Bevan Woodward: SkyPath chance to transform bridge

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An artist's impression shows how the SkyPath under the harbour bridge could light up an otherwise fairly drab Auckland icon. Photo / Supplied
An artist's impression shows how the SkyPath under the harbour bridge could light up an otherwise fairly drab Auckland icon. Photo / Supplied

Tomorrow the Auckland Council makes decisions for its long-term plan that will affect two visionary projects: a new waterfront theatre and a path and cycleway across the harbour bridge. Bevan Woodward argues for the SkyPath.

It's the 53rd birthday of the Auckland Harbour Bridge this month, our city's much loved but rather drab icon. We enjoy the spectacular view of the city as we drive over the top, but rather disparagingly we call the bridge the "Coathanger". Let's face it, it's not glamorous.

But our bridge can be reborn as a symbol of a vibrant modern city, the new Auckland of the 21st century, thanks to the SkyPath proposal for a beautiful modern pathway tucked under the city-side clip-on.

The SkyPath will provide a vital link across the harbour between Westhaven and Northcote for people enjoying the active transport modes of walking, running or cycling. It also includes spacious multi-level viewing platforms for city and harbour vistas, and special effects night lighting; symbolising the energy of our city, and bringing life to Auckland's celebrations.

The SkyPath will enhance the way we interact with our harbour, help us to start seeing the opportunities for walking and cycling around the city, and be a wonderful experience for visitors, encouraging tourists to spend an extra day in Auckland.

And it will be self-funding. Construction and operation of SkyPath as a user-pays facility can be a reality at minimal cost to Auckland ratepayers through a partnership between transport and council agencies, the AHB Pathway Trust and private sector funders.

It is now up to Auckland Council to show leadership in making this potential a reality by including the SkyPath in its long-term plan. By recognising the SkyPath as a zero-budget line item, the council is not committing any funding but is able to investigate the opportunity to see the SkyPath delivered in a mutually beneficial partnership with the private sector.

It is proposed that the private sector funding will be repaid by a toll on SkyPath users of $2 each way for Hop Card users (more for casual users) and by corporate sponsorship, such as the sale of naming rights. The financial projections from the SkyPath's business plan show it will deliver net surpluses to council.

Congestion relief through reduced commuter vehicle traffic and the related environmental benefits will add to the green benefits for the city.

If you're thinking "Does the council really need to support the SkyPath?", the answer is yes. The council's support will give the private sector confidence to invest in the project. It also sends a clear message to other stakeholders, such as Auckland Transport, Waterfront Auckland, ATEED and NZ Transport Agency that this is a project to be taken seriously.

Auckland Council has the benefit of the substantial work and financial investment that has already gone into the project. The AHB Pathway Trust and the NZ Transport Agency have incurred an estimated $1.5 million to develop the SkyPath's design and structural feasibility to ensure traffic capacity is not compromised now or in the future.

Aucklanders are hugely supportive of the SkyPath. Independent polling by Y&R reveals that 76 per cent of Aucklanders are in favour of being able to walk and cycle over the bridge. Feedback to the design launched in August last year has been overwhelmingly positive, and Aucklanders accept the need for a toll to get the project done.

Aucklanders have before them a project that will enhance enjoyment of our beautiful city, encourage tourists to stay longer and provide congestion-free access across the harbour. This is Auckland Council's chance to make sure the SkyPath happens and to give meaning to their slogan: "Working to make Auckland the World's Most Liveable City"

SkyPath also provides Auckland Council with the opportunity to demonstrate that it is capable of working with the private sector to enable transformational projects. Recently the AECOM Global Cities Institute told us "The investment required to make Auckland the most liveable city is more than the council can deliver alone - Auckland needs to be public-sector stimulated, but private sector-driven."

If Auckland Council supports this project, then we can all enjoy walking and cycling across the most beautiful harbour in the world, whether we experience it as tourists, recreational users or commuters.

After more than 50 years of waiting, the time for SkyPath has come. The deadline is tomorrow. Auckland Council we await your decision.

Bevan Woodward, project director and trustee of the AHB Pathway Trust, has worked for walking and cycling access on the harbour bridge since 2004 and is a transport planner.

- NZ Herald

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