A blog by Ben L and Bryce P

What prevents more people from riding bikes to school, work, to shops or simply to a friend’s house? The biggest deterrent to cycling, for many people is their perceived lack of safety while riding. This has been confirmed by a recent study by Auckland Transport.

Currently most cycling focus is on high quality cycle paths – be they on-road lanes or dedicated off-road cycle paths or, more likely in the shorter term in Auckland, shared paths.

There is also an emergence, mostly via Local Boards, of ‘Greenways’ projects. The Greenways look great and are something to aim for – but due to cost (the on-road sections involve quite major reworking of roads) they cannot be built everywhere.

In fact, all these off-road projects tend to be quite expensive to build, especially where land has to be bought. So are there other options for quickly expanding the Auckland cycle network without breaking the bank? Let us explore this a bit more.

The image, in most people’s heads, of quality cycle infrastructure is off-road cycle paths – but even the Dutch only use these where necessary or most suited (such as between villages / on main roads). Most Dutch cities utilise a low speed (30 km/h) network of traffic calmed residential streets and these are linked together by the much photographed dedicated cycle paths. We really need both – the flashy infrastructure on key routes, and the much lower-key changes area-wide.

A cycle street - except for the houses, nothing we couldn't easily have in Auckland [Photo from aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com]
A cycle street – except for the houses, nothing we couldn’t easily have in Auckland [Photo from aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com]

So, the aim then is to follow the Dutch idea (also used to good effect in the likes of Portland, USA as well), utilise some creative thinking behind the transformation of New York City (planters and paint) and create a network of safe, residential road routes for riders of all ages and abilities and to do it on as small a budget as we can get away with.

The point is that cars are not inherently unfriendly to walkers or cyclists. If a car is travelling 30 km/h or less, the vehicle can stop very quickly and does not present a significant danger [Editor’s note: By some measures, Auckland is already safer to cycle than most of New Zealand, likely because as our average traffic speeds are lower than in other regions – as of 2010, we had 25% of NZ’s cycle crashes, but only 18% of the associated social cost – in short, our cycle crashes tend to be less serious than, say, in the Waikato].

30 km/h or less represents a speed where motor vehicles, cycles and pedestrians can safely share the street space. Therefore, the challenge is not to eliminate cars but to encourage drivers to travel at safe and appropriate speeds on residential streets, something that unfortunately happens far too seldom nowadays in Auckland.

Some streets have so little through traffic that no changes are necessary. However, those streets often tend to be isolated pockets and, as we all know, it is connected networks that are needed for any form of transport to be a useful option.

The main features of cycle streets that achieve this aim include:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABicycle friendly road markings and signage. Cyclists need to know that they are welcome on the street and also, just like motorists, they need to know where they are going. Sharrows are one way that streets can be designated as cycle friendly areas and have been used to great effect in North America. Portland has also been great at using cycle friendly signage to create networks to destinations. This is the kind of signage that we should see more in Auckland.
  • Narrowing particularly wide roads to discourage high vehicle speeds. This can be done by physically narrowing the street (obviously an expensive option) or redrawing the street markings to make the street appear narrower – for example, by delineating the parking areas with painted lines. This may also include allowing parking on both sides of the road where it is currently only on one side – parked cars are not necessarily a bad thing as they create barriers to speed. In a slower-speed road where the environment allows cyclists to safely ride in the middle of a lane, the dreaded “dooring” risk also is much reduced.
  • Eliminate centre lines to discourage the “expected segregation” of the street space. The presence of centre lines encourages motorists to think they have ownership of their side of the street and discourages using the whole street to allow all modes to co-exist. Make motorists feel more like they are sharing the street, and have to have greater regard to the existence and positioning of other road users – instead of blindly trusting a “this is my lane” approach – and so slow them down, by removing something prescriptive.
  • Traffic calming infrastructure. This may take the form of speed bumps, chicanes, pedestrian tables at intersections, small roundabouts at intersections or some combination of the above. These traffic calming measures would be more appropriate on wider, straighter streets that encourage high speeds and “rat running”. As Paul Steely White illustrated so well recently, let’s start with cheap bollards and planters. If the traffic calming is a success we can then lower the speed limit (remember in NZ you pretty much have to slow the cars and only then can you decrease the speed limit) – and eventually make the changes permanent using fancier infrastructure.

As always the best examples of how to achieve this can be found from those paragons of cycling virtue, the Dutch. We often forget that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the Dutch were just as enthusiastic about motorised traffic as Auckland still is today and cycling plummeted in the Netherlands in that period.

Many residential developments were built that were very motor vehicle friendly and cycle and walking unfriendly. There is now a process of slowly transforming these residential developments and what is so surprising is how little really need to be done. [Editor’s note: Point England in Auckland has had a successful trial project a few years back, which managed to traffic-calm local streets to an average speed of 30 km/h, and ensure that the 50 km/h speed limit on main roads was obeyed much better – we are aware of a follow-up project in South Auckland which is about to go public very soon].

Creating cycle-friendly streets is not an expensive exercise; and the only real requirement for success is for motorists to accept that, at least until they are back on the main arterials, they must share the street space with other non-motorised users on a much more equal footing. This is a great video that illustrates the transformation process.

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10 responses to “Cycle Friendly Streets: A Complete Network

  1. Hopefully the Dominion Rd ‘alternative cycle route’ is finalised and built asap as this could show just how it can work in real life.

  2. Great post thanks guys. An aspect of complete streets versus segregated bike lanes is that the treatments generally don’t require removal of on-street parking and as such avoids getting residents and retailers heckles up. Win-win
    I would encourage folk to get involved with their newly elected local boards and demand your hood is reclaimed

  3. A quick win I’d like to see trialed is to put cycle lanes on the nearside of parking.

    That way the parked cars form a substantial barrier against moving traffic and a ‘dooring’ will put you on the pavement, not under a bus.

    Dooring could be avoided altogether by using ‘echelon’ parking, which may also be a good way of narrowing the broader residential streets of AKL without raising the ire of motorists.

    It also prevents the cycle lane becoming a peak demand slip road for impatient left turning drivers (Great South Road, I’m talking about you…)

    This could be implemented as part of the normal maintenance of road markings and make vehicle parking a benefit to other road users.

    Caveat: Design would need to allow sufficient width and allow access or crossings for right turns.

    1. They’re proposing to do Copenhagen style lanes as you propose on Ponsonby Rd. Would have easily been possible to do similar treatments on massively wide streets like College Hill when that was recently completely resealed and repainted. We didn’t even get cycle lanes full stop.

      1. There are so many proven ways of making cycling better and thus improve mode-share significantly but until the lead agencies decide to change, very little will happen. It will require us, and other residents of Auckland, to put pressure on these agencies to change. Be it via local boards, thru CAA or your local councillor or MP. Change will only happen when we force it.

      2. bbc – Of course, fully in favour of those cycle paths and I really hope they happen.

        But again, they are only part of the picture. They are the arterial roads of the cycle network while things like the NW cycleway are the motorways.

        However, if motorists only had arterials and motorways, the roading network wouldnt be very useful as nost of us couldnt get to our houses or businesses. The “cycle streets” are supplying that start and end portion of our cycle journeys and linking the arterials and motorways. They will also offer safe trips to the local shops, schools, parks etc – a big proportion of Aucklanders’ car journeys now.

        And best of all, cycle streets offer that cheaply with only a requirement that motorists slow down for a small part of their journey.

    2. Jake – I agree but I understand that the problem with those from a traffic engineer point of view is that they make cyclists invisible to motorists turning into driveways. I would still rather take that risk rather than ride next to traffic but engineers dont think that way.

  4. Hi Ben and Bryce, thank you for the post. Having just visited Germany and Holland for the first time in several years, I agree with your observations. We need a mix of off-road bike lanes, shared paths and slow-speed shared streets. Horses for courses.

    I’m still thinking through the logic of your comment about narrowing streets by allowing car parking on both sides. Maybe there are examples where this makes sense?

    But in my part of town, the reality is quite the opposite: many of the streets, including the one I live on are just the “wrong” width to cycle on comfortably with car parking on both sides. I should say these are relatively major roads, not “side streets”.. arterials and busy spur roads. These streets don’t allow a 1.5 m space for a cyclists when there are two passing cars between two parked cars. Cyclists are rarely given 1.5 m even when there is only one car passing.

    Yet on these streets, there is more than enough space for all the parked cars to fit comfortably on only one side of the street. So I would like to see the *removal* of car parking on one side of these streets, allowing room for good quality bike lanes in either direction. Such lanes could be segregated by bollards or markers as per an earlier post.. but even if just painted, they would transform both real and subjective safety for cyclists.

    Does this make sense? I am thinking to take this up with my LB or RA.

    1. Hi Tim. You’ve been to the Netherlands so you’re one up on my view via blogs and Google. Via this medium, I have seen numerous examples of just what you mention – that is removing parking on one side of the street if the width of the street makes safe cycling necessary. A street very nearby to us has yellow, no parking lines on one side and, combined with speed bumps, make it a very nice street for our whole family to ride on. http://goo.gl/maps/4Ahjx

    2. Tim it is really horses for courses. If it is an arterial road then, as in NL and DK, it would make sense to remove parking and put in lanes.

      Of course, suggesting removing “their” parking space to Aucklanders is the equivalent of kitten abuse, so you might have a hard time.

      Other treatments like remving the centre line and putting in traffic calming features to slow traffic and signage to show that the street is to be shared by motorists may be just as effective. Slow cars are a lot less threatening and dangerous. A car at 30km/h can stop in the space of a few metres.

      Can you tell us which street you are referring to?

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