Work has begun at last on the Western Springs shared path improvements across the motorway on and off-ramps, and past the petrol station and the famous Pohutukawa Six opposite MOTAT. This project was consulted on over a year ago, has strong support from the Waitemata Local Board, and was originally set to be delivered ‘in the third quarter of 2018’. So it’s a relief to see it finally under way, as it will bring much-needed safety to a route well-travelled by school children.
One bump in the road
Auckland Transport’s design included raised crossings to improve safety for people walking and biking across the motorway slip lanes, as well as across the two entrances to the gas station.
[Updated 14 June 2019: Adding raised tables is in accord with AT’s citywide pedestrian safety improvements programme – and also with recent research confirming that slip lanes are highly dangerous for people walking and biking in Auckland. Slip lanes with paint-only zebra crossings saw more injuries than those without, maybe because “slip lanes with pedestrian crossings may generally have higher average pedestrian volumes than slip lanes without pedestrian crossings, creating more potential for conflict.”
The 2019 study notes that in a slip lane context, “pedestrian crossings on raised speed tables are likely to operate relatively safely”, but points out that there just aren’t yet enough real-world examples from which to draw statistical conclusions.]
The NZ Transport Agency then realised it needed a policy to allow the raised tables – because adding them to motorway on- and off-ramp slip lanes would create a precedent, not just for Auckland but for the whole country.
NZTA has told us (and the Waitemata Local Board, see p4 of the Chair’s Monthly Report) that the issue has been raised to the highest levels in both organisations, and their safety team ‘is working as quickly as possible to establish a path forward.’ So far, so good. We’re also told the works could be completed for now without raised tables, which can then be retrofitted at a later date ‘should it become policy.’
That second phrase might sound ominous, but there is a wider safety question to be resolved here, around the concern that raised tables on a curved piece of road may pose potential issues for people on motorbikes. Obviously, the welfare of our motorised cuzzies is not something we’d minimise.
That’s why we’re encouraging NZTA to get this sorted as quickly as possible. We hope it’s a matter of weeks, not months.
The stakes are raised
Three reasons this location is worthy of our close attention right now:
- At this location in January 2019, a driver exiting the motorway ran into a person on a bike, resulting in serious injury and captured in some alarming footage.
- It’s a key walking and biking route for kids from Western Springs and Kingsland heading to Pasadena Intermediate and Western Springs College.
- Whatever happens here will affect what happens on motorway on and off-ramps elsewhere, including routes we call bikeways of national significance.
The other side of SH16 is where the Northwestern Cycleway (one of Auckland’s busiest bike routes, and the fastest growing) crosses four-lane St Lukes Road and the motorway on- and off-ramps. It’s also due for an upgrade soon. NZTA has agreed in principle that the bike-priority crossings for the cycleway should be on raised tables.
Everyone who bikes along the Northwestern knows the trepidation of crossing those slip lane zebras, in the teeth of westbound exiting drivers headed for their free left turn, and then motorway-bound drivers doing ditto, downhill to the on-ramp. The motorway aura encourages speed, and drivers don’t look out for people biking and walking. As this video clip shows, the existing paint-only crossings do little to alert drivers and slow them down.
Thinking further afield, elsewhere in the city and across New Zealand the combination of motorway on-ramps and pedestrian desire lines is an invitation to disaster – see, for example, the Symonds St onramp (which some have called for to be closed altogether, although the situation remains unresolved).
It’s very simple: where local streets meet motorways, drivers in a motorway mood need the road design to tell them to slow down.
Would traffic lights do the trick?
It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is: ‘not really, no’. And not just because too many Auckland drivers see red lights as a challenge to speed up, thanks to little or no enforcement when they break the rules.
Upstanding motorist behaviour at the St Lukes onramp this morning (far right)
(note also that's no left turn across the ped crossing, that's what the SLIP LANE is for) pic.twitter.com/0onDS95pli
— Andrew W (@aw_nz) February 25, 2018
The other issue is that by stopping traffic, signal lights create knock-on effects (in particular, queueing tailbacks), that can only be ‘solved’ by widening the road to create more lanes, which costs more, and has a worse impact on the public realm.
Indeed, and rather ironically, after the St Lukes interchange and bridge were rebuilt, the westbound off-ramp initially had a signalised left turn. This was quickly replaced with a free left turn after the queue-back on the motorway (sometimes as long as 2km) became intolerable.
Raised tables, on the other hand, are easily installed, and – done well – have a demonstrable effect on vehicle speeds without creating stop-start tailbacks. Realistically, nobody should be travelling at speed on the motorway slip lanes anyhow, so any device that moderates speed is a good thing.
You can see the raised-table effect in action in this clip of the half-completed Carrington Rd crossing – the vehicles in the near lane have no impediment; those in the far lane are negotiating the new table.
One cool thing about building a raised crossing in stages is it allows for some pretty definitive A/B testing. (This is Carrington Rd, a key link on Auckland’s fastest growing cycleway, and between Unitec and the town centre). pic.twitter.com/HJdgY0K0I2
— Bike Auckland (@BikeAKL) June 9, 2019
So, what now?
With Vision Zero top of mind and safety now the number one priority for both AT and NZTA, we trust this policy gap will be swiftly resolved. Even if this particular project requires two goes to get it done, it will become a valuable precedent not only for other locations, but also for an efficient and responsive safety-first and people-first approach.