Moyle Park is a tree-lined, sprawling green space in Māngere, with playing fields, sports clubs and a stream running through it. At its south end, a pathway leads over state highway 20, just by the airport/Manukau interchange, connecting to Māngere Central Park, Favona and Māngere East.
But then the pathway just stops. A row of palms indicates where it was once planned to go, but instead of a pathway, there’s a bog. Years ago, the funding ran out.
Residents on the east side of the motorway wanting to get to the Māngere town centre or any of the schools or sports facilities to the west have to drive the long way round.
For the lack of 600m of asphalt, they can’t walk with dry feet, take a pushchair or ride a bike or a mobility scooter. The local board and community advocates have been asking for years for the path to be finished.
Now it will be.
There are hundreds of projects like this one in the $350 million Transport Choices package, announced on Sunday by Transport Minister Michael Wood and administered by the government’s transport agency Waka Kotahi.
Small-scale, cheap, easy to build, many of them good to go right now. Shovel-ready, as they used to say. They include 397 new or upgraded bus shelters, another 240km of cycleways and 119 improvements to school access.
Also, 11 new bus priority routes, some of which will act as feeder routes to the Northwest Busway now being built on the shoulders of the Northwest Motorway.
None of them will change the world, but every one of them will change a little bit of it.
It all adds up. And these are not decisions made from on high, not “Wellington telling Auckland what to do”, as our mayor Wayne Brown likes to say. They’re locally initiated.
Communities all over the country applied for this funding: the agency received over $1 billion worth of applications. The successful projects were, in most cases, already widely supported, but no one had ever got around to finding the money.
You might think there would be wide political support for this. National and Act commonly tell us the Government is not listening to local communities.
Brown himself campaigned on a promise to give local boards more power to decide on local matters. One of the first things he did as mayor was tell Auckland Transport (AT) that local boards “must be far more closely involved in decisions about ... smaller-scale capital projects in their area”.
But Brown hasn’t acknowledged the Sunday announcement was what he’s been asking for at all.
In his response, he did say “every bit helps”, but then he listed his own “immediate transport priorities”.
They included: “Preventing or mitigating the two years of disruption to trains that Auckland commuters face because of poor planning by KiwiRail.”
This is a reference to the track repairs KiwiRail will begin next month. Everyone agrees it’s an appalling situation and everyone agrees the disruption to passengers should be minimised.
But as Brown knows full well, the work and the disruption it causes can’t be “prevented”. Rail lines built for eight-tonne trains are now carrying 18 tonnes and they will become unsafe unless they are strengthened.
Councillor Mike Lee told the council’s transport committee last week the best way to minimise disruption would be to slow the work down, so it takes many more years to complete. He may be on his own with this.
KiwiRail’s view is that all the work must be completed by the time the CRL opens. It says it can do this by closing only one line at a time, for periods that last from a few weeks to several months.
Auckland Transport and the CRL company agree. They all believe it’s essential for public confidence in the rail network that it’s ready to burst into life as soon as the CRL allows.
Despite what Lee says, Brown also agrees. Last Thursday, he told me he was appalled at Lee’s desire to slow the repair process. “What did I stand on?” he said. “Fixing problems, right? Just get the damn thing done.”
On a brighter note, Brown did praise the Transport Choices programme for its “planned improvements to Northwestern Busway feeder routes”. That’s bang on: Bus priority lanes are critical to the success of the bus network.
But he added that this would “increase public-transport use by making our bus system better rather than [making] our roads worse for private vehicles”.
Just a heads up about that, Mr Mayor: Quite a lot of people will complain that bus lanes inherently make the roads worse for cars, because they can’t drive in them. Stay strong!
As for the other Brown, National’s transport spokesman Simeon Brown, he responded to the Transport Choices announcement by dismissing it as “small amounts of money that will have a small impact”.
That’s silly. A new walkway will make no difference to almost everybody, but it can change the lives of the people who live nearby.
Sometimes, when politicians say transport agencies have to get better at “listening to the community”, what they really mean is that the people who complain noisily about cycleways, or car parks, or roadworks, are not getting their way.
But no one should be surprised when communities say they want safer streets. Or when they say they want viable options to make walking, riding or catching a bus a worthwhile choice, rather than a worthy inconvenience.
Meanwhile, Brown has told AT he wants $25 million cut from its operating budget, without reducing services. Acting chief executive Mark Lambert said on Thursday that they were hoping to achieve that by focusing on insurance and IT costs. But he has also been reported as telling staff that AT will be “putting some cycling projects on hold” while it “considers cars more in road upgrades”.
Under immediate threat, it seems, are three linked roading projects due to begin in the inner west: On the Grey Lynn section of Great North Rd, on Surrey Cres and Richmond Rd, and on Garnet Rd, Meola Rd and Pt Chevalier Rd.
They’re “dig once” projects in that they will improve pedestrian safety, intersection efficiency, bus services and water and power services. There’ll be hundreds of new trees and much-needed better parking off Meola Rd for the busy Seddon Fields, Meola Reef dog Park and Motat. They will transform road safety around the many local schools in the area.
There will also be more cycleways, which seems to be the reason Mike Lee has called for the projects to be “put on hold”.
But they’ve been consulted on endlessly since 2016. That process seems, finally, to have delivered clear community support. And the work is 51 per cent funded by Government.
This is a test. Is the mayor serious about supporting projects the local communities want? Is he committed in any meaningful way to lower emissions? Does he recognise the changing needs of areas like Great North Rd, filling fast with apartment blocks?
And will AT advocate for its own plans, after spending years developing them?
Perhaps Simeon Brown would like to express his support. After all, this whole makeover will cost more than the Transport Choices projects, but it will also make a lot of people’s lives immeasurably better.
Radha Patel, a Year 12 student at Western Springs College, addressed the council’s transport committee about this last week. She said that even in winter 64 per cent of WSC students walk or bike to school. Meola Rd is dangerous for them and they want it to be safer. It’s really that simple.