The Gift of the Magi: a decision on Franklin Road

Last night we got the news about what’s in the Christmas stocking for people on bikes along Franklin Road, come next year’s full-scale upgrade of the whole road.

As you know, after an initial decision by Auckland Transport that left pretty much no cycling facilities in the redesign plans, we took a stand, and managed to get three options that all provided space for people on bikes back on the table.

Given the very tight timeline (with power and water work already scheduled for early next year), feedback was swift and strong, in the form of 139 submissions via our online form (you guys!) and 171 submissions from other quarters.

Last night at the Community Liaison Meeting, AT confirmed that they will be going with Option 1 – which is to say, on-road cycle lanes, buffered primarily with paint (or some kind of colour and texture delineation yet to be confirmed), with parking between the trees, people on bikes located between the parked cars and traffic, and the flush median retained.

Franklin Road Option_1

You could call Option 1 the ‘ho ho ho hum’ gift option. It provides dedicated space for cycling, and allows for some cycle growth, but is not really transformative. It’s not the kind of layout parents would let their children ride on unaccompanied. It’s definitely not the suburban ‘Christmas Lights Street’ version of Lightpath.

It’s a pair of socks. Still, it’s a big improvement on the no-bike-lanes-at-all option; at least we’re not going completely barefoot into the New Year.

Why did AT chose to go with this option, instead of the other two?

We’re told they tried to make Option 3 work, but reverted to Option 1 mainly because of the flush median. Their closer assessment concluded that they were happy with removing the flush median only along some 25% of the street – because along the rest, it was required for making right turns: into side roads, the supermarket driveway, and at either end of the street. (Although, it’s not as if roads without flush medians can’t allow for turning right – new Carlton Gore Road, anyone? And remember there was life and street design before flush medians, which take a huge bite out of our shared space; could there also be life after them?).

Effectively, this decision ruled out Options 2 and 3 at a stroke; AT concluded that Option 1 is a ‘balanced option’ that ‘caters for all road users.’

The other thing that kept worrying them, and may have been the final straw, is the bugbear of visibility for residents reversing out of driveways. Their conclusion was that reversing cars are more likely to interact dangerously with bikes travelling closer to the trees and footpath, than with bikes further out on the road. Why? We’re waiting for images and numbers on this, but apparently it’s because you can more easily see people on bikes over the parked cars once you’ve reversed further out onto the road. (We did register our concern about the relative outcomes of these two varieties of worst-case scenarios – is a person on a bike who’s knocked down next to a lane of active traffic at greater risk than one run into while crossing a driveway behind parked cars?).

The question of gradient came into it as well, with AT noting the 8% gradient and reiterating their concern about ‘high downhill speeds’ – of cyclists. AT’s auditors felt that cyclists in a narrow protected cycle lane between trees on one side and parked cars wouldn’t mix well going past driveways. Interestingly, while vehicle speed was noted as something that could be addressed via various measures, biking speed appears to be beyond anyone’s power to control. (Gravity: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!).

Other factors at play: the root systems of the trees, which would have required substantial bridging to create a continuous raised cycle path, without guarantee that the path wouldn’t need redoing at some point if the roots came up again. And the trunks of the trees, which AT’s auditors felt lined up in such a way as to make occupants of the Option 3 bike lane harder to see.

Somewhat ironically, it was concluded at the meeting that ‘Franklin Rd is more set up for confident cyclists anyway’ (what with the gradient) – and it now looks likely to stay that way. Children on bikes and their accompanying parents  – whether Freemans Bay school kids, or weekend families linking their way between the ridge and the waterfront – will likely continue to prefer the 3m wide footpath, making it a de facto shared path. Although, if they do take to the on-road lanes en masse, that will be an interesting test of the design.

It was also noted in passing that ‘If you were prepared to lose pretty much all the parking, you could make it work’ – the ‘it’ being a flush median plus separated/off-road bike lanes. Losing pretty much all the parking was never going to happen – although, that said, Option 1 will involve removing parking near key driveways to improve visibility, and a residents’ parking scheme is being introduced to give locals priority over the free-parking commuters who currently occupy most of the on-street parking spaces during the day.

Looking ahead

Where to now? Well, firstly it’s great to know that Option 3 is something AT has in its playbook, and we look forward to seeing versions of it trialled and deployed in other locations.

Secondly, the door is now wide open for improving the ‘bare’ version of Option 1 shown above. This design needs improvement so it’s as safe as it can be – and, ideally, beautiful too. We are in happy accord with the residents’ representatives on this. And it’s on those two interconnected points – safety and beauty – that we’d love your help again.

  • Safety-wise, it’s clear that paint alone won’t keep cars from drifting into the bike lane (or shamelessly double-laning as they do on St Lukes Rd in the evening). It’s also clear that gallons of white paint aren’t aesthetically thrilling, or conducive to the feel of a street that people actually live on. Some kind of physical delineation is needed, that still allows access to driveways and parking bays. A simple approach would be to use the raised rubber speed bumps as seen along the Beach Road and Nelson Street driveways, to edge the bike lanes for the full length of the street. What else can you suggest?
  • There’s also the potential for highlighting the bike lanes by using different surface colours and textures (i.e. not just “fresh kermit”). Lightpath’s ‘pink frost‘ has certainly got people excited about the possibilities, and along with the residents, we’re keen to see some creativity brought into play here.
  • Road speeds in general need to be lowered too – AT and the Local Board can address the speed limit once NZTA has worked its way through its current revisions; but there are other ways of sending signals to drivers to slow down and ‘drive as if you lived here’. Suggestions welcome.
  • It’s also worth emphasising that the ‘flush median’ isn’t just for vehicle use, and doesn’t have to be a street-length strip of white striping. It can also fulfil a safety function for pedestrians – although for now, the finer details of where pedestrian refuges would be placed, how they will function, and whether they will be part of formal pedestrian crossings (raised or otherwise) are still up in the air. But reshaping that central space as a series of right turn bays, interspersed with some kind of hardscaping, would help dampen the white-paint-motorway vibe of the design, and would discourage motorists from treating it as a bonus overtaking lane.
  • We’re also happy to report that the Wellington St intersection, originally slated to be a roundabout (not ideal for pedestrians or cyclists), is being looked at more closely with a view to better safety for vulnerable road users.
  • What else strikes you as important to carry through to the next stage of refining the design? Speak up and we’ll pass on your feedback – so that people on bikes have a voice in the Community Liaison Group.

In the end, it isn’t really quite what we wanted and what you virtually unanimously asked for. And it’s a shame that real protected lanes here will have to wait until the next time Franklin Rd is rebuilt – when our children are grown. But compared to a lump of coal in your stocking – or no stocking at all! – bike lanes on Franklin Rd are still a gift. Half a year ago, the road wasn’t even on the cycle network. We can all get some Christmas cheer out of that thought.

Franklin Road, by Ben Gracewood, via Flickr.
Franklin Road, by Ben Gracewood, via Flickr.

Header image by Francis Storr, also via Flickr

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