COMMENT:

The cycling fraternity are understandably ecstatic over the Government's commitment to pay out $67 million to fund the SkyPath shared walk/cycleway across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. But campaigner Bevan Woodward's hope it will be completed in time for the 2021 America's Cup regatta might be unwise.

Back in 2011, there was a similar event-driven ambition to resuscitate the Auckland train network in time for Rugby World Cup opening night. And who can forget the mayhem and recriminations and bad publicity that reverberated around the world when on that day of days, the whole of the CBD transport system slowly ground to a halt.

That a decade after that fiasco, we might want to launch a brand new walkway that everyone will want to crowd onto, to coincide with this high-profile regatta, seems a potential drama best avoided. Especially with the Italian motorway collapse still fresh.

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On the night of the Rugby World Cup, the worst that occurred were stranded passengers climbing up muddy banks from their dead trains, trying to hitch a ride to Eden Park before half-time. Panic on an overcrowded SkyPath could be another ball game altogether.

As a long-time sceptic of the costings put up to Auckland Council by proponents of the scheme, I am relieved to see my doubts seemingly confirmed. Less than a year ago, councillors were told it would cost $34m.

The Government is now happily admitting to an outlay of double that, in the process ignoring that this is double what Labour committed itself to while campaigning in last year's election.

Admittedly both figures are a lot less than the $248m it was going to cost over the next 25 years in fees, construction costs, tolls and the like in the doomed public private partnership scheme Auckland Council had signed up to with merchant bankers Morrison & Co back in 2015.

These sums were based on, I thought, fanciful claims that 781,284 cyclist-pedestrians would do the return crossing in the first year, paying up to $10 each for the trip. Ominously, Auckland ratepayers were to underwrite any shortfall in this toll income.

Panic on an overcrowded SkyPath as fans head for America's Cup a drama best avoided. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Panic on an overcrowded SkyPath as fans head for America's Cup a drama best avoided. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Luckily for the ratepayer, just over a year ago, the selected builder, Downer Construction backed out of the deal, saying the fixed price of $34m was not realistic and neither was the proposed PPP funding model.

In the aftermath of this withdrawal, both then Transport Minister Simon Bridges and the Labour Opposition, pledged to fund it nationally if returned to office.

That the bill has doubled in a year suggests Auckland ratepayers have had a lucky escape.

As one of the few Aucklanders, the cycle lobby would have you believe, that doesn't pedal everywhere, or want to, I am relieved the SkyPath is still referred to as a joint bike-walkway. But as I enter the doddery years, could I make a plea for separate paths for walkers and bikers.

In recent years, there's been a craze in the Auckland CBD to convert roads into "shared spaces", where cars and pedestrians are supposed co-exist in perfect harmony like the biblical lambs and lions.

I can't say this experiment to persuade motorists to share their territory works very well. I certainly still scarper when I see a car coming. But now the traffic planners want vulnerable pedestrians to share our safe spaces with bikes - to protect them from the nasty car.

Labour was pushing this anti-pedestrian theme in last year's campaign literature, promoting shared paths as a way "people can walk and cycle separated from the dangers of motorised traffic".

What this new mantra fails to understand is that for pedestrians, the danger is not just motorised traffic, it's wheeled traffic of any sort. Last week, for instance, I almost became the victim of a silent motorised skateboard contraption, which sped past me from behind on a pedestrian crossing.

And walking on footpaths in my neighbourhood after 3pm can be exciting, as the caged children escape from school and head home on their bikes along the pavements with their mates.

I don't blame them for avoiding the road. But imperilling the pedestrian, to make life safer for cyclists, whether on the footpaths or the new SkyPath, risks victimising the until now, safe pedestrian.