It was all smiles and all kinds of bike styles at the opening of the latest link in the bike network on Friday 30 November. The prize: 800m of brand new smooth wide path at the city end of the Northwestern Cycleway, which crucially cuts out the up-and-over on the Newton Rd viaduct and shaves two and a half minutes off the journey.
Officially, this is known as the Ian McKinnon Drive Cycleway – although, as several people noted, it really needs a catchier name, probably one without ‘drive’ in it! (One suggestion we quite liked, via Twitter: given it’s at the top end of Dominion Road and the man himself is known to ride a bike, how about the Don McGlashan Cycleway?). It consists of a new path through a previously gloomy no-go green reserve and under the Newton Road viaduct, then a tarmac path along the road berm behind mature trees, and then a protected cycleway on the roadway up to the traffic lights at Upper Queen St.
What became clear as people poured towards the opening ceremony – through the newly tidied and freshly planted Suffolk Reserve, past a saxophone band playing Kiwi classics! – is that this isn’t just about avoiding intersections and saving time. It’s all about the vibe. As one of the first major improvements to Auckland’s existing bike network, this new connection adds a luxurious smoothness to an everyday journey.
And it’s a journey that more and more people are making every day. As noted in the official welcome by Kathryn King and in the rousing speeches by Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Mayor Phil Goff, the Northwestern path has seen the biggest bike boom in recent times. This October’s numbers are up by 28.8% on last October, for a total of 30,000+ journeys a month. A thousand trips a day, on average, and upwards of 1500 on a busy day.
That’s a whole lot of people who are no longer stuck in traffic on SH16 alongside! And it’s a huge vote of confidence in the potential for ‘mode shift’, i.e. more Aucklanders having the much-needed confidence to swap or supplement a car trip or public transport journey with one on a bicycle.
So how are you finding the new connection?
We’re delighted with the new connection, although as always we can see issues to tweak before declaring it perfect. Aside from the smoothness, legibility, beauty, and savings on travel time, these are a few user comments and questions we’ve been hearing…
- You’ll recall we had concerns about pedestrians following the desire line and finding themselves in the cycleway. Solving this by adding a footpath would have required either complex cantilevering at the top end, or borrowing more road space. It’s early days yet, but we’re already seeing and hearing of pedestrians in the bike lanes, so our safety concerns remain.
- We’ve noted visibility issues on the downhill at night (personally tested by one of our crew!), where the cycleway leaves the road and enters the berm. For new users in particular, the yellow curve sign in the distance provides a false cue. Some kind of reflector treatment at the traffic island would make the turn-off much more visible in advance.
- For those travelling citywards on Dominion Road, if you miss the turnoff under the Newton Road overbridge, there isn’t an easy way to re-enter the protected cycleway. Some have been using the drainage channel, but that’s obviously not ideal. Providing formal entry here would be highly dangerous, as it would create a T-intersection at one of the fastest spots, with downhill riders crossing paths with on-road uphill riders, and/or send downhill riders into oncoming traffic. So the fix here is probably better signage to draw people off Dominion Road and onto the path.
- And, for those heading onwards at the top of Ian McKinnon Drive, you’ll notice there’s no direct crossing towards Alex Evans Drive. Eventually we’d expect to see a full crossing here for all movements. In the meantime, you have the option of hanging a left, using the new crossing at Canada Street, and then going back up. It’s not ideal, but once K Road and the Upper Queen Street bikeways are completed in 2020, you’ll also have the option of switching away from Alex Evans and instead using Upper Queen and K Road to access Symonds St.
What else catches your eye? Let us know!
And you may ask yourself: how did we get here?
This connection has been a long time coming. It was mentioned in Transit New Zealand’s 2008 Auckland Region Walking and Cycling Strategy for Auckland (along with a connection through to Grafton Gully), and appears in a set of plans from 2007, which we were first shown by Auckland Council in 2010:
The project emerged again in 2011, although as you can see in our coverage of AT’s initial provision on-road lanes and shared footpaths, the upper end of Ian McKinnon was still in the too-hard basket.
In fact, the vision for a smooth route to town goes way, way, WAY back. In a 1982 issue of Craccum Magazine, it was reported that a bike route could one day stretch all the way from Te Atatu to Pt Chevalier, and beyond into the city – and that a committee was looking at a way to connect the city end:
“Green City Project personnel, along with the ARA’s new Bicycle Planning Co-ordinator, are looking at the City end of the route. It has great potential as a tree-filled linear park, providing pleasant cycle and perhaps pedestrian and jogging path to town, separated from the noise and pollution of traffic. It connects Dominion Rd to Symonds St beside St Paul’s avoiding all the intersections which are so unpleasant and dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians to negotiate: no traffic lights and no buses.”
What we have now is not quite a ‘tree-filled linear park’ all the way to town… but the brand new section through Suffolk Reserve surely captures something of what those early visionaries imagined… and only 36 years after the fact!
Let’s hope things move a LOT faster from here on out. Climate change response demands it, as do the thousands of Aucklanders yearning for more connected safe routes to pedal (and increasingly scoot) at ease around the city.
So it’s wonderful to see this link finally open, giving us something to celebrate in a year that has been slow for on-the-ground delivery. The good news is that the speeches on opening day reiterated the promise of 52km of cycleway to be built in the next three years. And later that afternoon came a very forthright open letter from AT CEO Shane Ellison entitled “Why we’re committing to walking and cycling”, which certainly says all the right things about commitment and urgency.
So we’re smiling. And our smiles will be even wider, the more we see on the ground. And the more we see like this…