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How misinformation slowed down the Great North Road cycleway project

9 August, 2023

Interview by Spike Keith, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone.

Urban Planning Programme Director at the University of Auckland, Dr Timothy Welch, says some automotive businesses on Great North Road misrepresented data to suggest that the street was safe. 

After being delayed for almost a decade, the government has approved the Great North Road cycleway project.

The cycleway is part of several planned improvements along Great North Road, between Ponsonby Road and Crummer Road, aimed at making the street safer. 

The road will now see safer raised pedestrian crossings, more reliable and efficient bus services, improvements to intersection safety, and new loading zones. 

These changes were initially proposed in 2012, with official plans drawn up three years later. 

However, the project has received opposition from a vocal minority group, which slowed down its implementation.  

Urban Planning Programme Director at the University of Auckland, Dr Timothy Welch, told 95bFM’s The Wire that some auto-industry companies near the Ponsonby end of the road misrepresented the safety of the road, and traffic volumes, in their submissions to council opposing the improvements.  

Welch said businesses, including car dealership Giltrap, claimed there had been no deaths on the road in the last decade. 

But in 2018, a Giltrap employee in a company car killed an 81-year-old pedestrian crossing the street. 

“Generally that road is very unsafe, it's a very high traffic area. There's been a number of minor and serious crashes totaling in the hundreds over the past decade, that could have been potentially worse crashes.”

Great North Road currently sees substantial traffic — roughly 20,000 vehicles per day. Welch said these businesses have argued that making walking, cycling, and public transport more accessible will affect their businesses.  

"The evidence shows categorically that [an increase in other forms of transport] does not have an impact on business.”

Despite some resistance to the project, Welch emphasised that a majority of people supported the proposal.

“Often, it's the people with the most time and resources that we hear the most, and have the most sway on what happens.” 

“The majority of the community and business leaders support the improvements on Great North Road. It was pretty unanimous.”

When it comes to future road improvements, Welch said Auckland Transport should prioritise the evidence, which shows protected cycleways and pedestrianisation measures need to happen to make roads safer. 

“There can be modifications to them if there are special cases and local knowledge that might improve the design, but the overall improvements should go forward.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air