Sunday, July 5, 2015

SkyPath - How did the Commissioners come to this Disastrous Decision?

In June 2015 I made a submission to the Resource Consent Hearing for SkyPath a shared cycling/pedestrian 4 meter wide footpath across Auckland's Harbour Bridge. Having spent my life dealing with large crowds I was shocked to see that 14,337 people were expected  to access the landing at Northcote Point through one 5 meter gateway which was blocked by turnstyles. To make matters worse there was a gradient ramp running down to the barrier. At the same time the public on the landing were expected to enter the SkyPath plus bicycles, pushchairs and wheelchairs.

It does not take much imagination to see this would be a disaster, especially if there was a panic as people will push forward unaware that the people in front are being crushed at the same time as people are trying to get on. No security was planned at all. The more I read and looked at the demonstration video the worse it got. It seemed to me that it was a gigantic cage for 2,000 people as there is no other exits.  Once on the thing you are trapped.

The landing is just 50 sq meters at Northcote Point and the actual SkyPath takes up most of that so where on earth were the thousands of people to go? Each needs at least 1 sq meter for safety. The fact that there were to be no toilets and no parking and there would be difficulty in getting more than one fire engine in, and no hope at all for ambulances or police cars in the event of an emergency pailed into insignificance.

Having experienced an angry crowd myself when unexpectedly 2,800 turned up for my first children's show at Auckland Town Hall I know a disaster when I see it and if 20,000 turned up on the first day of SkyPath, as they will because Auckland has been sold this dream anything could happen.

There is no way 2000 an hour could make it through the two turnstiles available. It is very serious as people panic. It happens somewhere in the world many times each year, usually through miscalculating capacity and bad planning. Sometimes it results in many deaths.

Having had a rather serious illness I did not feel up to presenting personally so I made a 15 minute film to show the dangers of building SkyPath in its present form. A picture is worth a 1000 words and a moving picture is priceless and I knew that the Commissioners had experience with traffic & town planning but none with crowds. Crowds are not like cars that one can manage easily. People do what they want and cyclists are known to be aggressive.

It was not easy to do as the subject is not what the Commissioners wanted to hear as the Mayor had made it plain in the press that the consent had to go through. The Mayor chose the Independent  Commissioners. However one hoped they would be reasonable when people's lives are at stake.  A Shared Path of this magnitude  in a 4 meter tunnel has never been attempted anywhere else in the world as it is too dangerous. It UK it would be illegal simply because cyclists are vehicles and can kill pedestrians as easily as cars kill cyclists.

The press who were supposed to be there were late so instead of the dangers to human beings being reported the danger to life  bird life in the local reserve got the article. Not quite the same thing.

My video was watched in horror by the submitters and the Commissioners. It was clear everyone there had got the message but with no press it was quietly buried.  The decision entry says "The video addressed issues of whether the facility would be safe for users"! This is the understatement of the year.

Today is not like yesterday where the powerful could do this and get away with it. Social media has given me the opportunity to set the record straight. If just one death from a shared cycle/pedestrian  path occurs it will be the Commissioners fault because they have been warned. They know that the path is too narrow even under NZTA guidelines, there is no world research into shared paths and certainly not this type of shared path. They know it is dangerous. Our main street is just 4 meters wide yet nobody would think of sharing it with cyclists one way let alone going both ways on the same path. It is illegal because it is deadly.

I hope that the fuss I am making will make deaths from a human panic avoidable. Again the Commissioners know but have done nothing. They cannot say they have not been warned. I should not have to do this.

I have read all the evidence and they have seen mine so it is hard to understand how they can have come to the conclusion that SkyPath is fit for purpose and safe for humans without a complete redesign like make SkyPath a dismount for cyclists area and make them push their bikes over, or make the path 6.5 meters wide and put up a median barrier or have another SkyPath on the other side and separate the two. How you increase the ground footage on Northcote Point defeats me or solve the problem of the Onewa Road intersection where there is to be another shared path. This time cyclists and school children! I may win that one.

Hopefully now when 20,000 turn up on the first day something will be in place to avoid an angry crowd who cannot get on or off the SkyPath, cannot buy tickets and cannot park their cars and cannot get back onto the motorway without a 4 hour wait. The one thing the Commissioners did do was to provide a couple of WCs. They had to be forced to do this.

The fact that if the numbers do not eventuate will mean the Auckland Ratepayers will have to stump up is minor to the mayhem that might ensue if a 20,000 crowd were left to its own devices. This is one event where I hope I am wrong but like Cassandra at Troy I fear I could be right.

Beware the Greeks bearing gifts. Now watch the video!

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