Updated: huge thanks for your responsiveness – we’re collating 138 individual responses, and will post an overview of your thoughts very soon. Very grateful for your time and effort! Auckland Transport will hear your voices loud and clear.
The story of Franklin Rd’s makeover has taken another turn, with three fresh designs from AT for consultation, and urgent feedback requested so that work can begin on schedule.
This is a massive step forward from August, when it appeared that two of the original four designs – the only ones with dedicated provision for bikes! – were being scratched, apparently in response to a safety audit that looked into the issue of resident vehicles reversing out of driveways and people heading downhill on bikes. Our concern was that AT seemed to be planning to “solve” the safety issue by leaving people on bikes to figure it out, as usual, without any design help.
Beyond that, we thought the overall approach was narrow, reactive and, frankly, a bit unimaginative. Surely the design sensibility could embrace the movement towards liveable streets, slower speeds, Vision Zero, the human scale? Couldn’t it aim to be beautiful as well as useful? We reckoned this grand old tree-lined boulevard linking Ponsonby Ridge and Victoria Park deserved better.
Happily, AT went back to the proverbial drawing board. And in the interim, Generation Zero stepped in to lift everyone’s view to the horizon, with a campaign that invited us all to step away from technical details (flush medians, lane widths, curb design, etc) and into visions of possibility that conveyed the feeling of what we’re really talking about: a beautiful, welcoming street.
Over the last month, we put our thinking caps on, too. Given the upgrade budget, what could you do with Franklin Rd to make it a better (and better-looking!) street for everyone, whether they live there or enjoy passing through it?
We asked the lovely urbanists at MRCagney to help us consider the many factors at play. The experiences of pedestrians and cyclists, including kids walking (and increasingly biking!) to Freeman’s Bay Primary School and nearby preschools. The spectacular old trees, whose roots suffer from being parked on. The seasonal floods of visitors, especially at Christmas, when the residents turn on a beautiful show for the people of Auckland. The daily needs of residents, who simply wish to come and go without stress, but also wish for a safer, quieter street. The desire of almost everyone for on-street parking. The constant flow of vehicles – over 14,000 vehicle movements per day – much of it heading to and from motorways, with a tendency to speed, and rat-running through side streets. And so on.
How could all the transport connections and all the human connections best be balanced?
Well, now it’s time to step back towards the technical details and consider the plans. The very good news is: all three of AT’s new proposed designs have dedicated bike space, and even better: that space is not gained at the expense of pedestrians, hooray! All three also retain on-street parking. All of them look better to our eyes than the previous batch…. and one is a bit of a surprise.
Below are the three new options, with some of our initial thoughts on each. To enlarge the images, just click. AT is still working to their original timetable, with Vector work starting in early February, so your feedback is urgently needed to inform how we respond to AT. As always, we want to do the best we can to ensure that the needs and safety of people on bikes are properly represented.
Here’s what AT wants to know:
- which of the three options do you prefer?
- what do you like and not like about each design?
Please respond in the comments below (labelled clearly as “feedback”), or by using the special form at the end of this blog post, and we’ll collate your thoughts to pass on to AT. We’d love to hear from you by SUNDAY EVENING, 8 November.
(NB: at this stage, the discussion is simply about the options for the basic street layout; details like side streets, the Wellington St intersection, and so on, will be discussed at a future date.)
And without further ado, here are the designs.
On-road bike lanes, with a painted buffer zone.
- The traffic lanes are 3.2m wide, with a 1.7m median.
- The footpaths are still 3m wide, with good green space protecting the trees.
- The bike lane itself is 1.5m, with a painted buffer of 0.6m wide between bikes and other traffic.
- The median strip is retained. (Residents generally have positive feelings about the median strip as a space to sit while waiting to turn. And theoretically, at least, a median discourages drivers from using bike lanes to swerve impatiently around each other. All of this aside, AT’s survey of actual movements using the median strip showed that it’s not as heavily used as you might think.)
- There’s no physical separation to keep moving vehicles out of the bike lane. Given that drivers informally “double-lane” during times of heaviest traffic, there will need to be some kind of separation: poles? a strong rumble strip? or traversable rubber buffers like those along Beach Road’s driveways? These will need to work around the driveways and the on-street parking, and are not currently locked into the design.
- All of the above also applies to stationary vehicles in the bike lane – we know Auckland drivers aren’t shy about parking or pausing in bike lanes!
- With on-road lanes, this design is unlikely to appeal to less confident riders. Children in particular will likely stick to the footpath – but so might new or unfamiliar cyclists, rather than mixing it up with heavy traffic.
- There’s a wide expanse of asphalt for pedestrians to cross.
- Visually, there’s a lot of white paint all over the road.
- Drivers reversing into or emerging out of the parking spaces would be making a sideways movement of 4.8m across the bike lanes – quite a lot to negotiate while looking out for people on bikes! (And if parking time limits are introduced, the number of these movements will increase).
- Above all, this design doesn’t address the visibility issue that residents are most concerned about: whether residents reversing out of driveways can see people on bikes. (Further down, we explain why parked cars are the real problem here.)
On-road bike lanes with more buffering; no median strip.
- This option resembles Option 1, but takes away the median strip for much of the street (although we’re told it will likely be retained at crucial turning points, like side roads and intersections)
- The space gained by removing the median is shared out as extra breathing space in the “door zone” between the bike lane and the parked cars.
- The bike lane is still 1.5m wide, but there is an added “door zone” buffer of 0.6m in this version, and the traffic buffer is widened by 0.2m to 0.8m.
- Vehicle lanes are 3.2m wide (uphill) and 3.3m wide (downhill). The downhill traffic lane gains an extra 10cm, presumably to allow for slightly safer passing at greater speeds.
- Pedestrians and the trees are treated well, as in Option 1.
- Same as for Option 1, with the addition of additional sideways movement when cars are parallel parking and leaving parking spots: they now will be “scooching” sideways (and across the bike lane) by 2.5 car widths!
- If adding buffering to the door zone, why not bring the curb line (and driveway entrances) out to meet the edge of the bike lane, thus providing more greenspace and visual road narrowing?
- No physical separation of the bike lane is planned, but we would absolutely encourage it.
What the hey! Raised and protected quasi-Copenhagen lanes, tucked inside the on-street parking, between parked cars and the grassy berm, on both sides of the street. Is this a first for Auckland?
- Like Option 2, the median is retained for intersections and side streets, but otherwise removed.
- The traffic lanes are 3.2m wide.
- The footpaths are 3.0m, as in the other options.
- The biggest feature of all is obviously the off-road, parking-protected, raised cycleways (“raised” meaning at the same level as the footpath and the berm, rather than on the road surface), which are obviously a great deal more attractive to less confident riders.
- The total bike space on each side of the road is 2.2m wide, which the design apportions as a 1m bike lane with tree-side buffering of 0.5m, and door-zone buffering of 0.7m. (There’s some variability in there depending on how the bike lane passes the trees.)
Downsides (it took us a while, but we thought of some – most of which can be addressed)
- The protected bike lanes are not especially wide at pinch points where they pass between the trees and the parked cars (1.1m, where 1.5m would be ideal)
- There’s a new risk of having a passenger open a door, although currently only something like 1 in 5 cars has a passenger in it, and there is some buffering space for this new door zone. Also, bikes would generally be travelling quite slowly on these bike paths, even downhill. And, even if you do get tipped off your bike, at least you won’t fall into the path of oncoming traffic.
- While the visibility of people on bikes is vastly improved to residents exiting driveways, the corollary is some lessened visibility when turning into driveways. (Swings and roundabouts!)
- There’s a bit of “up and down” as the bike paths cross driveways (although this can be addressed – see further down)
- It’s possible that faster and more confident cyclists may prefer to use the road (as is their legal right), and if the traffic lanes are narrower than previously, this may create some conflict and safety issues on the road.
- Cyclists on the off-road paths would not necessarily have priority at side roads, so would be obliged to stop and start (however, NZTA rule changes on this are under discussion, and changes will likely be in place before construction is completed).
- Will the bike paths accommodate increasing numbers of people on bikes in the future? (File under: good problems to have). Our consultants say a separated cycle track of 1.5 m wide can easily cater for thousands of cyclists a day, and even at bike rush hour, you’re not going to run out of space any time soon. Phew.
- Would cyclists mind sharing their space with pedestrians during the festive Christmas-light evenings when pedestrians overflow into the street? (Our guess is: they’d be happy to share. Christmas comes but once a year.)
So, how to compare and how to choose? At this point, it feels a little bit as if AT has said, “Hey guys, Franklin Rd’s getting SOCKS for Christmas, and here are three great options!”
In other words, Options 1 and 2 are perfectly serviceable, and a very practical choice for many a Dad. Whereas Option 3 offers something for the whole family, and is instantly appealing on an emotional YES PLEASE level.
There’s also the school of thought that says “you get the kind of cyclists you design for”. Options 1 & 2 would likely encourage more of the kind of people who are already happy to ride on the road. Whereas Option 3 would attract kids and new riders of all ages.
A couple of questions, to complicate things so we don’t get overly distracted by kittens:
- Are Options 1 and 2 something we can work with?
- And could Option 3 be improved further?
Let’s go back to the visibility-while-reversing question, because that was what caused the schemozzle in August. This is an Auckland-wide issue, because so many of our residential streets not only have lots of driveways with lots of houses down them, but increasingly high and opaque fences at the street-front. As a city, we’ve built ourselves into this difficult corner and we’re going to have to find ways to deal with it.
What especially concerns many Franklin Rd residents is also what makes their street so special: the big old London Plane trees. The worry is that people on bikes will pop out from behind the trees in the split second that drivers make their decision to reverse into a gap in traffic. And residents are especially worried about downhill/ eastbound bikes travelling at speed. (Rest assured, people heading downhill on bikes are also worried about this, and have it front of mind every time we travel).
Our friends at MRCagney set out to test the visibility question with a bike and a camera, and discovered pretty quickly that it’s not the trees that most impede the view of bikes.
It’s parked cars.
In the first image, the camera is positioned 1m from the property line at 20 Franklin Rd. This is the spot where a driver, having watched out for pedestrians, would likely pause to assess the bike and car situation. The numbers represent seconds: the person on a bike is obscured as they pass behind each parked car.
In the next image, the camera is 3.0m from the property line at 30 Franklin Rd, capturing the moment when the driver eases further out into the road while scanning for gaps. The rear of the vehicle has entered where the bike lane begins in options 1 and 2. Note: at this spot on Franklin Rd, the trees are further apart and a driveway just up the hill leaves a gap in the parked cars, so visibility is a wee bit better than above. But still, note how the person on a bike disappears behind the parked car for half a second.
By contrast, here’s a simulation MRCagney did of the same view from the driver’s window in a version of Option 3, with the bike path running between parked cars and the trees. While the trees do momentarily block the rider – and rest assured, there’s no possible world in which we’d suggest removing them! – the overall view is much clearer.
On the residents’ visibility concerns alone, Option 3 seems a clear winner.
AT’s own Qualitative Assessment Summary – which uses various measures to assess pedestrian amenity, biking safety, traffic movement, parking, tree health, and sense of place – rates Option 2 above Option 3, with Option 1 coming in last. (NB On that document, Options 1, 2, 3 correspond to A, Am, and E. Also worth noting: the previous set of designs, including the “do nothing” option, rate considerably lower.)
And AT’s new safety audit also rates Option 2 highly – but only on the assumption that it includes “continuous speed cushions”, which is to say, physical separation of some kind, the length of Franklin Rd. AT has told us they haven’t precluded using physical separators, and would prefer to use “a consistent treatment along the road”; this probably means a continuous line of rubber bumpers like on the Beach Rd driveways, as chunky Auckland-style concrete barriers would be both too bulky and too infrequent to be effective here.
(Possibly the rubber bumpers could just be black, if they’re continuous, but we don’t know for sure, as they are not part of the design being currently consulted on. AT will be looking into the options once the preferred option has been settled on.)
AT’s new safety audit concedes that Option 3 gives better visibility and lower cyclist speeds than the other options — but assumes that these safety gains would be cancelled out by the prospect of faster cyclists taking to the road, where they would face the usual dangers.
So: Options 1 and 2 could work, IF physical separation is included. But visibility and safety – at least within the confines of this decision, because we can’t yet talk about side roads and intersections – are better with Option 3, except for those cyclists who use the road. Swings and roundabouts, trade-offs and comparisons.
Last question: could Option 3 be further improved? Yes, said MRCagney. They suggest the following fixes:
- Bringing the kerb line further out into the road space to create parking bays, which would help eliminate pinch points along the cycle path.
- Not having on-street parking right next to the trees – this too would eliminate pinch points.
- Building the kerb line further out into the roadway at driveways – as seen in the image below, from Rotterdam – will also help address speed, by giving visual cues about how drivers should behave, even when the street is not full of parked cars. (The more visible tarmac, the higher the speeds).
- If you extend the driveway ramp into the roadway (into the line of the parked cars, as below), you can keep the bike path flat so bikes don’t have to go down and up when they cross each driveway. This would also enhance visibility for drivers turning in to their properties, avoids people blocking driveways, and slows down traffic, all at once.
And of course, AT can and should probably plan ahead for a future that restores the right of way to pedestrians and people on bikes travelling in a straight line, with continuous crossings at side streets .
Then there’s the question we began with: is it possible to have a design that’s beautiful as well as useful? What would also be useful, but what we don’t have, is a street-level image from AT showing how each of the three designs might feel when you’re actually using Franklin Rd. Oh wait. Here’s one for Option 3.
Actually, sorry – that’s Molenlaan in Rotterdam again! The one with the Option 3-style bike path. Here it is with the bike path more visible…
But it could be Franklin Rd, couldn’t it? And eventually, it could be any road in Auckland, done right. Pick a street and try it on for size. We can’t all live on Franklin Rd, but you could live on a street like this…
Final observation: we’re told that budget is NOT the major consideration, which is good. At the Community Liaison Group meeting where these designs were unveiled, Councillor Mike Lee, who chaired the meeting, reiterated that safety was the abiding question, especially for the most vulnerable travellers on the road. It was a good thing to be reminded of. We’d add that a safe street is very often a beautiful street, and vice versa, because they encourage us to slow down and enjoy the journey.
In the end, we’re all looking for the best design, and are fully aware that compromise is the key. Franklin Rd’s scheduled upgrade is turning into a wonderful opportunity, and we believe everyone can win. Nobody can win everything – but we can all win something for everyone.
Have at it!
- To send your feedback directly and privately to us, type into the box below and hit the purple button that says “Submit”. Please tell us which option you prefer, and anything you like and dislike about each option. We’ll collate the feedback and send it to AT.
- To comment on this post in the usual public fashion, scroll past the box below to the comments section and carry on as usual. (If you want your public comments to also count as feedback for us to pass on to AT, please label them as such).