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Cycle Friendly Streets: A Complete Network

A cycle street - except for the houses, nothing we couldn't easily have in Auckland [Photo from aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com]

A cycle street – except for the houses, nothing we couldn’t easily have in Auckland [Photo from aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com]

This is a guest post by by Ben L and Bryce P and originally appeared on Cycle Action Auckland.

What prevents more people from riding bikes to school, work, to shops or simply to a friend’s house? The biggest deterrent to cycling, for many people is their perceived lack of safety while riding. This has been confirmed by a recent study by Auckland Transport.

Currently most cycling focus is on high quality cycle paths – be they on-road lanes or dedicated off-road cycle paths or, more likely in the shorter term in Auckland, shared paths.

There is also an emergence, mostly via Local Boards, of ‘Greenways’ projects. The ‘Greenways’ look great and are something to aim for – but due to cost (the on-road sections involve quite major reworking of roads) they cannot be built everywhere.

In fact, all these off-road projects tend to be quite expensive to build, especially where land has to be bought. So are there other options for quickly expanding the Auckland cycle network without breaking the bank? Let us explore this a bit more.

The image, in most people’s heads, of quality cycle infrastructure is off-road cycle paths – but even the Dutch only use these where necessary or most suited (such as between villages / on main roads). Most Dutch cities utilise a low speed (30 km/h) network of traffic calmed residential streets and these are linked together by the much photographed dedicated cycle paths. We really need both – the flashy infrastructure on key routes, and the much lower-key changes area-wide.

So, the aim then is to follow the Dutch idea (also used to good effect in the likes of Portland, USA as well), utilise some creative thinking behind the transformation of New York City (planters and paint) and create a network of safe, residential road routes for riders of all ages and abilities and to do it on as small a budget as we can get away with.

The point is that cars are not inherently unfriendly to walkers or cyclists. If a car is travelling 30 km/h or less, the vehicle can stop very quickly and does not present a significant danger [CAA Editor's note: By some measures, Auckland is already safer to cycle than most of New Zealand, likely because as our average traffic speeds are lower than in other regions - as of 2010, we had 25% of NZ's cycle crashes, but only 18% of the associated social cost - in short, our cycle crashes tend to be less serious than, say, in the Waikato].

30 km/h or less represents a speed where motor vehicles, cycles and pedestrians can safely share the street space. Therefore, the challenge is not to eliminate cars but to encourage drivers to travel at safe and appropriate speeds on residential streets, something that unfortunately happens far too seldom nowadays in Auckland.

Some streets have so little through traffic that no changes are necessary. However, those streets often tend to be isolated pockets and, as we all know, it is connected networks that are needed for any form of transport to be a useful option.

The main features of cycle streets that achieve this aim include:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABicycle friendly road markings and signage. Cyclists need to know that they are welcome on the street and also, just like motorists, they need to know where they are going. Sharrows are one way that streets can be designated as cycle friendly areas and have been used to great effect in North America. Portland has also been great at using cycle friendly signage to create networks to destinations. This is the kind of signage that we should see more in Auckland.
  • Narrowing particularly wide roads to discourage high vehicle speeds. This can be done by physically narrowing the street (obviously an expensive option) or redrawing the street markings to make the street appear narrower – for example, by delineating the parking areas with painted lines. This may also include allowing parking on both sides of the road where it is currently only on one side – parked cars are not necessarily a bad thing as they create barriers to speed. In a slower-speed road where the environment allows cyclists to safely ride in the middle of a lane, the dreaded “dooring” risk also is much reduced.
  • Eliminate centre lines to discourage the “expected segregation” of the street space. The presence of centre lines encourages motorists to think they have ownership of their side of the street and discourages using the whole street to allow all modes to co-exist. Make motorists feel more like they are sharing the street, and have to have greater regard to the existence and positioning of other road users – instead of blindly trusting a “this is my lane” approach – and so slow them down, by removing something prescriptive.
  • Traffic calming infrastructure. This may take the form of speed bumps, chicanes, pedestrian tables at intersections, small roundabouts at intersections or some combination of the above. These traffic calming measures would be more appropriate on wider, straighter streets that encourage high speeds and “rat running”. As Paul Steely White illustrated so well recently, let’s start with cheap bollards and planters. If the traffic calming is a success we can then lower the speed limit (remember in NZ you pretty much have to slow the cars and only then can you decrease the speed limit) – and eventually make the changes permanent using fancier infrastructure.

As always the best examples of how to achieve this can be found from those paragons of cycling virtue, the Dutch. We often forget that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the Dutch were just as enthusiastic about motorised traffic as Auckland still is today and cycling plummeted in the Netherlands in that period.

Many residential developments were built that were very motor vehicle friendly and cycle and walking unfriendly. There is now a process of slowly transforming these residential developments and what is so surprising is how little really need to be done. [CAA Editor's note: Point England in Auckland has had a successful trial project a few years back, which managed to traffic-calm local streets to an average speed of 30 km/h, and ensure that the 50 km/h speed limit on main roads was obeyed much better - we are aware of a follow-up project in South Auckland which is about to go public very soon].

Creating cycle-friendly streets is not an expensive exercise; and the only real requirement for success is for motorists to accept that, at least until they are back on the main arterials, they must share the street space with other non-motorised users on a much more equal footing. This is a great video that illustrates the transformation process.

31 comments to Cycle Friendly Streets: A Complete Network

  • In some parts of Auckland (i.e. Glen Eden, Kelston, Titirangi, New Lynn) the only way of connecting with the rest of Auckland by bike is to use the main arterials.

    • Bryce P

      Arterial roads require cycle paths. Simple. The residential streets that join to these can be easily made into cycle streets without segregated facilities.

      • TheBigWheel

        Exactly. Simple.

        Simple for the arterial roads too.. many of Auckland’s suburban arterials are so wide, and have so few cars parked on them, that by restricting parking to one side, there is still plenty of space for all the cars, parked and moving, AND two nice, wide, safe, on-road bike lanes with door zones, one in either direction.

        • Bryce P

          Exactly. Especially when you consider most parking on arterial roads and distributor roads, outside of town centres and the CBD, is 99% empty for 99% of the time.

      • Agreed.

        Going back to Nick’s particular geographical area of interest – which is mine as well – I’d be interested to know if anyone is aware of progress on an arterial cycle route along the ‘mainland’ West Auckland corridor – Great North from Waterview to Henderson area via New Lynn? The Northwestern is great, but is too far away or too badly connected to serve much of the West catchment. The environment of Great North is the single reason that I keep putting off getting back on the bike to work, and I’m pretty sure that barrier is an issue for lots of people on lots of commuting and local journeys.

        I’ve heard rumours of various plans in the area – coastal Greenways that are nice and to be applauded but don’t seem to link up anywhere useful for daily travel, and talk of Kiwirail cooperating on the Western Line corridor as an option. But I’m unclear whether AT has any sort of work plan to create a decent cycle backbone for this strategic corridor? It’s on the 2011 Cycle Map, but on the basis of recent posts that’s a pretty meaningless statement.

        • Max

          Hi TimR

          Short answer: the only projects that are CONFIRMED in the corridor you talk about are the Waterview cycleway (2-3 more years…) which will likely have a spur line that links it to Avondale.

          The cycle route along the western rail line is definitely in the future programs (not just being discussed), but when that gets built is anyone’s guess at the moment.

  • Interestingly some existing traffic calming can work against cyclists, such as where road is narrowed to one way. Need to leave a 1.5m gap by the kerb to allow cyclists through without winding through the one way bit.
    Or in other places kerb bulb-outs done with the best traffic calming thoughts create pinch points for cyclists.
    Roadabouts are also an issue. These are preferred at 4-way intersections in suburbs as are safer, but not well designed for cyclists.
    Great example is the Broadway/Davis Cr Roundabout at Parnell/Newmarket, very dangerous to cycle through here, really need cycle bypasses
    http://goo.gl/maps/bpuJo
    Should probably be replaced by traffic lights, though ones that are set to give Broadway priority 3/4 of the time, or maybe even just a Stop sign for Davis.

    • Max

      In an environment where car drivers actually drive 20-30 km/h (instead of where signs say this, but they don’t), pinch points are much less of an issue. But agree with you that cycle bypasses will often be a suitable solution to have one’s cake and eat it too…

      Re the roundabout on Broadway, I think that should be a lot smaller, and with Dutch-style raised zebras across each approach, then it would be fine…

    • Bryce P

      Re: road narrowing. I think it can be done but as alluded to really need cycle bypasses. The Dutch tend to use raised tables around pretty much all 30 km/h zones. Portland use quite a bit of road narrowing but a lot of the time these are restricted to use as an actual one way entrance to a street. They use cut outs.

      The narrowing of the street also feels uncomfortable if you have a car behind you, and is a major reason I prefer speed bumps or tables.

    • Christopher

      I ride fairly frequently through here. The trick with this roundabout is to take the lane through the roundabout. It is legal to do this at roundabouts, and traffic speeds here are reasonable.

  • Great new developments in London:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24832466

    Surely if a city the size and age of London can find the space, Auckland can too. It is starting to get embarrassing when we are falling behind LA for attention to active modes.

  • There needs to be a considerable amount of work done on pinch points, slipways, traffic lights that can’t be triggered and cycle ways before people are going to feel safer cycling to work.

    Here are some of the bits I hate getting to work

    corner of hillsborough and richardson, the slipway from richardson causes traffic to fly around at 50K+ meaning you are trapped between two cars doing 50
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=-36.926393,174.750548&spn=0.000673,0.000871&t=h&z=21&layer=c&cbll=-36.926463,174.750474&panoid=tvNdTcNM_4E8toavh4qdiA&cbp=12,19.39,,0,5.06

    Random road narrowing that doesn’t slow cars but makes it very uncomfortable for a bike and car to go through at the same time.

    Lights not activated by bikes even standing right on the sensor
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=-36.90929,174.762263&spn=0.000676,0.000871&t=h&z=21

    no bike lane and scary as hell when peak traffic
    https://maps.google.com/?ll=-36.909687,174.764718&spn=0.000676,0.000871&t=h&z=21&layer=c&cbll=-36.909687,174.764718&panoid=wS6pc1uPayD-4NtCu1HNpQ&cbp=12,266.6,,0,14.06

  • Tuttut

    Some pretty good points. I totally agree that arterial roads need dedicated cycle paths while sides streets could do with removal of a centre line. I’d avoid traffic calming though, it’s a pain in the arse ( literally) for anyone on a bike or in a sports car.
    What about having a wider shared pavement on one side of the arterial roads and no pavement or a narrow one on the other?

    • Bryce P

      I don’t know about shared pavement but as for traffic calming, speed bumps / tables don’t bother me at all. I’d rather them than chicanes.

      • Patrick M

        speed bumps are a no issue. some streets like Eastern Parade Greenfield, I race down on my road bike and easily beat cars to the intersection at the bottom.

    • TheBigWheel

      Reasons why speed humps are bad.. 1. As tuttut says’ they are uncomfortable in a car.. this is a genuine consideration; 2. Invariably cars speed up between humps and slow down over them, wasting petrol and wearing the engine and transmission.. and polluting the environment locally; 3. They accelerate the rate of wear of shocks, tyres and suspension, which costs drivers more money; 4. They are loud for nearby residents, due to the acceleration and gear changing and the wheel impact; 5. They are expensive to install; 6. Cyclists can get hassled by cars which may pull close to them or even overtake between humps, only to get in the way as they slow for the next hump; 7. I have heard that the emergency services hate speed humps, especially ambulance drivers.

      As a driver, and a cyclist, I would far prefer a simple 30k speed limit, with plenty of visual clue and maybe streetscape changes, than speed humps.

      Otherwise, speed humps are sometimes the least worst solution..

      • Bryce P

        Without going into an in-depth reply at this time, speed bumps are actually very cheap and pretty much all streets that have them have been requested by residents. They are only uncomfortable in cars if a) they’ve been designed wrong or b) you’re driving faster than the intended speed. As for maintenance etc, the effects are overstated. The other thing they do is lower the traffic volumes by encouraging motorists to stop ‘rat running’ which is another very important consideration when talking about residential streets.

        • Sailor Boy

          A speed bump rather ironically isn’t a bump on a bike, its more of a pulse, judder bars would be a bump. Also the acceleration issues simply mean that speed bumps are too far apart to efficiently regulate speed.

  • Martin

    What is always left out of these comparisons is the fact that the Netherlands and Belgium are very flat countries conducive to cycling like Christchurch was. Auckland, and to a lesser extent, London, are far hillier and less conducive to cycling.

    As someone who cycles around London to work etc, bicycles are only really common place in zones 1 & 2, their uses quickly drops off away from the narrow streets and Boris Bikes of central London.

    • Sailor Boy

      That argument has been left out because we had it last week.

      • TheBigWheel

        There are of course other cities in less flat countries that also have great cycling infrastructure..plenty of around Germany for example..

        Besides, no-one is proposing cycle lanes up Liverpool Street.

    • Max

      Plus, in Auckland our highest cycle volumes are in hilly areas (such as the central isthmus), while some of the flattest areas (such as around Manukau/Mangere) have less than a fifth (!) of the cycling of the Isthmus (=almost nobody). Of course there’s multiple reasons playing into that, but our traffic environment, not our hilss is the prederminant. Auckland had a cycle mode share of 10-20% once. We are still the same biology of our ancestors, so we can get back to it again, if we make cycling safe and convenient.

    • But you seem to have missed the piunt on Belgium. Despite being flat, Belgium is NOT a good cycling country (and Chch and Hamilton are not good cycling cities) because of the lack of investment in infrastructure despite being flat. So this shows that really it is infrastructure, not topography (or weather), that makes or breaks cycling.

      Dublin is not particularly flat and neither is Budapest but both have just been named by Copenhagenize as in the top 20 cycling cities in the world. Portland is the best cycling city in the US despite being quite hilly. That is because they started to invest in infrastructure.

  • nonsense

    I think we should stop seeing bikes as vehicles and more as enhanced pedestrians. I have been living for a very short period in the town of Hoorn in Holland in a residential area with plenty of cars and carparks and culdesacs but what amazed me is that no matter how fast you drive you’ll always arrive at your destination later than by bicycle. They achieved this by implementing a series of shortcuts between buildings and small bridges on ditches for bikes only, while cars had to go the long way around buildings and water channels.
    Only outside the main centre there were dedicated separated cycleways connecting the villages.

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