Ian McKinnon Drive – or how to lower the City Centre by 6m

Instead of going up and back down, soon we will be going under Newton Road!
Instead of going up and back down, soon we will be going under Newton Road!

Newest blog regarding the consultation is here.

One of the key reasons NON-cyclists offer as to why Auckland currently doesn’t have more people on bikes is that it is too hilly. Funny, because we’re pretty sure that a couple of decades ago, when the percentage of Aucklanders cycling was five or ten times what it is now, Auckland pretty much had the same hills…*

*Plus, some of the flatter parts of Auckland, like big chunks of South and East Auckland, have some of the lowest bike mode share around! So maybe it’s the road environment. Just saying…

But they are half-right, of course. Hills can be a mighty bother. Not everyone has or wants an e-bike, and on some routes there are no gently-graded alternatives. So it is great that the Urban Cycleway Programme – in addition to creating a couple of big new connections like Great North Road and Glen Innes-Tamaki Drive – will also be making a couple of existing routes nicer. And in some cases, flatter.

One of the biggest such changes will be for our biggest cycleway, the Northwestern!

Existing is blue, red is new.
Existing is blue, red is new.

This is the Ian McKinnon Drive project, which will create a new cycleway on the western side of Ian McKinnon Drive. This has been mooted from way back (at one stage, around 2010, it was being talked about as part of the Grafton Gully Cycleway project!).

At the southern end, this new project will link to the Northwestern Cycleway at Taka Street, via the little Suffolk Reserve park you can see once you have struggled up the current steep ramp onto the Newton Road over bridge.

That’s right: you’ll no longer have to go up and over Newton Road, but will travel straight ahead and through the greenspace.

Taking that “up and down” out of the route will be especially welcome news to those travelling from the west, who currently have to battle up the steepest section of any of our cycleways – that city-bound ramp up to Newton Rd is over 15%, or three times the gradient of SkyPath. [Ed note: that explains why I often grind to a halt on this bit, even on my e-bike!]

Effectively, this will make the City Centre some 6m lower than before – about the height difference you can see in the first photo with the white bridge columns. Sure, right now, you get some of that sweat invested back, riding down the hill from Newton Road past the Golf Warehouse on the other side. But really, unless you are training for a hill race you will probably agree with us that “one less hill” is a real advantage, especially when it comes to getting more people on bikes, riding to work in their work clothes rather than “cycling gear”.

Ian McKinnon now (top), and an early concept of the future cycleway (bottom).
Ian McKinnon now (top), and an early concept of the future cycleway (bottom).

And the advantages of this project don’t stop there. Once you’ve travelled under Newton Road, the new cycleway will run up the western side of Ian McKinnon Drive (the eastern shared path will remain).

By taking out one downhill lane of traffic (this has already been traffic-modelled and found to be unproblematic), a new cycleway can be installed on the western side much quicker and more easily. (The exact design isn’t confirmed yet – it may be planter boxes for separation as shown in last year’s concept, or something else).

Another big group to benefit will be cyclists (and pedestrians) coming from the Dominion Road area. Currently, they have to chose between riding in 60 km/h traffic uphill, or crossing over to the east side just before Newton Road, where the northbound cycle lanes stop. Of course many of them then have to cross back to the west side at the top of the Ian McKinnon hill, so it’s the opposite of efficient at the moment.

Additionally, AT is looking at whether the project scope can be extended south of the Ian McKinnon interchange, to incorporate the Dominion Road cycle lanes from near View Road to link up to the fly-over cycle lanes. Those were pretty much ready to go, consulted on, etc… when the Dominion Road bus lane project got stopped by the Light Rail plan (although thankfully not before most of the other parts of the alternative cycle routes were built).

It would be great if AT can take up this “orphaned” project, because that section can be pretty nasty for people on bikes.

In our meetings with AT, we have also emphasised that this new Ian McKinnon path will be heavily used by pedestrians from nearby suburbs to the west and southwest, and so ideally, we would get some separation (remember this is a “temporary” project until Light Rail is built – but that doesn’t mean it won’t stay around for 5 years or more, so we need to make sure we don’t create new conflicts). The designers are from the same company that will be doing the LRT designs, so hopefully this will also improve their thinking on long-term cycle and pedestrian facilities.

It’s great that AT have agreed with us that dealing properly with potential pedestrian/cyclist conflicts should be part of the brief to designers even on interim projects.

When will we see this section completed and in use? Ian McKinnon Drive is one of the “mid-period” projects – not quite as early as Nelson Street and Quay Street in the 3-year delivery programme, but also not as long and complex as, say, Great North Road. From our discussions with AT, it seems likely that the path will be open within the next 1-2 years.

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