Follow us on Twitter

Drawing the (broken yellow) line – safety steps for bikes on New North Road

This is a guest post from commenter Sam F

One of the debates that most frequently pops up around improving the lot of bicycle users in Auckland is the priority given to off-road versus on-road infrastructure. On one hand, there’s the popularity of routes like the Northwestern cycleway alongside SH18, which will hopefully grow further with the Grafton cycleway project reaching into town, and further into the future the Skypath bridge crossing project. On the other, there’s the continued problem of making the vast bulk of roads outside of the “cycle superhighways” fit for bike users, with major projects involving meaningful changes to road usage very rare (and where they do, sometimes being scaled down and cheapened up in the design stages to the point of wondering why changes to cycle provision where proposed at all).

As a daily rider myself I can attest to how odd it can be to suddenly come to the end of a well-provisioned “superhighway” stretch and re-enter the Auckland roading network we have all come to know and love – less like a motorway ending in a cul de sac and more like a wasterslide ending in a shark pit. Obviously the ideal solution would be to simply continue the lanes and bespoke provision right through the heart(s) of the beast, but we haven’t yet reached the point where that seems politically viable, and probably won’t until we can increase the numbers and visibility of people getting around by bike – which means making whatever worthwhile improvements that we can to the roading system that we have now.

In that spirit, Cycle Action Auckland and Auckland Transport have been working away since last year on a “Quick Wins” project for cycling focused on New North Road which is now beginning to bear some fruit A user audit by CAA, and another detailed safety audit commissioned by AT, looked at cycle safety for the road from Mount Albert through to Symonds Street, and one of the most significant safety issues in both reports has resulted in proposals which AT is consulting on right now.

These concerns “merge conflict pinch points” – places where a multi-lane road is narrowed down after an intersection by on-street parking, leading motor vehicles to speed ahead to jockey for their position in the narrowed lanes. The likely result for cyclists (probably familiar to most people who’ve ridden onroad in Auckland for a good length of time) is getting squeezed out to the left, to avoid being mashed by motor traffic either rushing up behind or passing too closely on the side.

As a result, four of these pinch point sites on New North Road are earmarked by AT for parking removal – No Parking At All Times, signified by the good old broken yellow lines – to allow more room for bikes and motor traffic to merge safely.

Having commuted along New North Road for the best part of six years, I took the time to fire through a fairly detailed email on each of these locations, which I’ve summed up below. You can find the official proposals and an email link for submissions on AT’s website here . Submissions close on 13 February, so make sure you leave some time after reading this to fire up your email and let AT know what you think…

2A New North Road, Eden Terrace
This site comes just after the intersection of Mt Eden Rd with New North Road and Symonds Streets, where quite a bit of motor traffic and buses starts its journey westward either all the way along New North Road or to the flyover intersection with Dominion Road.

Eden Terrace

As is apparent from the aerial shot, there’s only three normal-sized parking spaces to be removed, all of which have ready alternatives in side streets and offstreet carparks all around, so it’s hard to imagine any reasonable claims of major negative effects on property owners in the area.

These parking spaces vanish into clearway during peak hours, but even at these times there’s already confusion between road users going downhill from the lights – in a classic pinch point, westbound traffic that is in two lanes at the traffic lights often has to merge into a single lane around the corner (with no lane markings to reflect or guide this), and then out into two lanes again at the next lights. When vehicles are in fact parked here, cyclists who’ve filtered up to the advance stop box at the lights have the prospect of trying to merge to the right in the face of merging cars on the right and frequently also avoiding buses pulling left into a stop just past the parking spaces.

Of all the ones proposed this particular change seems like a no-brainer – removing the carparks here would make a significant difference to cyclists and will have the added benefit of making this stretch of road more predictable and efficient for all road users. Here’s hoping this one at least survives the consultation process. Onwards and westwards…

61-63 and 607-613 New North Road
These are another couple of useful changes both of which should assist cyclists headed eastbound uphill on New North Road. At 61-63 New North, just up from the Exmouth Road Intersection, the combination of a gradual left curve and a fairly steep gradient from the lights make this a difficult area for cyclists and drivers already, and removing carparks from this location will improve the situation further.

Eden Terrace 2

Down at Morningside (607-613 New North) this change will make life easier for cyclists moving uphill, particularly as uphill traffic headed away from the lights at Morningside Drive often speeds up rapidly:

Morningside

I’d expect the Morningside change will have quite substantial objection from retailers, given these spaces are right outside a block of shops – however there is offstreet carparking very close by, which is probably unused as it’s tucked away, both behind the Morningside shops themselves in the aerial photo (under the white text box) and behind the corner dairy at 600 New North on the southern side. Removing the on-street parks here might be more palatable if some moves are made (by AT or by local boards, or both working together) to better signpost or prettify the existing off-street carparks, to make it clear that shoppers are still well provided for and that the changes aren’t about opposing motor vehicles on principle.

895 New North Road
This is a welcome step in the right direction for an area which like 2A New North Road is a major conflict zone between motor traffic and cyclists accelerating downhill. Speaking both as a cyclist and driver, I think the total removal of onstreet parking at these shops down to 875 New North Road would be even better from a safety and traffic calming perspective, as this is a horrendous area for clashes between car doors and passing traffic, even before cyclists join the equation:

Mt Albert

That said, it’s another useful small step at least. The big issue in making changes here, probably more so than all three other locations, will be business owner opposition – the offstreet carparking behind these shops is horribly neglected and (anecdotally) prone to theft ex vehicle, and the prevailing “park and grab” retail culture all the way through the Mount Albert shops will probably lead owners to fear (with more justification than in most cases) losing custom to other nearby stores with parking outside. Although the cynic in me would ask whether a business dependent on parking at the door for survival doesn’t have bigger issues to look at, these are real fears from real people, and AT might have to be more creative in finding a solution to allay these concerns and make it clear that everyone will gain from a safer environment at this site – a small step to making Mount Albert Shops a more humane traffic environment.

All considered, one of the striking things about these reasonably minor changes is the benefits they seem to offer to road users outside of just cyclists. All of these changes, for instance, will take place along a major bus route whose drivers are probably just as slowed and impeded by badly placed parking as anyone else. Private motorists could also probably use a bit more predictability when working their way through these spots, a benefit to the majority of drivers which should well offset the loss of a parking spot or two.

I’d encourage anyone with a stake in these changes – which should include anyone who lives on, drives or rides this road – to send their opinion to AT via email at the bottom of the page here (again, by the end of tomorrow. Skypath submissions also close tomorrow so don’t forget to put those in either). Early indications from the team at CAA are that the opposition to these changes will be heavy, so if you find merit in part of all of these changes from any perspective (however you get around), it’s worth letting AT know. It’s not all over until the lines get drawn…

This post evolved from an original announcement at caa.org.nz here. Many thanks to Max Robitsch and others at CAA for their thoughts and additional nformation provided.

18 comments to Drawing the (broken yellow) line – safety steps for bikes on New North Road

  • Isn’t one of the causes of this problem the insistence by AT and its predecessors for multiple lanes at every intersection? Every individual vehicle movement seems to deserve its own lane generally with multiple lanes for the dominant direction. Thereby forcing immediate merges when the lights change. This over-provision [you should see central Wellington where there are wide boulevards with angle parking! then often four slots at each intersection so each manoeuvre has its own space- no wonder they can't seem to find space for a bike lane, and there is, frankly, very little traffic]. I wonder if the sky will fall in if us drivers had to share a queue more often……? Let the bike riders have a joined up section of roadspace eh AT. Same for bus lanes. They’re all ratepayers. You don’t just work for us when we’re driving.

    • Kent Lundberg

      Yes, the pattern as mapped on New North Road is the same as GNR, K Rd. etc. The ‘pinchpoints’ correspond to the additional lane added in the intersection then disappears after the intersection which not only adds a hazard for cyclists but a merge hazard for cars. We’re stuffing too many cars down the street, in particular at the intersections. While removing on-street parking might solve the problem, it’s not the root of this problem- which is the extra lane.

    • Max

      Hi Patrick – the problem from an “enable motor vehicle movement” perspective is that EVERY traffic light has reduced capacity than the main road. So to keep the intersections at the same (or at least somewhat similar) capacity than the – often 2-lane – main roads, the intersection itself gets “blow up” larger and larger. That is what roading design based primarily on computerised traffic modelling and vehicle performance indicators (x vehicles at Z delay must get through) gets you. Where we used to have places of civic connection and “place”, are now exactly the same spaces where the road network requires the most space.

  • Peter H

    The thing about the on street parking, is they add a lot of risk to cyclist (like 75%), which the retailer ignores, and let the council be responsible for add risk, But there is an option not used often that moves part of the risk from council to the group insisting the parking is necessary.
    A number of years ago on street car parking were removed for outside a number of churches Hamilton. And of cause church do have spill over parking on special events, so the council worked with these church to put in place parking management planning for spill over which did include on street parking, which could be done in a way where everyone acknowledged the risk, and of cause having every one sharing the risk. Has meant these plans are only used when necessary.
    May be retailers could be asked to take out risk insurance on these car parks, so that should retailers must have on street parking cause an accident, The victim could get compensation from the people that benefit from the increased risk.

  • TheBigWheel

    I appreciate this post.. The CAA has this thing about “sweating the small stuff” which can be a very effective approach. The “small stuff” can be details that expose critical thinking or the lack of it in design.. in this case of the street and how it is used. Critical in this particular scenario as it concerns personal safety where the consequences of an incident are potentially fatal.

    As an urban cyclist for the last 25 years my experience is that it is almost always the pinch points that cause problems. Whilst many of these relate to parked cars (and those particular pinch points come with the added hazard of opening doors) there are many other kinds.. like kerb build-outs, deeply laid drains, varying lane widths, trees, even plasticized painted road markings that become slippery when wet.. each of which suggest both a lack of awareness and/or a lack of attention to the critical details on the part of the roading authorities and/or their engineering consultants.

    My solution.. a minimum qualification requirement for all urban road designers / operators / authorities is 12 months commuting by bike.

    • Max

      Hi Big Wheel – our audit also looked at other pinch points than cars, and we are still trying to get a number of other issues resolved. Hard work, though, with not yet much to show for it on this particular project. Touch wood, we will have some changes in a few months that we can talk about.

      Re “minimum qualifications” – well, forcing people to cycle seems out (though some jobs require a driving license… hmmmmm). But CAA is pushing hard for more cycling-specific design courses for AT staff, with some success.

  • Adam W

    Excellent post and thanks for the heads up, I have sent in my e-mails even through I don’t use that exact road – every small change is a good thing.

  • Anna

    Yes good to have the heads up. I ride part of this route most days and generally speaking don’t find it too bad. Drivers generally careful and aware. Am thinking however that proposed changes still very much with the mindset of keeping “traffic” (cars) moving as the real priority and that this is perhaps the greater risk. Will potentially give perception that it is ok to drive faster and potentially counter productive. Whilst removing the obstacles of cars may ‘feel’ like a sager option , need to consider if there is already a crash history?

    • Max

      Hi Anna – these car parks are already not present during peak hours (clearways) so the change in roading perception shouldn’t be so big. I agree that we’d all love a more holistic project. But while this route is on the Regional Cycle Network, it will be a long while until Council finds funding for it. And as we have seen on Dominion Road, even an agreed big-ticket project doesn’t guarantee cycling gets appropriate consideration. CAA feels that rather than focus on a “do or die” approach for major projects, gradual improvements are still worth the fight. Every now and then a chance comes along to fight for the big one (like the AHB path today, or the Waterview Cycleway in 2011) – in the meantime, you work on the small steps.

      • Instead of “do or die” it seems more like a “die anyway” approach — that we should settle for whatever scraps we can get, because getting what we rightfully deserve is basically hopeless. I’d rather at least try to “do”.

        This collection of small steps — partially to your organisation’s credit — has been accruing for well over a decade. But its legacy amounts to little more than a scattered assortment of misfit treatments and bizarrely contorted paths. To see this strategy considered a success, and worse, a worthwhile plan for the future, is absurd.

        • Max

          Your stance on that is well-known. You happily ignore how many small improvements do add up, and change the baseline and perception of cycling, allowing us to fight for bigger things – and you even more happily ignore how and where Cycle Action is pushing for major changes (like the Waterview Cycleway, the Waterfront Cycleway, the AHB Pathway, a consistent planning for the Regional Cycle Network), because, by some psychologically quite interesting process, we have become a scapegoat in your mind. You haven’t learned the lessons of either Copenhagen OR Portland. Despite some of the key exponents of both cities (Jan Gehl, Roger Geller) having travelled to Auckland, where they spoke of the value of the gradual approach and how it changed their cities AFTER DECADES OF SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF as well as the big stuff. You haven’t heard anything they said about the need to perservere with smaller steps while you work to increase support for your big plans..

          You seem to believe that having a vague, grand plan and then complaining that no one sees your light is enough. In fact, you have a constant need to tell others how they could do it better (I am still amused by the one comment where you expressed that you would want to give a last try at “saving” CAA, so your own conscience could be at ease). And you have refused offers from CAA to talk about your concerns face-to-face, rather than trading unhappy internet comments.

          You talk about how you would like to “do”. What have you DONE?

          Please actually DO something. You’d help cycling more that way, than by telling others about HOW they should do.

          • Max, for one thing, sweating the small stuff is fine. But celebrating like it’s the big stuff is plain misdirection. And giving official bodies excess credibility for doing very little that’s meaningful is a tragic opportunity cost.

            The gradual approach as seen overseas is exactly what I propose, but with genuinely progressive increments, instead of dallying with motorways and paint. No grand plan here, just demanding a minimum decent standard in what we do get — such as fair, primary allocation of a portion of street-level space, with direct access to frontage. Forget a whole regional network, just treating a few key streets over a number of years would be great.

            With you on AHB/SkyPath — it’s the one (coincidentally) motorway-shaped cycling project that makes sense, considering the special geographical constraints. Waterview, not so much. Waterfront, let’s see.

            I do what I can and do not need to advertise it, but I am an individual, bearing no claim to represent cycling as a whole in Auckland. Our roles are very different. Pity you were only amused after misinterpreting sincere feedback (rest assured “saving” or otherwise consorting with CAA remains irrelevant to my interest).

        • I think that settling for “whatever scraps we can get” would be a very accurate and realistic description of where cycling is at in Auckland. I personally think that CAA and other cycling advocate groups are doing exactly the right thing by taking baby steps and slowly changing the culture and mindset in Auckland.

          I actually would love to see more mass rallies and civil disobedience gatherings (a la the Netherlands in the 70′s and 80′s) but there isnt the critical mass right now for that. People are still to wedded to their autodependence and many see cyclists as a lunatic fringe and cycling as a completely unrealistic option in Auckland (which is of course becuase of the complete lack of investment in infrastructure).

          You are obviously very passionate about this issue and that is fantastic. But turning your frustration on the CAA and Max personally is just detracting from what small accomplishments we are gaining as cyclists. Why not be more positive and celebrate what has been accomplished?

          • goosoid, the thing about baby steps is that one usually grows out of them after a number of years. Auckland cycling seems to have a developmental disorder. Still, I agree, and take no issue with modestly engaging in small projects where it is valuable enough and does not incur a large opportunity cost.

            Mass rallies and civil disobedience — not my proposal, but if you’re into that, it’s a free country.

            I am interested in genuinely demanding a minimum decent standard of cycling provision in infrastructure, targeting a few really high priority places (not just the “convenient” ones). Would rather put the heat under our transport authorities’ feet than into the inevitable celebratory balloons after another delinquent, leftover bit is delivered.

  • Little surprise that the hardhats are amenable to displacing on-street parking. It improves “traffic flow”, after all. Yes, the merge conflict is gone, but what remains in its place? The street is still designed like a gun barrel, so people will travel through it like bullets.

    And what happens when those on-street car-parking spots are relocated into off-street facilities? Do the land use implications favour cycling (as a component of a human-scale, people-friendly, transit-friendly city)?

    Sure, this might be a transitional step towards a rational solution for that road space and neighbourhood — believable, perhaps, if there was some concrete commitment. Otherwise: “Quick Win” or “Mission Accomplished”?

    • Sam F

      Hi Non-motorist – regarding parking, the emphasis in my post (and my related submission to AT) was that any response to “but what about my customers?” questions from business owners ought to include the existing offstreet parking in these areas. I’d definitely agree that there shouldn’t be any relocation of carparks from on-street to off-street – my point was that generally, the existing spaces in off-street parking in these locations should be more than enough for drivers who suddenly find they can’t park on the road anymore. And who knows, business owners might find to their amazement their customers are more flexible than they expect in terms of parking (even slightly) further away, or getting to their businesses by foot or bike or public transport instead.

      I agree that generally there are far better land use options than carparking, but if we have these small local carparks we might as well have the capacity they already have properly used, to get parked vehicles off the roadside where in the long term we’d probably rather see a cycle lane instead. Hope that makes some sense at least :)

      • That all makes sense, thanks. I agree, with the sole caveat that instead of “we’d probably rather see a cycle lane”, I’d say, “we should definitely see a cycle lane”, in order to endorse this stage of the plan.

        I get that the business owners can pose a challenge to any proposal that involves removal of nearby car-parking (whether a cycle path is substituted or not). Seems like the ideal gap for an advocacy organisation to fill, by engaging the local community one way or another, extending beyond the reach of AT. I recall CAA put some effort into Lake Rd in the past with a campaign at that sort of scale. (I appreciate your posting here encouraging submissions — that’s what I’m talking about.) A more ambitious plan might even involve education and intensive consultation with the business owners, demonstrating as you say that it’s not the end of their world, instead of just opposing their position. You get the idea — perhaps not “quick”, but so be it.

        However, doing all this for no substantial, incremental gain (e.g. fixed commitment to dedicated cycle paths) would be nearly pointless. And cheerleading for AT given their mere participation in this “quick win” programme is letting them off too easily.

Leave a Reply