This is a Gust Post by Kent Lundberg, who is an Urban Planner at Isthmus where this blog post was first published.
Bike boxes are appearing all over the Auckland city centre. They are a widely debated technique to provide more awareness to cyclists at intersections and in some cases to provide maneuvering room for turns.
While bike boxes may be good in theory, if they are not carefully considered they can do more harm than good. The particular problem with these boxes is that by design they invite cyclists to use the space, implying that this is the best place to wait. This is mostly fine unless vehicle movements entirely compromise their function. The most blatant problem is when they are used in conjunction with a left turn on green arrow such as on Franklin Road when it cross Victoria Street West or on Karangahape Road where it intersects with Ponsonby Road.
In this case the paint and markings are telling cyclists to wait in front of the cars, meanwhile the turning signal is giving cars exclusive movement priority through that same space with a left turn arrow. “Required” guidance from the mostly excellent NACTO guide says the following about bike advance boxes:
In cities that permit right [read: left] turns on red signal indications, a “No Turn on Red” sign shall be installed overhead to prevent vehicles from entering the Bike Box.
Clearly this guidance doesn’t reflect our local roads rules, but it is highlighting the inherent danger of using the bike boxes without careful signalisation controls and/or timing.
I hesitate to even mention guidelines or standards. To me these things can be figured out on an intuitive level. As a regular, confident cyclist, I have learned to avoid the these troublesome applications. But what about novice cyclists or the so-called “interested but concerned” types that are using this for the first time? If we are hoping to provide either comfort and/or safety to interested cyclists the last thing we should be doing is building confusing infrastructure at busy intersections.