that the crossings were out of scope for the path project. It’s another department’s problem. But what about the people who are going to have to deal with it once the path opens?
Greenery: the good, and the not-so-good
Much like the crossings, the approach to planting is hit and miss. There is lovely planting at the Avondale Train station and on the leg between St Jude St and Chalmers St. In an area that is going to see some of the highest intensification in the city, these green corridors are going to be essential respite from an increasingly concrete jungle.
However, the planting peters out somewhere along the leg from St Georges Road to New Lynn, and gives way to a weed-lined back fence and a chain link cage. Closer to New Lynn the pathway starts to resemble being admitted to Shawshank, but without the redemption. The chainlink fence, while necessary for safety between the path and the rail line, is visually about as bad as it could be. It’s also mounted about 300mm into the path surface, which is surely going to be a concern in the future as more people start to use the shared path to get around.
I hope that there is space and appetite in the activation budget to engage with the strong arts community within the Whau area to come up with solutions to brighten up the user experience.
Access: where it is, and where it isn’t
I spotted a few missed opportunities which could have made the path more accessible from its surroundings. The path can be accessed from the big Kainga Ora development on St Georges Rd, but nothing has been done to the streetscape in the development to suggest that it exists: no widened path, wayfinding or inviting roadway. In the development’s carparking area,, there aren’t any bike or micromobility parking spaces. Where more permeability (ways for people to get on and off the NL2A path) could have been provided, it’s quite deliberately fenced and concreted.
Meanwhile, there is a nice wide driveway and a slip lane (!) from the street to the parking. Tell me you prioritise car dependent travel, without telling me you prioritise car dependent travel.
I feel like the Arran St chair sums up my experience of the NL2A shared path. At some stage in the proces, I realised that there were long unbroken stretches of walkway between New Lynn Train station and Chalmers Reserve, without anywhere for people to sit. So after some good old fashioned nagging, I managed to get a seat installed on the route. Hooray!
But how was the seat positioned? It was placed facing away from the path, the trains, the view, and all the action. Instead, it looks at a retaining wall. I’m so happy we got a seat in – and wish it was in a slightly better position. Perhaps this came about because a few too many people might believe that, in the words of one site engineer, ‘it doesn’t really matter, it’s not like many people are going to use it.’
When things work well
Some incredible mahi has gone on from the people working on the path. The contractors can’t be faulted when it comes to hard graft. They regularly work from 6am to 6pm, or later. Work has been completed overnight at times. It may not have the expansive parks, play and views of Te Auaunga, Twin Streams or even the Northwestern Shared Path. But the NL2A path has some really exciting features that don’t regularly come up on the cycling network, such as direct connection to not one but two train stations, schools, a mall, two supermarkets, movie theatres (Hollywood!) and even actual cafes, not to mention community favorite Hopscotch. And this is just the start!
Other great solutions have been figured out, like resolution of a pinch point at Crawford St East. I was glad to learn that while this has been difficult to solve, the retaining wall layout has been altered to achieve an outcome that, while not perfect, is a good compromise for all. This wouldn’t have happened if AT didn’t have such a great working relationship with Dempsey Wood. It’s work well done.
The flyover up at Blockhouse Bay Road end is another neat fix. The early design had the path at grade and running along some kiwirail paper roads. While that version was probably cheaper and easier, the conflicts between multiple stakeholders forced the design to become a steel boardwalk structure and the engineering does shine. Lightweight and quite beautiful, this gently sweeping path has expansive views of West Auckland and is going to be a local treasure for generations to come. Sometimes it feels pretty good to have nice things.
Designing for people
While there will be more to say as the path opens and people use it, the NL2A path is an example of what happens – the good and the bad – when a shared path is designed by engineers. The path works its way through its various contexts to meet its end goals, and the bridges are designed to fit with precision, but it does feel like there hasn’t been much thought to how a person may experience the journey. The odd unsafe crossing, narrow and encaged section, and wrong-way chair are small things, but they’re the difference between designing for people and engineering for structural performance.
These shared paths give Aucklanders a way to travel that’s low carbon, good for physical health and mental wellbeing. NL2A will be well used and well loved but those missing details will make this beautiful, expensive path feel like a compromise.
When AT have finished building the path, it’s the Local Board who are going to be held responsible for any flaws. If those elected could have had more of a say on these little details along the way, we might have been able to circumvent issues that now seem obvious.
That gripe aside, it’s an all-round win for the community, AT, and the people who are going to benefit every day from having a safe alternative to car dependency, and the option of adding emission free travel to their transport choices.
The NL2A path is expected to open sometime in June 2022, although exact timing is yet to be confirmed.
To get on the mailing list for the Dempesy Wood updates, use the contacts below:
If you have any questions or queries, please contact our team on free phone 0800 285 463 (24 hour number) or email us at NL2A@dempseywood.co.nz.
For general AT or project enquiries, email email@example.com or phone 09 355 3553.