Advanced stop boxes: they’re a paint-only, bare minimum kind of bike infrastructure, and not in any way best practice for protecting people on bikes at intersections, which are hot spots for crashes. But at many intersections all over Auckland, they’re literally all we have in the way of any support for (ever so slightly) safer cycling. We use them because we’re there, even if it puts us between a rock  (or a bus, or a truck, or an impatient driver) and a hard place.

Matt Hancock wrote to us with his experiences of using ASBs, and questions about maintenance and enforcement of the markings. His story, below – and an update from us below that.

How many times have you ridden to the front of a traffic queue to find a car or bus stopped over the green sanctuary of the advanced stop box (ASB)? On my 8km commute there are over 20 sets of traffic lights, as I wind my way from Ellerslie to Aotea Square, of which 16 include ASBs.

ASBs are defined by Auckland Transport as:

“a priority measure aimed at increasing the safety and visibility of cyclists by providing them with a designated area at the limit line of signalised intersections. Cycle lead-in lanes should be provided on the approach to the intersection wherever possible to support ASBs. The implementation of cycle lead-in lanes maximises the benefits of ASBs.”

Of the 16 advanced stop boxes (ASBs) I pass, only three comply fully with AT’s Code of Practice (2013), Chapter 13, Cycling Infrastructure Design – that is to say, they have visible green surfacing and a white cycle symbol. The remaining 13 have not been maintained.

And regardless of paint and markings, on any given day, about half of the ASBs along my route will have a vehicle stopped on top of them.

Just hanging out on the stop box, as you do.
Emergency stop box (Harden up, as the numberplate says).

I raised the issue with AT early in 2018 after noticing an increasing number of the ASBs fading to black. When AT asked for locations, I sent them a rather large list (20+) which were just the ones I see in my commute. This led to a phone call, in which I was told that AT didn’t have the budget to repaint the green surfacing when it fades away – although they try to repaint the white cycle logo when they can. (I’ve noticed sometimes they’ll paint a white logo over another that has not faded completely, creating a montage that looks like a bicycle mating with another bicycle.)

So it’s strange that AT’s own Code of Practice notes clearly:

“The re-marking of road markings (including the re-marking and greening of cycle lanes and ASBs) should be incorporated in the maintenance programme.” [Chapter 13, Section 13.5.6 Maintenance]

I have never seen T2 or bus lanes in similar dire need of maintenance. They are always resplendent with day-glo green and appropriate labels and symbols.

This leads to a curious folllow-up question. Are drivers unaware of ASBs due to them being hard to see – OR do they know what they are, but don’t care about them or the people on bikes who use them for safer transit through intersections?

In a 2014 article about a crackdown in Wellington on drivers not respecting stop boxes (shortly after they’d been introduced in the city), Police Senior Sergeant Richard Hocken said ‘many drivers would be unfamiliar with the stop box rules, and the fine attached to encroaching upon them.’ They would, I presume, also have been unaware that the fine associated with such an infraction is $60.

The unfamiliarity extends to Auckland’s professional drivers. Our taxis, bus drivers, ambulance drivers, courier drivers, and even AT staff in branded vehicles, all fail to comply with the rules around ASBs. Clearly what is needed is an ASB information campaign by AT, in conjunction with the inclusion of ASBs into their maintenance program, as per their own guidelines.

— Matt Hancock

Is this a still shot from an upcoming AT campaign about respecting advanced stop boxes?

A Bike Auckland update

Up until this year, AT hasn’t had dedicated budget to maintain the paint surface in addition to general carriageway traffic markings. This is complicated by the fact that after a reseal, the green can only be applied once the new surface has ‘cured’. So what looks like a simple job involves at least two site visits, with partial road closures required for each. First for the green surfacing; then weeks later, the white bike symbol can be painted on top after the greening has cured.

Clearly, it’s too easy for the greening and symbols to be forgotten under this arrangement. And there’s a wide-open opportunity for a one-stop innovation by a smart roading contractor – but right now, it’s a complex hassle that the always overworked maintenance department seems to often not get around to.

The good news is that for the first time ever, from July 1, AT will have maintenance budget specifically allocated to repaint cycle lanes, symbols and greening. We’re told it will be $700,000 for this first budget year. How many bike lanes and ASBs this will allow to be brought up to spec across the city is yet to be known, but you can be sure we’ve asked that question and will report back as soon as we hear.

Cycle lanes
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7 responses to “Boxed in: the problem(s) with Advanced Stop Boxes

  1. Kia ora,
    In terms of ASBs, are they allowed to be used by motorcycles / scooters?
    As a cyclist I often find myself sharing the ASBs in central Auckland (particularly near Symonds St / Grafton Bridge) with mopeds and motorcycles.

      1. Where should they go? I always find myself sympathetic to them, even in bike lanes if they aren’t posing a hazard

        1. You are very kind John. I commute half the time on bicycle and the other half on a motorbike and try to keep out of the ASBs when on the motorbike. At the intersection Megan mentioned there are often a number of buses waiting on Grafton bridge and not all of them get through on one traffic light phase. This, together with the desire not to sit breathing in black bus smoke, means I often ride my bike(s) to the front of the queue. Given motorbikes are much faster off the line than buses (and bicycles) it doesn’t impede anyone to be there as long as room is left for cyclists. However, what tends to happen is that scooter riders wait all across the road, blocking buses turning left from Symonds St on Grafton bridge, or wait well into the intersection. Then on the green light the scooters crawl at ‘bus-speed’ through the lights, slowing down cyclists.

  2. Double check with AT on the matter of when the cycle logo can be painted over the greening. After a long facebook discussion on the marking of a local cycle lane, it seems that there is no need for the greening to be ‘cured’ before the white cycle logos can be painted on. It can be done right away (and so can yellow dashed lines where needed).

    1. The article keeps talking about “paint” but in many cases it could be green thermoplastic or coloured chip that is applied to the ASB surface. Costs more upfront, but should last much longer (we’ve got some in Chch from years ago that still look like the day they were put down); will probably also affect how soon you can paint symbols on them. Also useful to know that there are at least four types of allowable green colour shades specified for cycleway surfacing; some are better than others in terms of their visibility (esp. day and night) – personally I would go with “apple green”.

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