South Auckland leaders are frustrated and angry, but not surprised, at plans for a $35 million cycleway in two of the city's wealthiest suburbs.
"We have to fight for every dollar," Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board chairwoman Lydia Sosene says.
She is talking about "transport poverty", whereby city dwellers get luxuries like expensive cycleways while communities in South Auckland are stuck with the car.
It is galling to Sosene and other leaders to see AT splurge $35 million on a cycleway connecting the wealthy inner-city suburbs of Pt Chevalier and Westmere, where the average home costs $3 million and ex-All Black Ali Williams and Zuru toy billionaire Anna Mowbray are demolishing their 12-year-old house for a new home and helicopter pad.
The Weekend Herald understands the $35m figure is more than AT has spent on cycleways in the whole of South Auckland since the Super City was formed in 2010 - a figure not disputed by AT chief executive Shane Ellison.
The Pt Chevalier to Westmere cycleway is being built to a gold standard with new trees, native plantings, raised tables on side streets, upgraded street lighting, partial undergrounding of power lines, a bus lane on Pt Chevalier Rd and a separated, two-way cycleway on Meola Rd connecting the suburbs.
The 2.5km cycleway, costing $14m per km, is designed by award-winning landscape and urban design consultants Boffa Miskell.
Manurewa-Papakura councillor Angela Dalton said it's blatantly obvious there is an injustice and inequity when it comes to transport investment in South Auckland.
"They might be able to point to little projects or these pop-up streets or speed humps, but the beautiful projects you won't find here."
There are no safe cycleways, she said, just a few green-painted cycle lanes from the early days of the Super City that no one uses, saying: "That's the best we can get".
Dalton, who sits on groups reviewing cycleway plans and reducing transport emissions, said emission targets could not be addressed without applying an equity lens and delivering projects that suited the reality of life in South Auckland.
Sosene said she could not help but get a bit emotional to hear that central-city suburbs are getting a $35m cycleway when South Auckland has to argue for every dollar.
"How come? Who made that decision and why is that?" she wanted to know.
Sosene said her board was one of the lucky ones in South Auckland when it came to transport investment, saying it received $11m for Te Ara Mua, a cycling project in Māngere, and $5m for safety works at Māngere Bridge.
Manukau councillor and mayoral candidate Efeso Collins said people have raised concerns with him about the unequal distribution of council resources.
"Cycling is an important part of modal shift and needs a fair amount of investment. This approach isn't about pitting areas against each other, instead taking a whole of network approach," he said.
Asked if the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer when it comes to cycling infrastructure, AT chief executive Shane Ellison said "no".
However, he did acknowledge a combination of different funding mechanisms and the impact of Covid-19 had resulted in building more cycleways in the central city and suburbs in the inner west and east.
That was because the Urban Cycleways Programme started in 2014, which had no criteria for equity, was further advanced than a Programme Business Case for cycling infrastructure developed in 2017 that takes account of deprivation, he said.
"In four to five years we would expect to see significant balancing of investment in cycleways," he said.
He said significant investment is going into cycleways in West Auckland, such as the New Lynn to Avondale shared path and the Henderson cycle network, and the NZ Transport Agency is building cycleways, including the 4.5km shared pathway from Takanini to Papakura, and works around Auckland Airport.
"They form part of a joined-up approach to investment in Auckland's broader transport system."
Ellison said social and transport equity was an important factor in prioritising cycling and walking investment across Auckland, saying a significant portion of the $306m following on from the Urban Cycleways Programme over the next decade would be spent in South Auckland.
"You will appreciate that the greatest number of Māori are living in the south and the west of Tāmaki Makaurau. While there is significant transport investment occurring in the south it's clear that there is more work to do to understand the implications for Māori, and by extension the south and the west generally," Ellison said.
AT has not committed any serious money to cycleways in South Auckland in the 2018-2021 and current 2021-2024 funding rounds.
When the Herald asked AT in 2018 how much it planned to spend on cycleways in each local board over the 2018-2021 funding round, there was nothing for each of the four boards in South Auckland.
Similarly, AT does not plan to complete any new cycleways in South Auckland in the current 2021-2024 funding round, although it is finalising the design for an expanded cycling network in Māngere East and Manukau over the next 18 months.
Funding for physical works will not be available until after 2024.
Dr Tim Welch, a senior lecturer at Auckland University's School of Architecture and Planning, who specialises in transport, said a lot of investment needed to go into the central city but the money was not being distributed equally.
The city was getting stuck in a cycle of developing cycleways for higher-income areas and lower-income areas getting more roading projects, leaving them stuck with the car, said Welch, who does research on transport equity.
To improve equity, he suggested a congestion charge on cars accessing the central city and using a big chunk of the income to subsidise cheap public transport for low-income earners.
"Auckland has the third most expensive public transport fares in the world and third or fourth highest car ownership in the world," Welch said.
AT is insistent about the merits of the Westmere and Pt Chevalier cycleway, saying the central city suburbs are where there's a stronger demand for cycling infrastructure as they're within an achievable commuting distance from the city centre.
As part of the Pt Chevalier to Westmere project, parking will be banned along the entire 1.6km length of Meola Rd. To compensate, a large car park costing another $6m is being built by Motat on its Meola Rd site for visitors and people using the popular Seddon Fields sports grounds and Meola Reef dog park.
The car park will have 200 spaces with parking costs of about $5 for a couple of hours, rising sharply for all-day parking, Motat chief executive Michael Frawley says.
AT is also extending the Richmond Rd cycleway in Grey Lynn to Westmere at a cost of $19m, some of which will be spent fixing problems at the West Lynn shops that caused a stink when the $4.3m cycleway was built in 2017.
A 500m section of the cycleway, a bitumen surface laid through the grass berm on Old Mill Rd, is also being ripped and replaced with a new on-road section separated from traffic.
All up, 75 carparks will be removed along Richmond Rd, Surrey Cres, Old Mill Rd and Garnet Rd as part of the $19m project. The Pt Chevalier to Westmere project will mean the loss of 190 carparks. AT says these figures represent a 23 per cent reduction for on-street car parking across the two routes.
The Richmond Rd cycleway had little use when the Weekend Herald surveyed the number of city-bound cyclists at the West Lynn shops across four weekday mornings early this month.
On two mornings between 8am and 9am, eight cyclists used it each day. On two mornings between 7.30am and 8.30am, four and six cyclists used it. Over the four days, eight people cycled on the footpath or the road.
Not a single cyclist was seen using the citybound cycleway at the West Lynn shops when a Herald photographer was there between 8.40am and 10.20am on Thursday.
When asked about the budgets of $35m and $19m for the two projects, Ellison said they could be subject to rising construction costs.
He said no contracts had been let, although works had started fixing the problems in West Lynn Village. AT has told local residents construction will start on both projects in the middle of the year, but it first has to secure co-funding from the NZ Transport Agency - and that is not guaranteed.
'The South is being left behind'
Kelvin Hieatt is gutted when he hears Auckland Transport can afford expensive cycleways in affluent suburbs but can't find the money to replace an unsafe cycleway in South Auckland.
He describes a 2km cycleway running down South Great South Rd between Papakura and the Takanini interchange as a "complete dog's breakfast".
"It's very, very unsafe for cyclists. You have got a painted lane that is 1.2m wide. You are forced on to the footpath, then you come off the footpath, then there are no painted lines.
"Then there is like a false lane, which is a cyclist lane and which cars use," said Hieatt, whose family are keen road cyclists. He is president of the Tōtara Park Mountain Park Club.
The Conifer Grove Residents Association, of which Hieatt is a committee member, has been urging AT to get rid of the existing cycleway or build a shared, off-road path for cyclists and pedestrians on the existing 3m wide footpath.
That would free up space for a second lane in each direction on Great South Rd for a bus lane and T2 lane or T3 vehicles, he said.
Hieatt said the new Takanini interchange already had cycling infrastructure as part of a new 4.5km Southern Pathway for cycling and walking built by the NZ Transport Agency when it widened the Southern Motorway between Takanini and Papakura.
The association would like to connect Great South Rd to the Southern Pathway on the other side of the motorway, he said.
Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman said AT pleaded poverty in response to calls to build a $4 million shared path so that Kelvin and others do not have to cycle on Great South Rd alongside milk tankers travelling to a nearby Fonterra milk plant.
"AT concedes the painted lines are not adequate but keep telling the Papakura Local Board the shared path is unbudgeted and not planned for implementation. We want innovation in South Auckland, but the AT cycling lobby ignores some communities," he said.
Hieatt said he is "pretty gutted" to hear AT does not have the money.
"When we are seeing huge cycling infrastructure put in more affluent areas of the city, is the South just being left behind?" he asks.
AT chief executive Shane Ellison said the section of Great South Rd was a part of a Connected Communities Programme, which was paused because of Covid-19 funding constraints.
He said AT was working on a fast delivery programme for low-risk improvements aimed at making painted cycleways safer, saying the section of Great south Rd is provisionally planned in this programme for 2024-2025.