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Ian Mackinnon Drive: the costs of excessive car priority

Tuesday’s Herald had a lot of good coverage of transport issues. No fewer than four good reports by Mathew Dearnaley. Rudman on the Remuera buslane rebellion, covered here on this site. And even a piece on the transformation of LA back towards being a transit town.

There was also really good coverage of this site’s founder, Josh Arbury, in his new role as Transport Strategist at the Council on value for money in Auckland’s PT; here. A piece on design of the new trains, here. And coverage of ways to raise infrastructure investment funds via proposed road pricing here. This issue deserves its own post and will get future coverage on this site. All this follows earlier an report on fewer road deaths here, and a really encouraging report on Shared Spaces with not only Alex Swney of Heart Of The City saying really good things about the improvements they bring but even the AA’s Simon Lambourne managing to not see the world ending at the removal of parking spaces; here, although still demanding more parking buildings.

But the one I want to look at in detail is about a seemingly insignificant little road with a boring name; who was/is Ian Mckinnon? Dearnaley’s article is here.

I have always hated this road. I hate driving on it. I certainly hate cycling on it. I hate the detail of its design. I hate its programme of speeding vehicles up briefly in the middle of the city. I hate the way it turns its back on its surrounding sites. I hate the way it cuts off Eden Terrace. I hate the way it spreads the quality of a motorway a little further into the surrounding area. And now it turns out to be so bad that it kills its users too….. In short the whole thing is a disaster. Why? Well first let’s look at its reported problems.

Although the road was built almost to motorway standard for the 30,000 vehicles that use it daily, and includes long downhill sections in both directions, it lacks a median barrier and has become notorious for crashes on its main bend.

So the idea of building a road ‘almost to motorway standard’ to link ordinary streets in the middle of the city has led to bad outcomes. Surprise me. And despite a road design that encourages speed it is now expected that declaring a lower speed limit will fix the situation, although police concede that this is unlikely.

But although the police intend monitoring the new limit, they are expected to “exercise discretion” until drivers get used to it, with prompting from electronic message signs over the next two weeks.

Hopeless really, it should have the physical characteristics of a city road; in particular it would be best to reduce it to one lane each way to help slow drivers. This would also provide the opportunity to add a real cycle lane here on the resultant spare tarmac. Something urgently needed because the NorthWestern cycleway stops at the Newton Road overbridge and this annoying little road could provide a way to link the cycleway up to K and Queen, to Symonds Street and therefore the Universities and the hospital, through to the Domain and so forth. A low cost way to get a great deal of cycling connection and some traffic calming thrown in for free! Like this:

Ian McKinnon Drive as a way to extend the NW cycleway to Upper Queen St and beyond

Now let’s go back a bit further and look at what else is so bad about this road. Here’s a wider view from above:

Dom Rd/New North Rd flyovers bottom. Ian McKinnon Dr top.

Ian McKinnon Drive is a relatively new road [anyone got a date?] inserted through a much older street pattern and a sorry consequence of the terribly over-engineered and land gobbling monument to post-war planning that is the Dominion Road/New North rd interchange. Originally designed to be part of the Dominion Rd Motorway, yes!, this interchange clearly needed somewhere to head to once the motorway was thankfully abandoned, so Ian Makinnon was rammed through. Here is how it was:

Dominion Rd + New North Rd with rail line pre interchange

Ok you can see the problem; both Dominion Rd and New North Rd converging into one road city bound. You can also see what’s good about this intricate and interwoven neighbourhood street pattern; housing and employment mixed together, walkable and interconected streets; a modern urbanist’s dream. But to allow [or force] a car based transport model on a city like this can only mean getting out the wreckers ball. It also means, of course, choosing to prioritise those living further out and wanting/needing to drive in over the value of the land and buildings and the community already existing in this inner area. New outer suburbs over older inner ones. Spirit of the times. Here is work by Kent Lundberg showing what value was directly destroyed by putting this road in [Twitter: @kentslundberg]:

Interesting to see just how much of old inner Auckland has been lost to expanding the roadspace to accommodate our imbalanced car focussed system, especially in the light of how valuable this kind of inner city property has become. What great rating income if nothing else has been abandoned by choosing this kind of city. Lost wealth. But that isn’t all, this demolishing and severance, as well as the presence of more and more vehicles rushing past has kept the remaining odd parcels of property low value, underdeveloped, and underperforming. Auto-dependency waving yet again its magic wand of anti-agglomeration. In the top left you can see a stretch of Newton Gully which has also, of course, been sacrificed to auto infrastructure. Making complete the separation of the remaining housing of Eden Terrace into a strangely stranded island. And one that few walk to and from as Ian McKinnon and motorway form such barriers to pedestrians.

You can also see there is a rail line running through these pictures. Had the earlier versions of the City Rail Link been built and a real Auckland passenger service been invested in so many of the commuters that these interventions were designed for could have still got to the CBD efficiently. Then could the costly destruction of so much of this neighbourhood have been avoided? It would have had to have been considered valuable for that to happen or at least there would have had to have been the ability for local view to have been heard and considered instead of distant decisions being forced down from City Hall and Wellington. We could still do much to improve this area, undo a lot of the damage, but we’ll never get the old street pattern back. The good news is that reducing the road space will become more and more viable as we build effective alternatives car commuting and as it would release a fair of land for productive use such rehab work might pay for itself. Here is an earlier post  about this by Josh Arbury.

Let’s also remember the wider lesson from this story, we must balance place value and movement benefit more sensibly than was done here. Motorways and other invasive insertions are always more likely to happen in areas of low value but are those values permanent? How much have we already lost? Grafton Gully, for example, is a terrible loss to the city and clumsy separation of the city and the Domain, and put through in an age when we valued wild places a little less. Is it any surprise that the road lobby are now proposing to complete the total separation of Onehunga from its harbour by motorway; a lot easier to get its payday among the poorer and less connected of South Auckland after getting a bloody nose in the eastern suburbs.

So we can see in this one example how the auto-dependent model is considered the least productive and most wasteful system of movement for a city; it is a costly destroyer of place value. But we’ve always known that:

De Leuw Cather report 1965, detail

30 comments to Ian Mackinnon Drive: the costs of excessive car priority

  • Thanks Patrick for highlighting this in such powerful terms. The question that comes to mind now is; how do we turn it around? All these decades of car-centric planning need to be unravelled…but how?

    • Dave

      @ The Wheeled pedestrian
      The painless way to turn away from excessive car-dependency is to stop enacting policies which encourage it, and start enacting those which bolster alternatives. This would be like altering the rudder position on a large ship. It will be a while before the ship swings around and even longer before it enters waters significantly different from those it was previously headed for, but that simple but all-important first step (the act of moving the rudder) is all it takes to guarantee the eventual desired outcome. If, hypothetically, we ceased all road-spending except necessary maintenance, and instead redirected all that funding to developing new and better public transport, then we would find that transport-choices, patterns of living, patterns of land-use and commerce activity would gradually swing around and in time become very different to what they would have been on the old course. But many people are notoriously thick at getting their heads around the concept of evolutionary change. Whenever it is suggested that the dominance of private motor transport should be curtailed, the response is invariably a rebuke for seeking to “ban cars” or “force people onto buses”. But the reality is that people’s choices are heavily influenced by the framework they find themselves in. The car only dominates because the framework has fostered and reinforced this dominance. The fact that in recent years many more people than before have been using Auckland’s improved public transport is a gentle indicator of this principle. So, take the simple step outlined above today, AND STICK WITH IT, and in 20 years time we will no longer have a car-dominated society.

      But all very well in theory. In practice we have a government which refuses to turn that rudder. Has an absolute aversion to doing so. In spite of the huge iceberg looming ahead.

  • Peter

    Nice post Patrick. Ian McKinnon Drive reminds me a lot of Mayoral Drive: rammed through without care for its impact on the surrounding urban form. Even decades later both roads still seem horribly out of place – dividing the city, sucking away its life, demeaning anyone except for those travelling (far too fast) by car.

    • Yes another road that always makes me mutter darkly… both have the characteristic of not paying out as claimed: Mayoral drive was meant to mean we could get the cars out of Queen St…. still waiting. These bypasses never reduce traffic. What reduces traffic is reducing the space for traffic. And investing in good alternative means of travel to driving. Doh.

  • Ian McKinnon Drive was built for one reason – to relieve the Upper Queen Street-Newton Rd intersection, which was a chronic bottleneck in the early 1980s. The Dominion Rd motorway died in the 1970s and what you now see as one project was in fact two. The interchange and the link to Newton Rd WAS built as part of the start of the Dominion Rd motorway, but as the National Roads Board was uninterested in that project, it was built by Auckland City Council and is a rather lousy halfway house between being a motorway and local arterial. The extension to Upper Queen St made it Ian McKinnon Drive. Rather like the south eastern arterial, Auckland City Council built half-arsed arterials well below motorway standard on motorway alignments with at grade intersections. It was as if its engineers simply cut corners on an original proposal because councillors weren’t willing to pay for a proper motorway or imaginative enough to consider a better design. That bit of road had nothing to do with any remaining ambitions for a Dominion Road motorway, as the designation had long gone by then – as of course, had the designation for the Avondale extension to the Mt Roskill part of SH20 in 1974, the short sightedness of THAT decision is now being paid for.

    • Peter

      Are you saying Ian McKinnon Drive should have been built to full motorway standard? Really?

      • No, that’s ludicrous. It should have been a good quality local arterial. Who would argue otherwise? It made sense to relieve Upper Queen Street and did that job, but needs a decent median and width for cyclists and pedestrians.

    • Interesting as ever to see your view Liberty, though perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough: This road is a vast disaster and should never have happened; it is an engine of impoverishment. Did you actually read the post? I thought I built a pretty good case against this clumsy intrusion, you write as if the only problem with it is that it and its kind aren’t even worse. Funny, still, always entertaining to see what the world looks like from the 1950s…

      • “Engine of impoverishment” is just a bit of hyperbolic rhetoric, maybe try some evidence. It has relieved congestion and emissions from the top of Upper Queen Street, but that corridor to Dominion Road is a dog’s breakfast. Who is disagreeing with that?

        I didn’t say what you thought I said, you’ve just got the glasses of a caricaturist in place whenever someone who doesn’t fit your view of public policy debates with you.

        I simply said:

        - It was nothing to do with the Dominion Road motorway project (in fact the original Upper Queen Street extension was on a completely different alignment).

        - It was a lousy halfway option between local arterial and motorway. I wasn’t advocating it should be a motorway. Who would?

        It ought to be a better local arterial in my view, with a wider footprint for a proper median, cycle and pedestrian ways, a far safer intersection with the link to Newton Road, and then greatly simplify the Dominion Rd/New North Road interchange.

        It can be more efficient, safer and more pleasant for all road users, but I suspect you think road users moving freight or who don’t choose to use buses ought to take more time, waste more fuel, emit more pollution in the vain hope that a few percentage might give up and travel a different way (or not travel at all). Very 1980s thinking.

  • Greg N

    Ian McKinnon Drive was opened in either late 1987 or early 1988, can’t recall the exact date.

    I used to work near there and watched the road being built from scratch. I took the then ACC quite some time to build it as there were issues with it of some kind.

    There used to be a Ceramic Tile shop right on the motorway side of the intersection with Upper Queen St and Ian McKinnon Drive (right next to the overbridge of Upper Queen St over the motorway).

    It got demolished very early on to make way for that road as did other buildings where the park on the corner of Ian Mckinnon Drive stands now.

    As I recall the Old Ministry of Works was building the Southern Motorway to Western Motorway east and west bound links down in the CMJ “at the bottom of the hill” while ACC built Ian McKinnon Drive, so there was a some kind of race to see what got opened first. I think Ian McKinnon was first, but not by very much in the end.

  • Here’s another pic. Checkout the land use. Ian McKinnon is a mini-me motorway beside the biggest motorway interchange in Australasia. How effective is that big interchange if it needs yet more baby motorways all around it? Could it be that these roads just generate more driving rather than reduce traffic pressure on the surrounding areas? The amputated surrounding stump-streets are clearly of little more value than as at-grade carparks. Anyway endless carparking is the vital and unaccounted for additional expense of ordering your city around the car. Dumb and low value. This is the reverse of wealth creation, it is value destruction:

    • Greg N

      The amputated stump streets nearby were caused by the building of the Southern and NW motorways, i.e. long before Ian McKinnon Drive was built.
      Evidence of that is the north/south “stump” street that butts into the middle of Ian Mckinnon Drive is where the Kings Arms tavern stands now, is called France Street (South), there is/was a France Street in the back streets of K’Rd indicating that this was once a through road between Newton and K’Rd, but now severed.

      As for who Ian McKinnon is/was, I recall he was a a “bigwig” in the ACC, possibly a councillor or even Deputy Mayor, many many years ago now.

      There was something written about the where the name of the street came from when it was first opened, and I have a feeling that the name caused some controversy along the lines of politicians naming roads after themselves/their mates. Although I think Mr McKinnon had retired from ACC by then (but only just possibly).

    • martin

      I stopped on the overbridge right beside here the other month with my gf on a trip up to Auckland to interview for work. We both looked at each other and the utterly car-dominated hell surrounding us 360 degrees and decided there is no way we’re moving to this city.

  • ingolfson

    We are SLOWLY getting to a state where transport planners/designers (yes) and funders (half-heartedly) acknowledge that walking and cycling should be provided – side by side with NEW ROADING PROJECTS. We have not yet reached the stage where we would fund walking and cycling projects on their own, or even more, where we would cut back on existing road capacity to expand these more favourable modes.

    Withness the fact that the extension of the Northwestern Cycleway is intended to create a cycleway along exactly the alignment proposed in red by Patrick. But using costly retaining to fit it on the outside of those traffic lanes, not the much simpler measure of taking one of the lanes. That, right now, remains unthinkable (though admittedly, there would be some valid concern about bus traffic to/from Dominion Road if this was single-laned just ahead of the signals).

    • David

      I think the point of Patrick’s post is that there wouldn’t be any valid concerns about doing exactly that – taking a lane off McKinnon in one or both directions for peds and cyclists. Sure, there would be inconvenienced people, but when the road went in nobody building it lost any sleep over the invconvenience that it caused to some people.

      The only way to turn this thing around is to be just as careless about the ‘needs’ of the car as a mode of transport. People affected by removing a lane on Don McKinnon would adjust. Either they’d figure out that they can get a part of their day back by using another mode – either get fitter by walking/cycling or make better use of their time reading/doing their email/whatever on bus or train; or, they’ll go and clog up some other piece of road.

      But… the net effect will be more people riding or walking, and just a bit less traffic BECAUSE THERE’S LESS ROAD TO HANG OUT ON!

      It will take as long (or longer) to turn around as it took to get where we are, but I think we might be surprised at how quickly these things can change. I grew up in the 1970s and remember doing daily food shopping on foot with my mum. Within ten years we were doing weekly supermarket car-based shopping. Not because we wanted to necessarily (who wants to do supermarket shopping?!), but because the context had changed so that the supermarket, autocentric way of life had become the obvious thing to do.

      Of course, we’ll never find out under current policy settings…

      • Yes exactly David: I do want to reduce the road space here. I do believe this will result in a net benefit. Currently it is all reserved for use by vehicles on the two peaks. This is wasteful and inefficient and mono-modal. So what if there is a longer tailback down Mr McKinnon’s legacy? I am happy to frustrate motorists a little to get them to consider other options, or not, if they’re rather slow down a little, especially if that means they are less likely to be killing each other. And yes I am one too.

        The buses have been improved on Dom Rd, where’s the pay off? We now need to start cramping the least efficient mode to make more room for the better ones and to get some quality of place back. And to lift the performance of the city as a whole.

        Take the west side lane for a two way continuation of the NW cycleway, some work will be needed to reconfigure the intersection but it isn’t rocket science. Take it up to Symond St. Actually real change win/win/win. And symbolic of a new direction too.

        This is a change that AC could deliver within a year. Runs on the board for the Livable City. Get Nikki Kaye to cut the ribbon: she is all about multi-modality. Apparently.

  • Yes all for the continuation of the NW cycleway along the drive. Stupid where it ends. The plan was always for this cycleway to eventually go down to the waterfront and help reconnect the city that was divided by the NW motorway.

  • DanC

    I would like to see parts of the CMJ capped. Definitely the area between Symonds Street and upper Queen Street. Also a proportion of the city side of Newton bridge. These area’s could then be used as building space, parks, cycle ways…

    I agree with David that taking a lane off McKinnon in one or both directions for peds and cyclists would be ideal.

    • Yup Dan, but here we hit the great Catch-22 of what motorways and auto-priority do to land value. For building over the airspace to work you just need the land to be sufficiently valuable for it to stack up. But the very presence of the motorways, and what the do to their associated local roads, think Nelson and Hobson Sts, depresses land value in two main ways. They degrade the surrounding quality of place; noise, air pollution, visual pollution and so on, but also they are the main engines of dispersing and thinly spreading economic activity and value outwards. They anti intensify.

      This is why sprawl developers and motorway fanatics are all one and the same.

  • Has Josh’s report on value for money on PT funding available anywhere yet? It sounds like an interesting read.

  • Adam

    Perhaps they could link the north western cycleway, from where it ends in Takau street newton, to the old, disused nelson street offramp.

    Would be great to have link that drops cycle way right in town!

  • Excellent post, agree it’s way overdue that we replace these traffic sewers with liveable arterials.

  • James N

    Ian Walmsley McKinnon was the Auckland District Commissioner of Works from 1960 to 1965. He also served on the Auckland Regional Authority, and later, the Auckland City Council. McKinnon died in 1984, and on 19 June 1986, Mayor Dame Catherine Tizard dedicated the new thoroughfare after him, which was opened in 1988-1989.

  • kentslundberg

    Some interesting correlations to the Vancouver viaducts (now being considered for removal). From that work it is noted that elevated infrastructure like the Dominion Flyovers costs 5-10X more $ to maintain than grounded roads.

  • Iorangi

    Your comments are interesting. Ian McKinnon Drive was opened on 29 August 1987. The reason is that its ‘almost to motorway standard’ is because it was the first job of its kind the contractors had done for the Ministry of Works, there was a design change in the road construction because there was fill left over from the initial excavations, and the contractors were looking to impress. So they built an unexpectedly first class road – from an engineers point of view.

    Looking at it from a planner’s, cyclists’ pedestrian’s… (etc) point of view the engineering excellence is lost. But there you go, the details of history that get lost in the woodwork. (Just in case your’e interested!)

  • Iorangi

    By the way the works started on 1 November 1986 so no, it didn’t take longer than expected, it was a rocket ship effort by the construction crews. You couldn’t build it that fast these days.

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