Whangārei's trainer wheels are definitely starting to come off its regional backwater status, thanks to projects such as the Kamo cycleway.
Another section of the cycleway is about to be officially opened but, regardless of any pomp and ceremony, you can already negotiate its existing length from Rust Ave in town to Fisher Tce, and from there to Kamo Intermediate. Another section past Kamo High to Station Rd is yet to be constructed.
The idea to build it along the railway corridor was mooted — and pooh-poohed — decades ago but only recently has the ethos changed: build it and they will come.
And come they do. In droves. I counted 42 people and five dogs while cycling home on Tuesday evening. Most are walkers, not cyclists, but you also see skateboarders, roller skaters, scooter riders (both two-wheelers and four-wheelers), joggers and dog walkers.
It made me think: Whangārei is growing up. It's ditching those trainer wheels, finding its balance, putting in some grunt and offering transport alternatives to an increasingly diverse population.
And in this case, the transport alternatives have better health outcomes, and are more fun, than sitting in a car in the thick of rush-hour traffic.
The most recent stage, I think, is actually the most visually appealing. After you have crossed Kamo Bypass at the traffic lights by Punarere Drive, you get views of Mount Denby Golf Course and across the railway tracks to leafy Fisher Tce.
But the views are mainly pleasant all along its length, from Rugby Park and past Whangārei Boys' and Girls' high schools.
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I always look out for my old home, which still sits proudly among the former state houses, on both sides of the tracks, originally built for railway workers.
Rail corridors tend to offer an unconventional cross-section of backyards and un-manicured no-man's lands.
The cycleway passes the suburbs of Regent, Kensington, Whau Valley, Otangarei and Kamo.
It also, currently, connects seven schools — including Whangārei Intermediate and Primary Schools, St Francis Xavier and Whau Valley — as well as the Auckland University Tai Tokerau University Campus.
On a broader scale, the $6.6 million, 6.5km cycleway is part of a city-wide network that includes the Onerahi and to-be-completed Raumanga routes. Soon locals and tourists will be able to negotiate large stretches of the city without fear of the almighty car. And, believe me, cycling without that constant apprehension is a joy.
As impressed as I am with the cycleway, built to high specifications to limit maintenance costs and cater for a broader range of users, I do have a couple of minor criticisms.
The first is the three main routes that head into town but don't seem to connect. If you want to go from Kamo to Onerahi, you will still have to run the gauntlet of downtown traffic, narrow lanes, traffic lights and roundabouts, and drivers opening the doors of parked cars right in your path.
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This will be tricky enough for adult cyclists — but children? I shudder to think.
The other is the access from Vinery Lane. I've now seen two cyclists crash down the steep steps meant for pedestrians, simply because the steps cannot be seen from above until it's too late.
Also I have a question: When the cycleway reaches Jack St in Otangarei, it uses an existing cycle path that is only 2m wide, and not the required 3m. This carries on across SH1 for maybe a total distance of 400-500m.
It's okay for now, but will this part be revisited after the last stage to Station Rd is completed?
Simply, two metres is not enough for a double buggy and a dog, let alone a cyclist and scooter rider to also pass at the same time.
Those few points aside, the cycleway is by far the easiest gradient on which to head north into the Kamo hills (although you face a steep climb when you get to Fisher Tce), and a sheer blast going the other way, gravity assisted.
It's one of the best things to happen to a city that's seems to be moving ahead in leaps and bounds.