Feature

On yer bike

A recently opened cycle link in Auckland city is innovative, smart and already a hit with the local biking community. BY MARY BELL.

Construction on the dedicated two-way separated cycleway along Beach Road will keep bikes away from other traffic on this busy, downtown road.
Construction on the dedicated two-way separated cycleway along Beach Road will keep bikes away from other traffic on this busy, downtown road.

CONTRACTORS DON’T REALLY have a reputation as road cyclists but if you have ever ventured forth on your bike in Auckland you’ll know exactly how much of a health hazard that particular sport can be. Fortunately, for those that do, both central and local government have been pouring a fair bit of money into growing the city’s cycleways, improving the safety, speed and comfort of travelling across the city by bike.

Three interconnected projects are the Transport Agency’s Grafton Gully cycleway, Auckland Transport’s Beach Road cycleway and Auckland Council’s shared pedestrian/cycle pathway on Upper Queen Street.

The projects recently reached a significant milestone with the opening of a 2.7 kilometre-long link in early September, which gives people better access between the Northwestern cycleway and the city’s CBD, universities and waterfront.

The Northwestern cycleway is one of the most popular in Auckland, with over 700 people using it each day. About nine kilometres long, and roughly following the Northwestern motorway, the route runs from Te Atatu to the western edge of the CBD. The Grafton Gully extension adds another 1.9 kilometres to this cycle path and connects to the 1.5 kilometre-long Beach Road cycleway, which incorporates a 630-metre long, three-metre-wide, two-way separated cycleway.

E_P36_Nov_2014_2Thanks to cycle-activated lights, bikes can now exit the Northwestern cycleway and cross the city from the top of Upper Queen Street to reach the new Grafton cycleway beside the motorway. They can then ride all the way through Grafton Gully and either exit at Wellesley Street for the university and downtown or carry on via the Beach Road cycleway until they reach the cycle lane on the waterfront.

The two-way, separated cycleway on Beach Road means that, rather than having a cycle lane on both sides of the road, bikes can travel in either direction on the route. The cyclists are kept physically separated from traffic by the use of 800mm-wide raised kerbs.

“I am a regular cyclist down Beach Road so can confirm how much of a difference this has made,” says Luke Christensen on www.transportblog.co.nz. “Previously cycling down Beach Road was a mad, adrenaline filled rush competing with fast cars, trucks and avoiding car doors. Now it is how cycling should be.”

E_P36_Nov_2014_3At Te Taou Crescent the cycleway crosses from the south to the north side of Beach Road with newly installed, cyclist-activated traffic lights allowing bikes to cross the intersection diagonally.

Other features of the path include cycle-friendly storm water grates, and painted and stencilled markings to promote safety and awareness.

For bikers on the country’s first two-way cycleway, the usual road rules apply – users are to keep left and to pass on the right. Motorists are unable to drive, park or stop in the cycleway and face fines if they do.

Auckland Transport community transport manager, Matthew Rednall, says the particular challenge of this project was its location as a busy arterial in downtown Auckland. Beach Road accommodates traffic, pedestrians and people on bikes moving to and from the city, the Port and the waterfront.

As part of the project and adding pressure to the timetable, Vector took the opportunity to upgrade underground services in the area before the cycleway was completed.
As part of the project and adding pressure to the timetable, Vector took the opportunity to upgrade underground services in the area before the cycleway was completed.

“A meticulous construction timetable incorporated scheduled works to be carried out by Vector in the area, roading upgrades and landscaping,” Matthew told Contractor.

“The original construction deadline was brought forward to coincide with the opening of the Upper Queen Street and Grafton Gully cycleways to provide a seamless route from the Northwestern cycleway to the Auckland waterfront.”

Matthew says the contractors from Downers worked double shifts to complete all Beach Road Stage One works within a two-month window.

Downer also did some work on the Transport Agency’s portion of the link but the majority of this project was undertaken by Hawkins Construction, along with a number of subbies.

The cycleway gets its final screed.
The cycleway gets its final screed.

The project was broken into five stages to allow it to be completed in time – it allowed some stages to be built while others were still being designed and consented.

Stage 1 saw construction of the cycleway from Alten Road to Grafton Road. The particular challenge here was to design an acceptable design grade as the two roads have a level difference of 17.4 metres over less than 300 metres.

Stage 2 was from Alten Road to near Beach Road via Churchill Street. This is the tie-in work with Auckland Transport’s Beach Road cycleway.

The Grafton cycleway under construction alongside SH1 South.
The Grafton cycleway under construction alongside SH1 South.

Stage 3 was built alongside the live motorway (SH1 and SH16) from Wellesley Street East to Upper Queen Street. Extensive tree and vegetation clearance happened during night-time lane closures on the motorway. Crib walls were used extensively for permanent retaining structures along the majority of the 1.3 kilometre cycleway and several hundred metres of timber retaining walls were used at the northern end of the route.

A range of bespoke and standard fencing was installed along the cycleway.

Stage 4, was from Grafton Road to Wellesley Street East including an underpass under Wellesley Street, which has five lanes of traffic at this point.

A fundamental design requirement was to keep Wellesley Street East open to traffic throughout construction of the underpass – it needed to be simple and quick to build to minimise the time that traffic would be disrupted. So a single span bridge with piled, and spill-through abutments were chosen. Once the deck was in place and the underpass open to traffic, the cycle track could be excavated beneath the deck. The design of the underpass incorporated as many precast components as possible to speed up construction. Four 40 tonne, fully precast, capping beam sections were installed. Hollow-core precast beams with a topping slab were used to form the bridge span, and precast walls with pre-connected steel columns were plunged into bored piles for the wing walls enabling quick installation during lane closures.

E_P36_Nov_2014_7Stage 5, the Upper Queen Street connection, connects the Grafton Gully cycleway to the existing Ian McKinnon Road cycleway. The Upper Queen Street bridge had issues in terms of the additional loading being placed on it, and it was a challenge to be able to design the cycle path to meet the objectives of the council.

The project also incorporated fencing, barriers and bollards, storm water and subsoil drainage, landscaping, stencil and sandblasting artwork, lighting, traffic signals and line marking.

It seems all the hard work has been worth it. On www.transportblog.co.nz Matt Lowrie writes, “From a quality perspective these two projects do feel like a step or two above anything else we have which is great to see. I think [the Grafton Cycleway] and Beach Road are going to represent an important turning point in the development of cycling in Auckland and people are going to demand this level of comfort in future cycling projects.”

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