- The development of He Ara Kotahi was based on the principles of genuine collaboration and respectful engagement
- The design led approach of the iconic Karaka Bridge incorporates narrative of the area’s rich cultural and ecological history
- Public support led to further cycling and walking pathways being included in the original design
- He Ara Kotahi exceeded its targets to drive active mobility, with 100,000 users in its first four months.
Building partnerships to honour our past, present and future
The Manawatū River is a source of mana for Rangitāne o Manawatū, and contributes to the identity of Te Papa-i-Oea Palmerston North. However, over a series of decades the awa (river) had become polluted, and what was once a major transport route for mana whenua had become an embarrassment. In recent years, hard work has gone into restoring the mana and health of the awa, and in June 2019 that was fully realised with the opening of the off-road pathway, He Ara Kotahi, ‘the pathway that brings people together’.
He Ara Kotahi was the result of strong partnerships and a clear vision. Palmerston North City Council’s (PNCC) 10-year plan (2012-2022) was for the city to be recognised as vibrant, caring, innovative, and sustainable. Key additional factors were the Manawatū River Framework, PNCC’s aspirational partnership with Iwi, and their goal to get more residents walking and cycling while reducing traffic congestion.
PNCC identified a significant gap in its walking and cycling network. There was no safe connection between the town centre and main residential area, and Massey University, Crown Research Facilities and the Linton Army base on the opposite southern bank of the awa. This was a barrier to residents, workers, army personnel, students and staff on the southern side of the river from using active forms of transport. The only link was a busy, indirect highway arterial road with few recreational benefits, which also restricted access for local iwi to sacred historic sites on the left bank.
Project partners Rangitāne o Manawatū, Massey University, New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and PNCC collaborated towards a vision of an iconic bridge to connect the city to the facilities and suburbs across the Manawatū River. Complementing this desire for connection, the partnership wanted He Ara Kotahi to be a catalyst to significantly enhance the recreational opportunities of the river corridor, as part of the Manawatū River Framework.
He Ara Kotahi was founded on the principal of collaborative partnership and connection. The pathway travels along waterways, rivers, cultural heritage sites and battlefield sites. It consists of 8km of pathways, five bridges (including the main 194m long ‘Karaka’ Bridge across the Manawatū River) and a further 145m of boardwalk. The Karaka Bridge also marks the site of a village once known as Mokomoko, occupied by Rangitāne for 300 years, and the site of the biggest battle in Te Papa-i-Oea’s history which resulted in the death of thousands of people in the 1800s.
WSP completed all detailed design, community engagement, environmental impact and assessment of environmental effects (AEE) work, and management, surveillance and quality assurance (MSQA). Early in the process, the team realised the community deserved a better outcome than a facility retro-fitted along the existing high speed highway. The highway had a history of fatal and serious injury pedestrian and cycle crashes, was indirect and offered no recreational or cultural value to users.
WSP initially investigated three identified potential new bridge sites, before ultimately identifying a new fourth site, using behavioural science modelling to predict the best location for users. This fourth (and ultimately selected) site offered direct connections between the city and the educational and science institutions on the opposite bank.
Collaborative thinking and genuine, extensive engagement, meant that together with Massey University and NZDF (who opened private land to accommodate the design) and strong advocacy by local Iwi, the vision of a new 194m bridge and direct pathway on the opposite bank become a reality.
WSP looked to the unique local heritage to design an ‘iconic’ bridge across the Manawatū River within a 24 month timeframe and budget constraints. Rangitāne Iwi shared their history and their relationship with the awa, and identified a sacred Karaka grove and historic sites on the true left bank of the river. Their story was woven into the creative design of the new bridge as a ‘Karaka’ log that had fallen across the river. This design-led approach gave the opportunity to tell the history of the Karaka grove in sign boards, and more ambitiously in the hard and soft landscape paving of the bridge.
In addition, the Karaka Bridge was designed with maximum 55m steel beam spans to reduce the number of piers in the river bed to just two. To minimise disturbance. The curved structure also provides flood clearance, and avoids steep and expensive ramps at each end.
Local community engagement demonstrated local support for developing additional recreational options, and WSP’s designers saw an opportunity to develop the new Karaka Bridge and pathway to connect with existing pathways and form a new walking-cycling loop. Taking this concept further still, they incorporated facilities for cycles and adaptive spaces into the design.
The new facility now boasts an adaptive area on the true-right (city) bank that can be used to stage sports, events, or overflow carparking.
The goal of He Ara Kotahi was to provide a safer and more direct route for people to travel to work and educational centres east of the river.
The design has achieved this and more. The careful approach led to cost savings, including the use of low maintenance, pre fabricated beams, reduced piles in the river, and construction from the river bed to avoid costly formwork.
It encourages locals to choose to cycle, with sections of the route providing safe access away from the high-speed traffic along the state highway. It also draws more people to the river for recreational activities, which was a goal in both the Manawatū River Leaders’ Accord and the Manawatū River Framework.
This pathway truly brings the people together providing a safe, direct and beautiful walking and cycling super highway connection to Massey University Campus (18,000 students & staff) and Linton Army base (2,100 staff).
Since the bridge and pathway had over 100,000 users within its first four months of operation peaking at 7,000 users in one day. A year since opening, the NZ Herald reported this number had reached 600,000.