Friday, June 20, 2014

Skypath vs Residents, How to bring the residents and cyclists together - a Suggestion

Sleepy heritage area Northcote Point is in for a shock. The Cycle Skypath is coming whether the residents want it or not. The Auckland Harbour Bridge has no lane for pedestrians or cyclists. The Point is the only way the cyclists and pedestrians will be able to access Skypath. The powerful and vocal Cycle lobby wants to build a Skypath over the Harbour Bridge to allow them to cycle to work and who can blame them. The Mayor is in favour and $100 thousands of dollars have already been allocated. This project has been done virtually in secret. As yet the residents have not been notified The official line is that this is not a council project although the council is paying for it. It was voted for in council. Three  councillors voted against it. As it stands it is not practically feasible.

Never mind that Northcote Point is classified as a residential area the Town Planning laws are to be overlooked  because of the precedent that the 1930's bus station was turned into a cinema when cars were a novelty, no off street parking required then and so began a Town Planning nightmare for the residents. What has happened to Northcote Point over the years would never be allowed to happen anywhere else in NZ today. Businesses here require no off street parking whatever the size if they are on the site of a Victorian business. Skypath is not on the site of a Victorian shop.

It appears Northcote Point is to be swamped with Skypath's patrons cars as there is no off street parking allocated for this major transport hub. In these already over parked streets space for at least an extra 1850 cars a day is required if the patronage figures are correct. A glance at the map above shows that this cannot be done even if every household parks off road. Many of them cannot do this and what if a household has a second car? This has to be accommodated too. The few residents of the Point who knew of the scheme complained but the Skypath's public answer is that the residents have no right to the street parking and they have a point.  What is sauce for the goose etc. means the residents have as much right to park as the Skypath patrons, sort of first come first served  and residents are on the spot. If they choose to leave a second or third car out all day who is to stop them.

The problem started in the 1980s when the cinema, much improved was allowed to continue, 350 seats with no off street parking, then came a 30 seat restaurant which turned into a 50 seat restaurant, an antique shop, a  busy popular cafe, no off street parking required, added to a row of shops, a tavern, the Memorial Hall and the overflowing Tongan Church, Senior Citizens Meeting rooms, there is also a conference centre on the wharf that shares parking with the ferry and on occasions 100 cars can be expected for weddings etc. when all were are in use even if not together the parking spaces on Northcote Point become as rare as hen's teeth. Customers of the businesses who have never been obliged to provide suitable off street parking, complain about the long walks. The residents on the whole put up with it because Northcote Point it the sort of place where anybody would like to live. It is pleasant, friendly and beautiful.

Tragically the Point's only exit and entrance is at one of the 15 worst bottle necks in New Zealand. Queen St is a straight road with few turnings that runs down the Point which leads to the dreaded Onewa Road which is the only entrance onto the motorway into Auckland over the Harbour Bridge for a good section of the North Shore. In the morning the residents of the Point are locked in. From 7 am to 9.15 am only 11 cars every seven minutes are allowed to turn right to join the traffic headed for the Harbour Bridge. It is a very long wait not helped by cars from nearby areas who queue jump instead of joining the long procession from their own district. At the moment there are no cyclists to make matters worse but over 1000  cyclists will be expected to use this entrance if no other path can be found. It will be chaos of massive proportions.

Whoever owns the cars, parked cars on both sides of street will mean the main road will be down to two lanes  congested with cars and the 1000+ cyclists that are expected every day. A dangerous mix. In the side streets, that will have to be used too, the roads will be down to one lane. No room for a cycle lane. In any case the pedestrian crossers are in for a long walk. 

It has been calculated because of the huge increase in use that the exit to the Onewa Rd will take up to an hour and in the future when 34,000  (!!!) are expected to use this facility the exit could take up to 5 hours. There is no way the Onewa Rd exit can be rebuilt without a major upgrade removing most of the residential district and Onepoto basin and covering it with concrete. Skypath can be scathing about the Northcote residents who are being accused of being NIMBYs but in fact they are only protesting about becoming prisoners because of the parking and traffic. They already live with a bridge that carries 400,000 cars a day and puts up with all the businesses in residential streets.

So what is to be done? The cyclists want access to their Skypath and the residents do not want the parking or traffic. So why not be creative and come up with a solution. An answer that suits residents and cyclists. Simple.

The Point, its roads and residents can easily be isolated. Only cyclists and residents cars are allowed. All other cars with the exception of the disabled are to be excluded. This can be easily policed by cctv cameras as it is in London. Already this is working in Auckland, cross into a bus lane or forbidden bridge and one gets a $150 fine. The local Transport Police are just down the road too so parking infringements will not go unnoticed. The Transport police are literally on the spot.

That means the residents and police can  more easily access the Onewa Road in the morning rush hour and the cyclists get a clear run to the Skypath and back in the evening. No fear of being knocked down by congested traffic or an opening car door. The pedestrians who want to walk anyway will have just a kilometre more of exercise to get to their cars or they can take the bus.

As the Skypath spokesman pointed out the residents have no right to parking and therefore neither do the businesses on the Point who have been hogging the parking for years and making use of a Town Planning anomaly to their benefit. They knew when they bought their businesses  that they had no parking to offer so if it is removed it is their problem. Their patrons can still access the shops on foot or by bus as a better bus service will be necessary to ferry pedestrians down to the Point.  The cinema can provide a parking permits rather like the toll system at Warkworth. Where the Skypath's other customers park is up to them perhaps in the nearby Northcote shopping centre or a specially built Parking building in an appropriate zoning. 

I feel sure this solution would appeal to the residents of Northcote Point and to the Skypath enthusiasts as well. Initially I was  being ironic but you know this is a good idea. A happy outcome for all.

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