The diggers are in and the long-awaited improvements to Karangahape Rd are under way.
To minimise disruption the work's being done in sections, starting at each end, and will be finished late next year. It's not just dedicated cycleways, although that's a big part of it.
There will also be 85 trees, up from the 61 there currently, better stormwater drainage, better organisation of underground services, safer crossings for pedestrians, new bus stops, slower speeds and less space for vehicles and a lot of new artwork.
Karangahape Rd is about to boom. The new apartment blocks towards the western end are opening, new shopping projects are under way and within a few years there'll be 6000 more people coming and going from the City Rail Link, with stations on Beresford Square and Mercury Lane. And, at some point, probably, a new light rail service will cross through the Queen St intersection.
When I called in to see Michael Richardson of the local business association he told me his members generally support the project. "They get it," he said. "We know we're going to be superconnected."
He was especially keen on the council's new development response approach, which is set up to help retailers and others manage the disruption. "I believe it will be the best Auckland has yet seen."
The project looks like it's mainly a cycleway. Its principal achievement, though, will be to make the place functional and fine for all those extra pedestrians, and therefore for the shops keen on their custom.
It's not perfect. On the block from Queen St to Symonds St the footpath and cycleway will not be separated: they'll share an eight-metre wide strip on each side, with painted dividers, because Auckland Transport (AT) doesn't believe the strip is wide enough to divide with a physical barrier. Eight metres.
If this work was truly being done under the principle that the needs of pedestrians come first, which is what AT likes to say is the case, it would not be pedestrians who miss out from such compromises.
When will they get it? When you force bikes and scooters onto crowded inner-city footpaths, pedestrians are the biggest losers.
Still, it's only one block and Karangahape Rd on the whole will be great. They're even extending dedicated bike lanes down Upper Queen St to the Canada St intersection. That will connect them to the top of the Grafton Gully cycleway, Te Ara I Whiti (the pink pathway) and the Ian McKinnon Drive cycleway to the northwest. Excellent network infrastructure.
The work is being coordinated with the CRL construction programme and will make the Karangahape precinct safer, nicer, better for shopping and efficient for the different transport modes too. Bring it on.
Meanwhile, two important new planning documents have been released. One is the NZ Transport Agency's Innovating Streets for People programme, which will make it quicker and easier for councils to trial street closures, bike lanes and other improvements.
The other is Auckland Council's refreshed City Centre Masterplan. Both are open for public consultation.
Innovating Streets for People has been produced under the leadership of Kathryn King, NZTA's new urban mobility programme manager. King used to be the cycling and safety maestra at Auckland Transport, until the end of last year when they deemed her surplus to requirements. NZTA snapped her up: the city's loss is the country's gain, which I suppose we shouldn't be upset about, but still.
The programme breaks a deadlock: until now, councils have had to deal with an extraordinarily bureaucratic process if they wanted to change the designated uses of a street. It's been really hard for them to trial things.
But doing that quickly and easily, without spending money, is essential to the whole process of making the city better for everyone in it. What will happen if they take out some car parks, or close the street after 11am? Trialling to find out is a far better approach than arguing endlessly about what might be, doing nothing for the longest time and eventually producing a compromise that nobody likes.
Kathryn King just did a great thing there, and good on NZTA for enabling her.
Assuming the planners and politicians have the will to use it, her new programme will be great for Auckland. Rolling developments on lower Queen St, High St and environs, please.
The City Centre Masterplan is pretty good, too (more on this soon), but it has an odd relationship with the developments on Karangahape Rd – particularly the cycleways. I sat down with Ludo Campbell-Reid, head of the Auckland Design Office, which produced the plan.
Campbell-Reid shares AT's difficulty in understanding the problem of mixing bikes and scooters with pedestrians. Proof of it: none of the designs show bike lanes on Queen St anywhere from Karangahape Rd to the bottom.
He told me there were "challenges around cycling". He said Queen St was going to be "too busy with pedestrians to allow for fast traffic" and "parts of it will be too busy to designate a cycle lane".
What about bike lanes connecting the Nelson St cycleway to Queen St? Those cross streets, like the top stretch of Queen St, are suicidal right now. He said there would be cycle lanes on Victoria St, probably on Wellesley St, which will become primarily a bus route, and on Albert St. Good news, though it may not happen anytime soon.
"But," he added, "the last thing we want to do is stick a separated cycleway in lower Queen St".
I asked him if he'd been listening to the outcry from pedestrians about scooters on footpaths, and from cyclists about cars, trucks and buses? He said again Queen St would be too busy for bike lanes.
I said, but when it's busy is exactly when separating the transport modes becomes so important.
So he changed tack and said that as part of A4E, Queen St is going to have a "four to five year trial" and, as part of that, a cycleway will "definitely be proposed".
Really? They will trial a cycleway on Queen St?
"Absolutely. Look, all I'm saying is, with the light-rail zone, I don't know if there will be enough space. But yes, we'll trial it."
The masterplan anticipates light rail running all the way up Queen St. It's a Government project, not an AT or council one, and has not even been approved. But the plan allows for it and assumes that when the lines get near the top of Queen St they will go under Karangahape Rd and emerge on the other side, on Upper Queen St.
Ludo worries that in lower Queen St and on that upper stretch there won't be space for bike lanes as well as pedestrians and essential traffic.
But now he was saying there would be a trial. On how much of Queen St? "All the way up to Karangahape Rd," he said. "Why not?"
Then he explained to me how with "micromobility", like bikes and scooters, it "makes really good sense" to have separate lanes and he will "propose that for A4E".
He said, "We'll probably trial micromobility on bits of Queen St." I said I was confused. He said he would get one of his staff to talk me through the details.