A long-awaited path across the Waitem­ata rep­re­sents a new ur­ban­ism.

De­spite fund­ing hic­cups, a long-awaited pedes­trian and cy­cling path across the Waitem­ata rep­re­sents a new ur­ban­ism.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — CHRIS BAR­TON

Where else in the world do pedes­tri­ans pay to cross a bridge and cars go for free? Auck­land can be so stupid. CHRIS BAR­TON, UR­BAN DE­SIGN, PAGE 100

In the ker­fuf­fle about whether it should be toll-free, has any­one no­ticed the de­sign pro­posal for the $33.5 mil­lion SkyPath has di­min­ished? Com­pared with images re­vealed in

2011, the cur­rent de­sign, given re­source con­sent in 2016, is more util­i­tar­ian, less in­spi­ra­tional. The in­evitable dif­fer­ence be­tween con­cept and re­al­ity or the in­evitable out­come of an ill-con­ceived Auck­land Coun­cil pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ship (PPP)?

This year, Downer Con­struc­tion, the builder, with­drew from the PPP, say­ing the price wasn’t right. That led to the SkyPath Trust, which cre­ated the project and has toiled for over a decade to make the vi­sion a re­al­ity, also pulling out. At the time of writ­ing, the coun­cil was per­sist­ing with the PPP to con­struct the fa­cil­ity. The span­ner in the works is that the trust re­cently told coun­cil­lors its with­drawal means “the PPP does not have the right to use the trust’s in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty for the de­sign, en­gi­neer­ing and de­vel­op­ment of SkyPath”. The trust, no longer a PPP pro­po­nent and lob­by­ing for fund­ing from the next tranche of the Ur­ban Cy­cle­way Pro­gramme, is now de­ter­mined to make the project toll-free.

While the gov­ern­ment re­mains non-com­mit­tal, Labour has an­nounced that, if elected, it will pro­vide $30 mil­lion to de­liver a toll-free SkyPath.

De­spite the fi­asco, the pedes­trian and cy­cling har­bour cross­ing is still ter­rific. It her­alds a change that echoes the open­ing of the Har­bour Bridge in 1959. The bridge was the epit­ome of the new Auck­land, a city boldly ex­pand­ing and em­brac­ing an au­to­mo­bile fu­ture. With SkyPath, the bridge gets its promised miss­ing footpath, dis­carded due to cost cut­ting. It also cel­e­brates a new ur­ban­ism, a city that has at last de­cided to be driven by some­thing other than the car.

By far the most im­por­tant as­pect of SkyPath is that it’s a pub­lic good. Po­ten­tially, it pro­vides ac­cess to cross the har­bour for all, dis­rupt­ing the so­cial dis­ad­van­tage of only be­ing able to cross in a car or bus. Which is why it ought to be toll-free and why the gov­ern­ment ought to step in. Where else in the world do pedes­tri­ans pay to cross a bridge and cars go for free?

Auck­land can be so stupid. There’s the chance to cre­ate some­thing mag­nif­i­cent for the city, a truly pub­lic space with a view to die for. Why does Auck­land so of­ten end up with some­thing hal­farsed? SkyPath prom­ises to be sym­bolic of what it ac­tu­ally means to in­habit a live­able city but the prospect of a lin­ger­ing short­fall in ex­pec­ta­tion looms. As some of the de­sign con­straints show, SkyPath is com­plex, but it’s still pos­si­ble to do it right:

IT CAN ONLY BE UN­DER THE SOUTH­BOUND LANES.

One of the long-run­ning de­bates about SkyPath has been the bridge’s load ca­pac­ity and pro­tect­ing its struc­tural in­tegrity. The genius of SkyPath is the dis­cov­ery of spare ca­pac­ity cour­tesy of the heavy goods ve­hi­cles that leave the port fully loaded and travel north. On the re­turn jour­ney,

Where else in the world do pedes­tri­ans pay to cross a bridge and cars go for free? Auck­land can be so stupid.

the trucks are mostly empty, so the south­bound lanes can take more load­ing. Bril­liant.

IT CAN ONLY BE 4M WIDE.

Tucked un­der one of the clip-ons added to the bridge in 1969, this is all the width there is. That means cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans will have to share the path, which is not ideal. But with care­ful de­sign to limit cy­cle speeds, it’s pos­si­ble to make this safe. At the bridge piers, the space bulges out 2m, cre­at­ing a view­ing area. There’s scope to make this bet­ter. The ear­lier de­sign by Copeland As­so­ci­ates had sev­eral more gen­er­ous view­ing ar­eas ac­cessed by descend­ing be­low the path to pause and take in the vista. Clever. If SkyPath is to be a world-class tourist des­ti­na­tion, this as­pect of the de­sign needs to be world-class.

LIGHT­WEIGHT CON­STRUC­TION.

To pro­tect the struc­ture of the bridge, SkyPath has to be as light as pos­si­ble. With new com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als, we have the tech­nol­ogy. But the high-qual­ity car­bon-fi­bre stuff can be ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive.

Cost con­sid­er­a­tions could com­pro­mise mak­ing SkyPath out of the best, most long-last­ing, ro­bust ma­te­ri­als pos­si­ble. Let’s hope qual­ity wins.

IT WILL BE QUITE LIVELY.

The bridge moves. It’s de­signed to. Much thought has gone into pedes­trian vi­bra­tion, es­pe­cially how to avoid a res­o­nant re­sponse as hap­pened dur­ing the Maori Land March in 1975 when the bridge de­vel­oped an un­nerv­ing sway. The nar­row path and the con­trol of the live pedes­trian load by turn­stiles at ei­ther end mean that’s un­likely to hap­pen. Just in case, the en­gi­neers have pro­posed three wa­ter-filled, liq­uid-tuned dampers. The walk­way isn’t a closed tun­nel, but will be open to the el­e­ments via some sort of mesh ex­te­rior, so walk­ers will also feel the out­side.

IT IS NOT A PUB­LIC SPACE.

One of the con­se­quences of the bit­ter En­vi­ron­ment Court bat­tle waged by some North­cote res­i­dents is that the hours of open­ing are 6am10pm. It will also be run by a pri­vate com­pany to col­lect tolls, and will have guards and CCTV to keep ev­ery­one safe. Ide­ally, SkyPath should be a true pub­lic space, open 24 hours, for use by ev­ery­one. Cars have this right on the bridge; so should pedes­tri­ans.

IT IS PART OF SOME­THING MUCH BIG­GER.

While get­ting across has been the rai­son d’être of SkyPath, the big­ger idea is where you go next. SkyPath, link­ing with the New Zealand Trans­port Agency’s pro­posed SeaPath from Es­monde Rd to the bridge, con­nects pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists to the whole city, open­ing up a grand traverse — Es­monde Rd, Taka­puna, Devon­port, Westhaven, Ta­maki Drive and much more — that re­ally will make Auck­land great for com­muters, tourists and re­cre­ation.

IT IS A HER­ITAGE STRUC­TURE.

Let’s face it, “the coathanger” is no Golden Gate. But it does rep­re­sent a piece of en­gi­neer­ing her­itage. This has af­fected SkyPath’s de­sign. Any­thing at­tached mustn’t de­tract from the bridge and mustn’t be too vis­i­ble; ide­ally, it ought to be cam­ou­flaged bat­tle­ship grey. The re­source con­sent has al­lowed a bit of colour (white), but over­all the de­sign is back­ward about com­ing for­ward. There’s also a ra­nout-of-money feel about the land­ing ramps at ei­ther end. And the sug­ges­tions of pub­lic art­work seem like a tacke­don af­ter­thought.

SkyPath is an op­por­tu­nity to en­hance her­itage in a spec­tac­u­lar way — to cel­e­brate the re­turn of the long-lost path of the orig­i­nal bridge de­sign, to cre­ate a 1km-long flamboyant art­work. To hon­our a pre-Euro­pean cross­ing point. To pay homage, as some have sug­gested, to the leg­endary tani­wha Ureia re­sid­ing in the reef be­low Pt Erin, metaphor­i­cally ris­ing up for the peo­ple. To light up the city with a sym­bol of con­nec­tion.

FAR LEFT— SkyPath is de­signed to be shared by pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists.

ABOVE— The planned north­ern land­ing at North­cote Pt.

LEFT— An im­age from the 2011 con­cept de­sign. The con­sented ver­sion is more util­i­tar­ian.

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