North Shore resident and biking dad Mat Collins writes about how he was inspired to rethink his street, after a visit from the guru of Tactical Urbanism:

In June, the visiting urbanist Mike Lydon had the whole audience enthralled at Auckland Conversations, where he enthusiastically showcased ‘tactical urbanism’ as a tool to enact change within our communities. One of the key messages I took from the evening was the benefits of quick and cheap solutions.

When it comes to fixing our streets, the step change towards implementing the ultimate solution can seem prohibitively expensive, whereas a cheap, incremental approach can get the ball rolling sooner. Quick implementation means momentum can be maintained, encouraging others to participate and provide prompt system feedback. Using cheap materials (and lots of paint!) lowers the financial risk and allows a project to be iterative (i.e. easily modified and/or replicated).

Mike got me thinking on how Tactical Urbanism could be applied to a problem that’s been bugging me for a while… my own street.

My neighborhood: classic suburbia

I feel fortunate and blessed to live on Balmain Rd in Chatswood. My family and I have easy access to public transport, Highbury town centre with its fantastic library, schools, bush walks, and beaches.  I know my neighbours; heck, I even like some of them.

Chelsea Primary School and Chelsea Kindergarten are located at the end of the street; the school is used throughout the week and weekend as a place for free-ranging kids to congregate and play. At the end of Balmain Rd are Kauri Point Reserve and Soldiers Bay, which are very popular with walkers. These local destinations, as well as a high number of young families and elderly residents, means there’s a lot of foot traffic past my house.

Balmain Road is 10m wide with in-line parking on both sides of the street. This onstreet parking is vastly under-utilised. At most, 25% of spaces are occupied at any one time, as most (if not all) houses have garages or off-street parking. A few years back, indented islands were installed at three locations to reduce the carriageway to 6m, presumably as a traffic-calming measure.

Defining the problem: speed and accessibility

Due to Balmain Rd being straight and wide, drivers are inclined to speed. Most of this is unintentional, but having occasional cars doing up to 80 km/h is an everyday occurrence. I’ve spoken to Auckland Transport about the speeding and asked if they’d look at traffic-calming measures. They said they’d do a traffic survey and get back to me. This was about 3 months back, and they’re yet to do anything. I’m not surprised, as I know they’ve got their work cut out for them and things like this easily fall through the cracks. (I’ve considered contacting the police about the speeding, but it’d be difficult for active enforcement to have any effect.)

The other factor is that there are plenty of unaccompanied kids walking and scootering to and from school each day, yet the only pedestrian crossing to the school is not directly accessible from the west side of the street. Children either have to run the 10m gauntlet across Balmain Road or tackle the rather nasty Balmain/ Radiata/ Onetunga intersection.

The Balmain / Onetunga / Radiata intersection, complete with a child braving this traffic engineering masterpiece!

Simply put, Balmain Road is an old-school design with lots of space for cars and little consideration for other users.

A solution: paint, and lots of it

When I sat down to sketch out a tactical solution, my goal was something that was cheap to implement, effective at slowing vehicles, and that would improve safety for kids and well as signal to drivers that this street isn’t solely for them. I found some inspiration in recent posts from TransportBlog and Cycling Christchurch about Dutch roads, and the Northcote Safe Cycleway.

One way to encourage drivers to slow down is by adding visual complexity to a road. This could be achieved by painting a 2m wide shared space on either side of the carriageway to give the visual impression of a narrower road. It would also give the opportunity to allocate space for cyclists.

Shared road space for bikes and cars, Dutch style (Pic by Andre de Graaf, via Transportblog)
Speed bumps help slow all traffic, so everyone can make eye contact and good judgements about passing. (Pic by Bevan Woodward)
Another Dutch scene, showing how it might look and feel in practice. (Pic by Bevan Woodward)
Another Dutch scene, showing how it might look and feel in practice. (Pic by Bevan Woodward)

[Paint is key, as is clear communication with road users about what’s changing. A trial of a similar road design sans coloured paint was recently performed by NZTA on a rural road and didn’t go so well, for reasons that we’ll write about separately – Ed.] 

Due to Auckland’s low cycle mode share (compared to the Netherlands), I’m not sure how successful the shared space design would be; it may create conflict between car drivers and bike riders. An alternative solution could be 1m wide dedicated cycle lanes in both directions:

The current cross-section
Dutch-style cross-section
Cross-section with 1m bike lanes

In any case, parking is under-utilised on Balmain Rd, removing half of it would cause only minor inconvenience. By alternating the side of the road that the parking is on, chicanes could be created to further help reduce the “tunnel vision” effect of the long straight road. Speed bumps could be added between the existing indented islands and, with the use of red paint, reduced to a single vehicle lane to add passive enforcement of safer speeds.

Narrowing of existing street and proposed layout

Finally, pedestrian crossings are needed, I see the intersection with Waipa St and outside the kindergarten as logical places.

Proposed pedestrian crossing at Chelsea Kindergarten

All up: a cheap solution, no major road alterations necessary, just some signs, speed bumps (the bolt-down type), paint, and adaption to curbs at pedestrian crossings.

I make no claim that this is the most appropriate solution for my street; it is merely the musings of one who is passionate about saving our city from its car-dominated state. We have plenty of residential roads that would benefit from some Tactical Urbanism – what are your ideas? What if a couple of standard designs were crafted that could then be easily implemented whenever AT conducts road maintenance and renewals?

Imagine the network of safer streets we could rapidly build!

– Mat Collins

Bike Burbs Cycling safety Infrastructure North Shore Quick Wins
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7 responses to “Tactical urbanism – how a lick of paint can transform a car-centric street

  1. Some good ideas; you can do a lot with little treatments like these. But a big no to the 1m-wide cycle lanes (esp. next to parking); that is well below best-practice widths and would only create a false sense of security (and an expectation by motorists that bikes should only be on “their side” of the line, despite its narrowness).
    We could also be a lot more assertive about introducing lower speed limits (e.g. 30km/h) in residential areas. Many people will say that people will ignore them, but the evidence suggests that, even with no physical changes, a 10km/h drop in the posted speed limit will see an average drop of 2-3km/h in mean speeds (throw in some of your suggestions and the effect will be even more). And every 1km/h you drop traffic speeds results in a few % points drop in the numbers of injuries and fatalities incurred.

    (BTW, Editor, if you’re going to talk about the Waikato cycle safety trial, I hope this will be based on all the facts of the trial, not just the “half-story” put out by Fairfax…)

    1. My first thoughts were towards the shared roadway but contemplated the cycle lanes as I’m not sure of the legality of this sort of design in an suburban setting. I agree with you that 1m cycle lanes are a pretty poor solution. Still mulling away at it, thanks for your input!

  2. Take a look at Puhinui Road in Papatoetoe for a working example of some of the treatments.

    Paint cycle lanes are in effect, but without enforcement, they’re functioning more as car parks than anything else.

    The green paint has been applied ‘sparingly’ and therefore drivers can easily argue that they thought the lane was a hard shoulder, since for long stretches there is nothing to distinguish it from one. I wonder if these sections of the lanes have any legal status at all.

    Additionally, the cycle lane has been used to create ‘visual complexity’ by swerving it out around designated parking, putting riders in the door zone and in the ‘blind spot’ of drivers pulling out.

    The good intentions are obvious, but the only riders I’ve seen there are on the footpath. These painty lanes are not attractive to any rider.

    Two quick fixes spring to mind:

    1:More paint. Either yellow lines or full green cycle lanes to indicate ‘no parking’. Enforce it or save the paint for something useful. This is guerilla tactics at its worst, a weak force meeting an indifferent status quo.

    2:Put the parks on the offside of the cycle lanes, allowing the riders a straight path protected by the parking, rather than threatened by it.
    This is strong guerilla, using the opponent’s strength to your own advantage.

    This will be far more effective for traffic calming, since smacking into a car is going to cost real money. It will also serve to tighten the turn radius for entry and exit of driveways next to parks, requiring drivers to cross the cycle lane at lower speeds. To really tighten the road and put the fear of panelbeaters into all drivers, put the parks offside of the bike lane, in echelon, entering diagonally and reversing out into the road. This is my favourite because it takes away any dooring hazard from the bike lane and makes people much more thoughtful about their speed. A barrier of some sort would be required as a wheel stop for parking vehicles, perhaps a tall, square profile version of those bolt-down speed humps you mention. By using the cars as traffic calming, you can change things easily, they are easy to move.

    Parking could run almost the full length of the road with little consequence for riders, though some thought would have to be given to right turns. You can squeeze a lot more echelon than parallel parks into a given length of road, making room for clear sections to filter for right turns. These could also serve as an opportunity for shared pedestrian/cycle crossings.

    Finally, this kind of lane won’t conflict with bus stops, since it passes behind them.

    Take a drive along Coronation Road in Mangere Bridge or Queens Road in Pakuranga to see how echelon parking slows things down.

    1. Thanks Jacob, I’ll take a look at the roads you’ve suggested. Without trying to come up with ‘the solution’ before I talk to locals, it’ll be good to try to refine several possible concepts to give people something to start with.

      1. Cheers, Mat,

        I’ve got nothing against the use of paint in the Netherlands as you’ve illustrated in your piece, but it’s worth pointing out that this soft treatment is used where motor traffic levels are already low because of the unraveling of through traffic from local traffic.

        Cars passing through take long, fast bypasses and arterials, leaving a dense, fine grained network of rideable, walkable streets between. Where riders need to travel streets with higher levels of motor traffic, they are given proper, kerb separated lanes with priority over side roads.

        In fairness to designers of the sections of Puhinui Road I mentioned, they have taken the very worst pinch points and hazards, the hairpin turns over the bridge, and given them hard segregated protection. My feeling is that this only emphasizes how inadequate a paint only approach is on such a busy road.

        Since the majority of resistance to truly useful cycle provision seems to be due to loss of parking (witness Dominion Road, Skypath, etc.), it makes sense to keep the parks and make them work harder for everyone by protecting the rider’s offside. It could also shift the perception from ‘cyclist in my way’ to the far more accurate ‘this road is a car park’.

        This week, with low morning sun on the wet road, I was alerted to another problem. The paint becomes invisible in such conditions and I found myself in the cycle lane several times where it weaves out past kerbside parks, despite knowing roughly where they are.

        I’m all in favour of a broad range of quick and easy solutions, with the proviso that they be effective.

  3. You make some excellent points here, Mat. Balmain Rd is a quiet residential no-exit street – the type of street that’s crying out for slow vehicle speeds to enhance safety for local residents – particularly cyclists and children. It certainly is old-school design the way it is.

    This is probably not something you can do on your own, and a lone voice bleating to AT probably won’t do much either. But if a group of like-minded residents make a case to say the Kaipatiki Local Board and AT, you may get some traction.

    But I don’t think cycle lanes are the way to go (particularly not 1m ones, which are too narrow). Rather, I quite like your idea of a bit of tactical urbanism – with a paintbrush.

    You know as you enter rural towns they sometimes paint what look like traffic islands protruding out from the kerb to narrow the lanes – threshold zones I think they’re called. They’re a good visual cue for motorists to slow down. How about agreeing with your neighbours to try it on Balmain Rd? If it works you can reinforce it with some reflectorised cones, and perhaps eventually some planter boxes.

    The intersection itself will have to be AT’s domain. Get enough of your neighbours to make the same complaint on AT’s website and you might get some action.

    Another possibility is talking with Chelsea Primary to see if they can work with AT to update their Travelwise plan, taking in the safety of the intersection.

    But good stuff – and keep us posted!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Steve, plan to get around some of the neighbours and see what they think, will keep you posted.

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