As Auckland transforms itself from a place where for half a century cycling was barely acknowledged and walking was restricted to narrow footpaths, a network of walking paths, cycle paths and shared paths is pushing out to create a network that one day, will cover the whole city.
This is creating a different city complete with different attitudes about how communities function, how best to get around, and how people can live, work and play in - and above all enjoy to the fullest - one of the most beautiful and privileged cities in the world.
The Waterview shared path, therefore, is much more than a strip of concrete with three spectacular bridges, some impressive statistics and landscaping. It is an agent for enriching and changing a whole community and a vital link in transforming a whole city.
It is a key link connecting the CBD to the airport and an important strand in a network of walk and cycle paths that will link and lace all of Auckland.
It shows what can be achieved with close attention to the benefits of having iwi as AT’s partner and the Local Boards and community groups as participants in planning and designing such facilities. It shows how collaboration with iwi, local board and community, together with imaginative engineering, can preserve our history, share it and its cultural values and make them more accessible and an integral part of explaining our past and who we are today.
For the community it serves, it creates new transport and commuting options, new ways to reach train and bus stations, to go shopping, to get to education, to play and to exercise.
It sets a precedent of how a path of this kind can enrich its community by opening up our gems (streams and hidden green spaces), returning them to the community for recreation and connection to their shops and schools and transport options.
It passes through a beautiful part of the city that has been locked off and seen as unsafe and from the moment it opened and unlocked the potential, the community has responded in their droves. Several thousand took advantage of it in the weekend after it opened with numbers increasing from there. The spaces it opened up quickly became loved and opened other development opportunities.
In other words, this path achieves many things for the past, the present and the future. In the present, it opens up expansive green space and makes it safer for all, thus offering fantastic opportunities for recreation and family time in a calm and soothing environment. It connects its community better, allowing people to walk and cycle through park-like settings to shops, business, work, transport, sports and education – or just saunter, stroll or play. From here you can get views of Auckland not visible from anywhere else. It connects the community to surrounding neighbourhoods and completes a link between the city and the CBD.
Despite passing through an area rich in Maori and European history, detailed study of the ground, guided by iwi, (and the adoption of an imaginative approach to engineering) yielded invaluable benefits. They enabled contractors to build what is by any standards a major piece of infrastructure and yet leave the important historical and archaeological sites untouched for future study, identified and accessible as sites of importance and where appropriate, restoration.
It adds value to proposed housing developments and has encouraged Auckland Council to immediately propose additional sports facilities in the area.
Iwi, Local Board and community groups played a major role in the design of the path and its various components, including the aspects requiring cultural sensitivity and the artworks. Four massive pou to honour the mauri and kaupapa of the area, three were carved from aged Totara obtained especially for the project, and installed at the bridges. The bridges themselves were located to avoid sites of significance and have adopted artwork created by manawhenua. The Harbutt Bridge, the middle one of the three, has railings designed to represent the last remnants of Mahoe rock forest, unique to this special ecological area.
There were major engineering and aesthetic challenges with the two biggest bridges located at either end of this path. One - Te Piringa (Alford Street) Bridge - is opposite Alford Street (near to the north Waterview tunnel opening) and connects Great North Road to the deeply historic land from which Unitec now operates. The other is at Soljak Place where the path has to cross the Western Rail Line, above the 25,000KVA electricity cables that power the commuter trains heading West or to the City.
Approximately 90m long, Te Piringa (Alford Street) Bridge soars 16 metres above Te Auaunga/Oakley Creek, Auckland's longest uninterrupted urban stream. This bridge is placed sensitively on the edges of the stream standing on two large piers decorated with Maori artworks that reflect the forward movement of the water below in three dimensions.
Although it isn’t immediately obvious, the bridge deck bends slightly around a significant tree while the palings of the bridge rails extend down to form a skirt that hides the deck beams. Necessarily very large, these beams were lifted into place by super-lift cranes over three nights in January this year. Left undisguised they would spoil the light and graceful look of the structure.
In another innovation, a wave in the bridge railing has an optical effect of adjusting the “slenderness ratio” at all places meaning that people see it as smaller than it really is. This helps it fit with its surroundings and reduces the difficulties of users who are uncomfortable with big and high structures.
At the opposite end of the 3.4 kilometre path is the equally, but differently, impressive bridge that lifts the path 8m high over the rail corridor and over 16m over the Te Auaunga Awa Flood Culvert, to connect with Soljak Place.
KiwiRail assisted in keeping this 32 metre bridge to a visually acceptable height by lowering the overhead power lines, earth wires and other cables by up to 1.7 m over 1.6km between Mt Albert Station and the Blockhouse Bay over-rail bridge. Although the bridge is safely clear of the lines, considerable extra engineering design was applied to create an even greater safety margin. This isolates the structure in such a way that the power lines can never affect it.
Rather beautiful screens protect the privacy of the houses in the vicinity.
Here a special effort was made to fuse traditional Maori art forms with the concept of electricity, by iwi artists decorating the bridge piers with striking and colourful Maori forms to represent lightning and highlight the 25Kv of the rail corridor (which is eight times the voltage of lightning).
The safety of users was a priority. Although it weaves a path through the greenspace and is fringed with bush, at all points users can see 40-100 metres of path at any one time. This introduces a significant safety feature by ensuring that users can be seen by other users. Similarly, the bush and tall vegetation is sufficiently far back from the path as to not create places of ambush.
Minute attention was paid to the lighting, both to ensure that all parts of the path and its bridges are well lit (giving the same visibility over distance as in daylight) and without being so bright as to be dominating, the lighting is sufficient for most people with reduced eyesight.
This was achieved by adjusting the level of light by mere milliamps (a tiny amount), creating a warm and almost magical glow around path and bridges.
When it was created the brief was to achieve four overriding social and community objectives:
- Social mitigation (improving the local amenities and creating better ways in which the community can live, work and play in their neighbourhood).
- engagement with Iwi (manawhenua), Local Board and community groups.
- strategic transport outcomes that help the growth and interconnectedness of the communities it serves and the city as a whole.
The Waterview Shared Path achieves all these objectives at every point, both in the design and construction and in the final outcome.