Irish engineers deliver multi-award-winning project in New Zealand
04 October 2016
Nelson Street Cycleway (Image: Hawkins)
The vibrant Nelson Street Cycleway and Canada Street Bridge (Te Ara I Whiti: The Lightpath) is a spectacular realisation of the New Zealand’s Transport Agency’s (NZTA’s) vision to provide world-class cycling infrastructure throughout each major town and city in New Zealand.
This new philosophy is being orchestrated through the NZTA’s Urban Cycleways Programme, with a view toward providing each town and city in New Zealand with a more liveable/sustainable attractive transport choice.
The Nelson Street Cycleway and Canada Street Bridge is located in the centre of Central Motorway Junction, located just south of the city’s central business district. Central Motorway Junction – more affectionately known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’ – was constructed in the 1970s. It is a maze of infrastructure containing cuttings, numerous viaducts and off-ramps and is the busiest and most complicated section of roading infrastructure in the entire country.
Contained within Central Motorway Junction is the existing disused curving viaduct (Nelson Street Off-Ramp). It had previously been shut off to motorists due to safety concerns centered around the fact that traffic lights at the end of the off-ramp used to cause traffic to backup along the off-ramp and into the fast lane of the motorway. (Please see below for details of the off-ramp design and construction.)
With over 100,000 vehicles passing the site on Auckland’s motorway each day, the disused motorway off-ramp at Nelson Street was fast becoming the hot topic of conversation within the local community and government bodies.
Utilising an existing piece of disused infrastructure that had been dormant for almost ten years was identified early on as a suitable option for a cycleway to serve and regenerate the community in central Auckland as well as connecting to the wider city cycleway network.
This follows a trend of turning redundant transport infrastructure into great urban and active transport spaces, seen also in The Highline in New York and 606 in Chicago, amongst others. Unlike these projects however, this project is outstanding in how quickly it has been designed and delivered in Auckland.
Challenges of the task
In October 2014, GHD Limited (lead consultant) was contracted to undertake design and construction management of the project, with partners Novare Design (bridge designers) and architects Monk Mckenzie completing the Canada Street Bridge design. What would have usually taken over two years to design and construct was condensed into half that time (14 months).
“From conception to delivery in barely a year?! Unheard of! Success has many fathers and necessity is the mother of you-know-what. After a close-up view of what’s happening, I reckon we’ll all be delighted to lay claim to this baby.” Jolisa Gracewood of cycling advocacy group Bike Auckland
The fast delivery of the project involved high levels of collaboration and design capability between all project partners to deliver an active transport link for the people of Auckland. Irish engineers Stephen Cummins (formerly project manager at GHD and now with AECOM) and Andrew O’Connell (formerly design engineer at Novare Design and now with Roughan & O’Donovan) both played central roles in delivering this landmark project.
This article discusses some of the key project features and is an example of the award-winning work Irish engineers are completing abroad, while also demonstrating the knowledge that these engineers bring back when they return to the Irish market. The two hope to work together again soon under the longstanding successful partnership between AECOM and Roughan O’Donovan.
The design team of GHD, Novare and Monk Mackenzie were faced with the following challenges from the outset:
- Deliver a cycleway within a tight time constraint, just 14 months from option assessment to construction completion, within the busiest section of NZ road network, the Central Motorway Junction (100k vpd);
- Complete an options assessment report and design a new 1km cycleway, incorporating major infrastructure design such as bridging over State Highway 1 (Canada Street Bridge) to provide a new connection;
- Retrofit new infrastructure to an old off-ramp, with non-standard components;
- Obtain all approvals, building and planning consents required, within this accelerated timeframe.
Mutually focused on meeting the tight programme, the core design team unanimously adopted a solution-driven attitude with the needs of the community and users at the forefront of the design philosophy.
From the outset, the urban space needed to be functional and elegant, complementing the environment while also being economical and low maintenance. Achieving all of these attributes within a short time frame demanded innovative thinking and high level collaboration by all groups involved.
Vision for Nelson Street Cycleway
The design team set clear project objectives and knew it could be something special from the start. The team viewed the project as a series of unique user experiences. The cyclist journey commences on Canada Street. On approach, cyclists first see glimpses of the black steel structure (Canada Street Bridge) snaking through the Central Motorway Junction on the horizon.
The cyclist then quickly transitions from the shared path onto the elevated structure. With time the planting design will flourish, allowing users to pass through a canopy of mature Pohutukawa trees (NZ native tree), bright red in contrast with the black steel during the festive season when flowers are in bloom.
“The Nelson Street Cycleway is a jewel in the Auckland crown – in, fact more than that, it is the most ambitious cycle project ever to open.”
Honourable Simon Bridges, NZ Minister of Transport
The cycleway then swings left, bringing users out of the shelter of the canopy and briefly across the roaring motorway. The journey continues smoothly on the magenta floored off-ramp flowing elegantly towards the Auckland quays.
The transparent plexiglas sides provides form to protect against the weather and noise, while the perforated screens allow the user to feel the wind beneath their feet as they traverse the off-ramp.
Interactive LED lighting is activated by motion sensors, detecting cyclists and pedestrians and accordingly changing colour and speed as if to follow the user. Thanks to the positioning of these lights all on the eastern side of the off-ramp with the backdrop of the Sky Tower and the Harbour Bridge, the reflective hue from the lights on the magenta surface creates a unique, colourful, elegant urban space and a special user experience.
In true reflection of the distinct New Zealand identity, the material selection and eye-catching modern design was guided by public consultation. Maori artwork in the form of 15 etched steel carvings of humanistic figures have been installed along the cycleway.
A six-metre high carved steel post (Pou) marks the entrance to the cycleway. The boldness of the magenta surfacing was selected due to its reference to the heartwood of the native Totara tree, a colour that comes from the land.
Designed by artist Katz Maihi of Toitu Design and Te Puia (the NZ Maori Arts and Crafts institute) the carvings and etchings take into consideration the history of the people and the land.
Collaboration through the challenges
This project was a mixture of both standard and non-standard infrastructure, constructed under an ambitious timeframe. Its success has been made possible through collaboration between all parties who were selected to deliver on the brief from the New Zealand Government.
In creating a collaborative, delivery-focused environment, the design team adopted a universal approach, aligning organisational cultures, enabling and empowering decision makers and a solution-focused attitude.
A key element was regular engagement with project partners Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, the general public (via online forums ), the local Māori community and the wider cycling community (via social media) and user groups such as Bike Auckland. This drive and determination to work together as a complete team was instrumental in managing the many challenges throughout the course of the 14-month project.
The need to act and make quick decisions was vital in order to meet the December 2015 delivery target, together with a depth of engineering capability.
Three months from the end of construction, further funding was made available for urban design enhancements. The design team established a working group consisting of GHD, Novare Design, Monk Mackenzie, LandLAB (urban designers), Hawkins (contractor), Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Auckland Motorway Alliance (motorway maintenance contractor) and the NZ Transport Agency.
The group completed initial workshops on the design, before meeting regularly and delivering the new urban design enhancements within the 14-month programme.
The complex nature of the project and the multitude of stakeholders and sub-contractors created a web of relationships. The strength of the project management team relied on their ability to communicate clearly and using collaborative tools to ensure that all communications were centralised.
The cycling community is extremely satisfied with the form and beauty of the project; it is a project for the people of New Zealand and has become an iconic piece of Auckland infrastructure.
“I knew it was going to be memorable, but I didn’t know that it had soul, that it had mana*, that it had spirit.” Barbara Cuthbert, chair of Bike Auckland
The project has had extensive media coverage in the New Zealand Herald, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, live national TV coverage as well as featuring in engineering publications in NZ and abroad.
The project set a new benchmark, received considerable local and international acclaim and winner of IPWEA NZ Best Public Works Project >$5m, winner of NZPI Rodney Davis Award, winner of NZIA Planning & Urban Design Auckland Award, and shortlisted in 2015 at the World Architecture Award for Future Infrastructure Project, amongst others.
It has achieved over 100,000 cycle trips in just four months, impressive for a cycle route that did not previously exist. As far as the design team are aware, this is the only triangular shaped orthotropic curved bridge and possible the only magenta-coloured interactive LED cycleway in the world.
The positive impact on the community and users is a true testament to the teams’ sheer dedication and commitment to achieve the tight delivery timeframe. With thousands of people seeking to experience The Lightpath for themselves, it is evident that the cycleway is already providing a drawcard for tourism and business.
In the second part of this two-part series, the authors outline the challenges and triumphs behind the Canada Street Bridge project.
Some of the awards and plaudits won by The Lightpath to date:
- Winner of Institute of Public Work Australasia NZ Best Public Works Project >$5m
- Winner of NZ Planning Institute Rodney Davis Award
- Winner of NZ Institute of Architects Planning & Urban Design Auckland Award
- Shortlisted at the 2015 World Architecture Award for Future Infrastructure Project
- Shortlisted for this year’s World Architecture Awards, best Transport Project, in Berlin in November 2016
- Silver at the Association of Consulting NZ Innovation Awards
- Winner of a 2016 Highway & Bridge Award at Architizer A+ Awards in New York
- Finalist at forthcoming New Zealand Institute of Architects National Awards
Why are all the light columns on one side of the offramp?
The lights were specifically positioned on the eastern side to provide the harbour view (unlit) on one side and the city view on the other.
What are the light columns capable of?
The lighting columns have been designed to be interactive. There are 290 LED columns altogether, each 3m high. Motion sensors are able to detect pedestrians and cyclists and respond according to their movements, enhancing a unique experience of mimicry.
What artworks are on the ramp?
The Maori artwork includes 15 etched steel carvings of humanistic figures along the cycleway, in addition to a 6m high carved steel post marking the entrance to the offramp (Pou). These were designed by the artist Katz Maihi of Toitu Design and Te Puia (the NZ Maori Arts and Crafts institute) taking the history of the land and the people into consideration.
Why magenta surfacing?
The magenta surface makes reference to the heartwood of the totara tree, a colour that comes from the land. This feature is not only distinctly New Zealand, it also reflects the community desire for a ‘modern’ design which has emerged out of public consultation.
What is the surfacing made of?
The surfacing contains a plant-based resin and recycled tinted glass.
What were complexities of work on existing old infrastructure?
The 3m screen had to connect to the existing guardrail uprights (for load transfer), which were all unevenly spaced with uneven connection heights. The team needed to make over 600 uneven connections which they optimised to 18 through clever design. Multiple options were also provided in the base plate to make connections to the existing offramp structure, to avoid the existing structural steel.
In the next issue, the authors take a close look at the Canada Street Bridge project
*Mana – Māori term representing a supernatural force in a person, place or object
Stephen Cummins MSc CEng MIEI is a principal engineer with AECOM. He is a chartered engineer (2011) with 10 years’ experience in project management and design of transportation projects in Ireland, the UK and New Zealand. This includes involvement in PPP, design & build, employer’s design and re-measurable contracts. He has experience managing a range of transportation projects from the design phase, through procurement, construction and into maintenance.
Andrew O’Connell is a chartered engineer with Engineers Ireland and has 10 years’ experience in industry with experience in both civil and structural engineering in Ireland, Poland, the UK and New Zealand. O’Connell spent 3.5 years working in Ireland undertaking flood studies and a range of other civil works. He also spent one year in Poland involved in building structures, as well 1.5 years in the UK and three years in New Zealand involved in bridge design. O’Connell graduated from UCD with a BE in Civil Engineering in 2006 and an MSc with distinction in Structural Engineering from the University of Surrey in 2014.