Creating quality walkways for healthier communities

In this column New Zealand Walking Access Commission chief executive Eric Pyle discusses the need for planners to consider walking trails when creating new subdivisions and some of the opportunities and challenges for access to the South Island high country.

In July, I attended the 2WALKandCYCLE Conference in Auckland. The turn-out for the event was impressive, with over 200 participants and an excellent line-up of local and international speakers.

Conference attendees included people from all walks of life, from engineers and town planners to academics and politicians.

A couple of things stood out for me. One was the level of excitement shown by the New Zealand Transport Agency and by the Minister of Transport towards improving walking and cycling access for our communities.

The other was the significant number of health sector representatives attending the conference. I'm encouraged by the many people who are investing time and effort into creating future peri-urban and urban landscapes that encourage walking, cycling and a healthier lifestyle.

Build it and they will come, the saying goes. Or will they? The new part of the Te Araroa Trail from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, is a tremendous peri-urban success story. Since it opened a few months ago, thousands of people have completed the walk. But, in comparison, Porirua has a number of walks that are poorly used. One aspect that has become apparent is that people really want quality experiences. This quality element, in the design of walkways, makes a big difference in terms of whether people use them or not.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting people north of Auckland who are working on some 100km of walking, cycling and horse trails, with the ultimate goal of having an interlinked network of trails from Puhoi to Mangawai. I must give credit to the vision and determination of the people involved; one person has been promoting a concept for a trail from Warkworth to Snells Beach for some 20 years, and now it looks like it could become reality. Sometimes, a long term view is required in this game.

Of course, access is not just a peri--urban issue. Over the past couple of months, we have been discussing access in the South Island high country with organisations such as Federated Farmers of New Zealand, NgÄ