Why Bike AKL can’t support the design for the Tamaki Drive Cycle Route [Updated]

May 20, 2017
Why Bike AKL can’t support the design for the Tamaki Drive Cycle Route [Updated]

Bike Auckland

AT has just opened consultation for new cycleway works on Tamaki Drive, from The Strand to Ngapipi Road – to create a link for people on bikes from the (in-progress) Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive cycleway, to the Quay St cycleway. As such, it’s a crucial connection.

However, for reasons we explain below – and to our own disappointment – we cannot support the proposed design, because it puts a significant proportion of Tamaki Drive bike travellers at serious risk, while not really raising standards for the new riders. Especially when there is an alternative that is safer.

TL; DR: The proposed design isn’t great – and will be actively dangerous for a large group of existing users. We have a safer, smarter interim solution, the Bike AKL Interim Option.

UPDATE: After the initial rush of writing this “let’s stop the ambulance from falling off the cliff” post, we have now sat back a bit, and realise that a more inspirational option is needed. So next week, we will be proposing the Bike AKL Quality Option!

You may want to hold off from submitting until after that.

Read on for the nitty-gritty of the proposed design, what’s not working, and what we think could be an alternative…

Map of the Tamaki Drive Cycleway under consultation. NB: the Quay St cycleway will be extended from where it currently ends, near Plumer Street, to The Strand – this work has been delayed a few months by notification issues related to tree relocation.

And here’s what’s proposed, working from west (The Strand) to east (Ngapipi Road).

  • Minor upgrades to the existing shared path cycleway on the northern side between The Strand and the the Ports of Auckland entry at Solent Street.
  • Then, the cycleway switches to the south side, via the traffic signals; users will have to cross in 2 stages – first east, then south.
  • The shared path on the southern side will be re-sealed and relocated (to give tree roots more space) up to the Parnell Baths. All parking will be removed on the south side, to avoid passenger-door zone issues
  • East of Parnell Baths, a separated two-way cycle path will be built at footpath level, next to a separate footpath, as far east as Ngapipi Road. As above, parking will be removed to avoid dooring risks.
  • However, at the two Hobson Bay bridges, this arrangement pinches down to a shared path again, as the project funding does not cover the replacement of the bridges (the larger bridge near Ngapipi Road is being reviewed for replacement or clip-on widening, but alas, not in time for this project)
  • Westbound riders will then be able to switch to the sea-side shared path (or onto the road) via the new Ngapipi Road traffic signals.
  • Riders will also be able to connect to the future path to Glen Innes. It remains to be seen where exactly Stage 4 of the Glen Innes path will land on Tamaki Drive – that’s a whole other story which we can’t cover here (but it will likely be either west of the Outboard Boating Club, or at Ngapipi Road).
The proposed design of Tamaki Drive, to the west of Parnell Baths. (Click to enlarge). Note: no parking on the citybound side of the road – but what’s not clear from the image is the impact of narrowing the traffic lanes for citybound on-road riders (who would be visible on the right side of the image, if the drawing had included them!).
The proposed design of Tamaki Drive east of Parnell Baths. (Click to enlarge) As on the western section, there are narrower lanes for westbound on-road riders (who should be shown on the right of the image above, but aren’t). But in addition, eastbound on-road riders (left side; again, no cyclists shown on the road) ALSO get narrowed lanes in this section – even though parking is being retained, leaving just the one narrow lane for cars and bikes to share! A recipe for danger, stress and aggression.

To be honest, plenty of things ring alarm bells for us, even before we get to the key issue that made us balk (the road-lane widths). Those concerns include:

  • The new cycleway still includes long stretches of shared path: past the Port on the north, and Parnell Baths on the south – plus two shared path ‘interruptions’ to the nice separated eastern-section path (on the bridges across the bay outlets). As anyone who’s used the historic seaside path knows, shared paths are (as a Wellington friend put it on Twitter the other day), the ‘Hunger Games’ of active transport, putting vulnerable groups in competition with each other.
  • For eastbound Tamaki Drive riders, the route will be particularly inconvenient. If you’re heading east around the bays (i.e not going to Glen Innes), to get any use out of the new stretch of cycleway you will have to cross twice, at two signals, and pause four times – Solent Street (a double crossing, first over the ports entry and then to the south) and again at Ngapipi Road (another dual crossing, over a slip lane and then to the north). This is hardly likely to appeal to current on-road riders, many or most of whom will stay on the road, or even on the narrow seaside shared path. (The numbers already tell us that eastbound riders gravitate to the waterfront path, even though the southern shared path has fewer pedestrians on it!)
  • Many westbound riders will likely also still prefer the road. Riders heading towards the city might use parts of the new cycleway – the separated sections especially, because they won’t have to go out of their way and cross the road twice to get to it. But with those shared path sections in the mix, our hopes aren’t high that most, let alone all, will chose to do so.

But reasons of convenience are not why we’re opposing this design. 

One of the harder aspects of cycle advocacy is triangulating between what we want, what there’s funding for, and what other constraints exist.

We’d love to see one-way cycleways on each side of the road, or at least a consistent, continuous two-way cycleway on one side of the road for a decent length, but the funding just isn’t there (especially at the end of this 3 year funding cycle). And we’re all still waiting on a holistic vision and political agreement on what Tamaki Drive should look like in the long-term. Making the whole streetscape better for all people on bikes will be a key part of that vision.

In the meantime, we might have been grudgingly okay with a relatively ‘cheap, quick and temporary’ solution: safe (if definitely not best-practice) shared paths to accommodate the new riders coming from Glen Innes – even if this didn’t massively improve things for current on-road riders.

However, we cannot accept a not-best-practice solution that actively endangers current on-road riders.

We oppose this project because it will make things a lot less safe and a lot more stressful for the hundreds of daily on-road riders.

Particularly noteworthy: Current riders prefer the narrow seaside path (even with its higher pedestrian numbers) to the southern path – presumably because of better onward links west and east. This will remain true for the new southern path (except for riders going to and from Glen Innes). Also important: the high numbers of on-road riders in both directions, often exceeding 2000 users/day.

The graph on the right shows you the choices these riders are already making. Remember, Tamaki Drive is the country’s busiest bike corridor. Yep, there’s sport cycling and leisure cycling in the mix, and daily / weekend peaks and troughs – but this is fundamentally an extremely important transport route, which sees its own two-wheeled rush hours.

As you can see, the harbour-edge path carries most bike traffic; followed by significant on-road bike traffic in both directions.

Will the current road riders switch to the proposed new southern-side cycleway? We would say that for most, the answer will be ‘no’. Even if the path itself is smooth and new, the extra crossings and sections of shared path will make it unappealing.

So, even in an extremely optimistic scenario in which, say, 1/3 of eastbound road riders and 2/3 of westbound road riders switch to the off-road path, several hundred people on bikes will still be traveling each way on the road, every day. As is their right, and as is understandable in these conditions.

And how will their safety fare?

We think: a lot worse than the current conditions. Why? Because in order to make space for tree roots (west of Parnell Baths) and the separated cycleway (east of Parnell Baths), the proposed design significantly shrinks the curbside traffic lane widths.


Here’s what’s dangerous about the proposed design

West of Parnell Baths The curbside road lanes shrink from approx 4.0m wide to 3.4m. At the moment, drivers can overtake riders without changing lanes – albeit not always pleasantly; it’s still below the 4.2m-4.5m recommended for safe overtaking within a lane.

  • However, the new layout effectively forces all westbound drivers to use the centre lane whenever there’s an on-road rider. Not an improvement for either riders or drivers.
  • Plus, there are still bus stops to negotiate along here – but at least parking won’t be an issue, if all parking is removed as AT are proposing.

East of Parnell Baths Westbound on-road riders face the same issues as above. But things get much worse for those riding eastbound on the road, because not only are the lanes narrower, but parking is retained on the north side! As soon as cars are parked during off-peak times, eastbound road riders will face Hobson’s Choice:

  • Ride right in the door zone! Put your life in the hands of strangers, and trust that nobody kills you on the newly skinny lane! Not-fun fact: driver-side doors open four times more often than passenger-side doors (because most of our cars are single-occupancy). Yep, that’s the side you are cycling past!
  • Claim the (single remaining eastbound) lane! Hundreds of riders will travel defensively to avoid being doored. Guess how this will go down with Tamaki Drivers, who in order to safely overtake bikes,will have to cross the centreline into oncoming traffic! We can already hear the letters to the editor and bellows from car windows: “Use your damned cycleway that got built with our money and get out of our way!

This design is a recipe for road-user anger and political anger – and quite potentially, fatalities. Even motorists’ safety is likely to suffer.

After Jane Bishop‘s “death by dooring” just a few kilometres down the road, we have no idea why AT would propose to do this to us (riders), to themselves, or to Tamaki Drive.

This is particularly confusing for us, as we explained all these concerns in detail to Auckland Transport several months ago. We were told then that it was too late to change the design before the consultation – even though we said we would likely have to oppose it. Maybe something could be modified later, they told us.

At that meeting some two months back, we went beyond simply pointing out the issues. We proposed an alternative. If AT was unwilling to remove the northern-side parking (the only other option we see to make their layout somewhat safe), then we suggested the following would change the project from ‘scary and wrong’ to at least ‘acceptable’.


An alternative: the Bike AKL Interim Option

West of Parnell Baths:

  1. Narrow the eastbound curbside lane from 4.8m to 4.2m. This leaves a lane wide enough to be shared by a car and and a road cyclist, whether the car is parked or moving. A car park is ~2.2m wide, which leaves 2m for cycling past – much better than riding right in the door zone!
  2. This narrowing creates 0.6m extra space, which means you can widen the westbound curbside lane too. In addition, you then either narrow the shared path from 3.1m to 2.9m, or move the shared path 0.2m closer to the trees (still a good bit further from the roots than it is now).
  3. As a result, both west AND east now have curbside lanes of 4.2m – arguably, better road conditions for on-road riders than before. All by just changing some paint and moving a curb line that was already being moved anyway!

East of Parnell Baths

  1. Narrow the northern 4.8m curbside lane the same way as above, and do not build a separated path on the south side, so you have enough space to keep the southern curbside lane at 4.2m wide too. Yes, you read correctly – Bike Auckland is recommending changing a proposed separated path to a shared path. We hope this won’t be quoted back at us out of context – but either way, we feel it is the right decision for here, for now – at least compared with the proposed design, which is only separated on 60% or so of the full length, so is hardly consistent.
  2. This may also allow for a buffer (say 0.5-1m) between the road and the shared path on the south side, to make it nicer to ride on. It will also be easier to keep the bus stops, etc, without impacting on safe path use – for example, by allowing space for people stepping off buses onto the path (something the current design hasn’t resolved yet either).
The Bike AKL interim option – allocating space more safely for now, until we get the funding and political will to do it right. (Click to enlarge)

In summary, the Bike AKL Interim Option offers an alternative that:

  • Provides 4.2m wide curbside lanes in both directions along the whole project east of Solent Street, making on-road riders safer by giving them space
  • Provides a consistent shared path on the southern side that’s at least ~3m wide, ensuring the project goal of a safe route for Glen Innes path riders into town
  • Is much less likely to endanger hundreds of daily cyclists on New Zealand’s busiest bike corridor 
  • Doesn’t invite motorists to make hazardous overtaking choices
  • Does not preclude future works – for example (let’s think proper cycleways!) a consistent two-way off-road cycle path on the north side, with an overbridge connection to the Glen Innes Path

We consider our option a much better interim treatment than the proposed design. It’s a rational way to serve all users of this corridor and hold safe space for people on bikes until Auckland finally gets the funding – and the agreed layout for Tamaki Drive – that is needed to build something really best practice for our jewel-in-the-crown waterfront route.

And most of all, it doesn’t trade off some people’s safety to achieve the project goals. That’s been done to people on bikes for decades; we can’t start doing it within bike projects too.

And that is why we’re asking you to provide feedback, and ask AT to abandon their proposed unsafe design.

Even if you don’t ride on-road.

Because we really don’t want improvements for some of us on bikes to come at the great expense of others. Auckland can do so much better than a controversial design that makes road safety worse by introducing new door zones and terrible driving choices on our busiest cycle route.

Oppose the current design here and now (direct link for feedback HERE)

UPDATE: After the initial rush of writing this “let’s stop the ambulance from falling off the cliff” post, we have now sat back a bit, and we realise that a more inspirational option will be needed. So next week, we’ll blog post the Bike AKL Quality Option!

You may want to hold off from submitting until after that.

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