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Waiting a century for a cycleway

The Wellington to Hutt Road is, and has been for a quite long time, one of the most popular and important cycle routes in New Zealand’s urban areas. It connects a busy downtown area with large suburban areas in the Hutt Valley, via a scenic harbour front. It’s also a rare flat route in a hilly city where cycling is relatively popular by New Zealand standards.

Given this, you’d expect there to be a safe, separated cycleway of adequate width squeezed somewhere in between the road and rail line. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

If you’re headed northbound from Wellington to the Hutt Valley, you are required to squeeze into a narrow strip between two lanes of traffic and a vertiginous hillside. Some green paint has been provided along some parts of the route, as shown in the Google Street View:

Wellington to Petone cycleway 3

I haven’t cycled this route, but if I was headed this way by bike I’d probably take the train to Melling and cycle north from there. It just doesn’t feel safe.

The southbound route seems a bit better, as a narrow strip of tarmac has been fenced off between the motorway and the rail tracks. This is helpful for people cycling to Wellington, but I’ve heard that it sometimes causes dangerous confusion for northbound cyclists who get on the separated path in Wellington and then find themselves tipped out against oncoming motorway traffic near Petone:

Wellington to Petone cycleway 2

 

Unfortunately, the Wellington to Hutt Road has been disappointing people on bikes for a very long time. The Kennett Brothers fantastic book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand provides some background. Over a century ago, when cycling was a main mode of transport for many urban New Zealanders, there were Parliamentary debates over what should be done to improve the road for cycling, and working bees to remove sharp objects from the preexisting gravel cycle path. However, nothing much got done:

“When roads were improved for motorists, it was not always agreed that the cyclist should share them. Around the time of the First World War, some of the main Hutt Valley roads were bitumen sealed, but a by-law was passed forbidding cyclists from riding on them. On the main Hutt-Wellington route, cyclists and horses were forced to share a metalled path strewn with sharp objects from the nearby railway line. In one novel attempt to clean it up, a nail finding competition was won by a boy who bagged 391 of the total 1843 nails found on the path.”

The Kennetts dug up this old picture of the Wellington to Hutt cycleway in 1978, after almost a century of neglect:

Hutt Road bicycle path in 1978

The route is better today – the northbound cycle path is at least paved – but as the Google Street View shows, it’s still a far cry from a safe separated cycleway. The good news is that the NZTA’s new Urban Cycleways Programme looks like it will finally upgrade the route to an adequate standard.

One of the key projects in Wellington is the “Melling to CBD” cycleway, which seems to include an upgrade of the areas I’ve highlighted above:

Wellington-To-Hutt-Valley-urban-cycleways-map

I haven’t seen any detailed designs for the project yet, but the NZTA states that:

This project will provide a high quality cycleway between Melling and Wellington’s CBD, significantly improving the level of service for both cyclists and pedestrians. It will offer a safer and more attractive route for journeys between home and work or educational institutions, and will pay particular attention to how cyclists travel through intersections.

These additional facilities are expected to encourage new, less confident people to cycle as well as catering to the high numbers of people who use this route already.

Hopefully, this project will finally fix the longstanding issues with cycling on this road. The city has waited over a century for a safe cycling route between Wellington and the Hutt Valley – it would be a shame to prolong the wait any longer.

Lastly, I’m sure that many other roads in New Zealand have long-standing challenges for safe cycling. What other issues have you noticed, and how long have you been waiting for a solution?

13 comments to Waiting a century for a cycleway

  • Simon

    One thing implied but not mentioned is that the limit is 100km/h on this road so traffic is 100k+ fairly routinely. Horrible to cycle but gets use even so. Separation and improvements are long, long overdue.

  • George D

    Commuting cyclists usually stay on the motorway verge the whole way, as it is far smoother and easier to ride than the narrow and bumpy track. It’s in poor condition, hardly wide enough to pass another cyclist (oncoming or same-direction), and usually covered with debris blown across from the harbour and railway.

    A little more risk is traded off for a far better cycling experience. Unfortunately the current arrangment means that casual cyclists hardly use the route.

    There was a lot of concern that the new cycleway would mean cyclists being pushed off the road onto something which was of lower quality. NZTA has assured cyclists that this won’t happen, but frankly I don’t trust them.

  • I rode along here last year on my way to the Hutt River Trail, I wrote about it at the time – “Riding to The Hutt was unexpectedly terrifying. You see it started off as a typical urban road, but as I followed the signs pointing to Lower Hutt, the roads got busier, and the speed limits got higher, until eventually I realised I was on a motorway. An actual motorway with 4 lanes of cars doing 100km/hr next to me, and nothing but a painted green stripe on the road to protect me. Jeebus, I thought, these Wellington cyclists are a bunch of hard-bastards.” (full story here http://tinyurl.com/nbvm32l). I hope they get a better deal soon.

  • With typically a 2m-wide smooth shoulder most of the way, the existing on-road option is actually a lot better than most high-speed roads around the country. I never had big problems with riding along it when I lived there; however I can totally understand why your average punter would not want to go along there. The biggest challenge is the on/off-ramps at the petrol station and Petone, which try to encourage a zig-zag across them to allow motor traffic unimpeded movement.

    My understanding is that probably we are talking about a shared promenade facility on the seaward side of the railway tracks (would also form part of the “Great Harbour Way” initiative). There is some suggestion that the cut material from the proposed Petone-Grenada road route could be used to create the pathway fill; this means that the Ngauranga-Petone section of the Melling-CBD route (i.e. alongside the harbour) will be the last bit completed.

    Good-quality, “fit for purpose” cycling facilities are a key aim of the Urban Cycleways Programme; basically the Minister doesn’t want to be funding crap solutions. So there will be a lot of emphasis on design reviews and adherence to best-practice standards in the programme. No doubt, things will slip through cracks, but NZTA Head Office will want to know about any perceived concerns about the UCP projects.

    • Dan

      I agree that the exisitng on-road facility is not completely awful — I cycled it several times a week for about 10 years from the age of about 15. But it never felt safe, being just one distracted driver from serious or fatal injury. A proper upgrade to the eastern side operated track would be very welcome. Good to see.

      • I wonder if they had invented texting, Facebook or Internet Bankimg while you drive back then? My point is you see a lot of drivers distratcted by their phones while you cycle in traffic these days and I wish it was just talking on them. I’m alive typing this today because of a rumble strip on SH1 north of Waipu.

      • shermo

        The rumble strip is the best thing they’ve done along there. It’s stopped one driver who was busy getting something from the passenger footwell from taking us out in the cycle lane. Seems odd that’s it only on the Northbound side though, while they have no problem funding suicide poles on the off/onramps.

  • it would be a shame to prolong the wait any longer.
    This link has been promised time and time again, and even this proposal states
    Construction of the remaining section between Petone and Ngauranga is anticipated to begin in 2019.

    The reason it is being dragged out is that they are hoping to be able to use spoil from the proposed Petone to Ngauranga “link road”
    to rebuild the seawall on the outer edge of the railway track, which will allow a full width walking/biking path akin to the existing waterfront….

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/local-papers/hutt-news/67871589/chance-to-give-great-harbour-way-cycle-path-a-push-start

  • Mike Sheerin

    I think there is a walk way running beside the rail tracks why not make that the cycle way it is not on the motorway

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    Thanks Peter for writing about this glaring and long-standing inadequacy with Wellington’s cycling provision!

    I have been cycling this route for 30+ years, both on the shoulder and on the so-called cycleway. Apart from an occasional clean-up/re-surface of the cycleway, and a bit of green paint appearing in patches on the northbound shoulder, nothing has changed in this time.
    Actually, not true. The intersection at Horokiwi Road was closed off for all traffic wishing to go south to or from Horokiwi – which means access to Horokiwi has become a major mission for cyclists. Many kms of detour to get there from Petone, unless you ride ‘wrong-direction’ on the shoulder.

    But that apart, the options for cycling between Welllington and the Hutt Valley are either:
    1) Ride on a shoulder of varying-width along a 100Km/h highway,
    2) Ride on the cycleway which is generally OK, but it ends about 1Km before Petone.

    The signed recommendation is for southbound cyclists to ride on the shoulder for the 1Km, then take the cycleway. Northbound cyclists are warned off using the incomplete cycleway and are simply re-directed to the northbound shoulder.

    I have found that the cyclway is actually usable in either direction, and although it is a little disconcerting to have to ride the last 1Km northbound on the shoulder of the southbound carriageway, it is actually safer than riding in the other direction BECAUSE YOU CAN SEE THE TRAFFIC COMING AT YOU! Riding in the same direction as the traffic, you can’t. At least one cyclist fatality along this stretch (and there have been a few) was when a bike was rammed from behind by a vehicle straying onto the shoulder at 100Km/h. When riding in the ‘normal’ direction on the shoulder you are always having to watch your back, aware that you have no other protection or warning against an inattentive motorist.

    The other issue with the shoulder as someone else has already pointed out is the need to cross high-speed slip-lanes into/out-of a petrol station and Horokiwi Road (northbound), and Petone on/off ramps (either direction) if you are continuing along the highway past here. ‘Cyclist-crossings’ are provided at the ramps, but these are merely refuges where you are supposed to wait until a gap appears in the traffic (rare during peak flows). There is also a sensor-operated flashing sign which warns drivers when a cyclist is present. This seems to work reliably.

    So cyclists who use this route tend to get familiar with its foibles and how best to cope with its hazards. The alternative is free carriage of (a limited number of) bikes on the train. But you still have to pay a fare for yourself.

    I understand the plan to upgrade the cycleway will see it moved to the sea-side of the railway. This is by far preferable, EXCEPT IN A STRONG SOUTHERLY, when waves can crash over it. Currently the railway provides a reasonable buffer against this. Hopefully any sea-side design will include some sort of protective wall otherwise there will be a significant danger of cyclists/walkers being swept into the sea.

    Oh the joys of Wellington!

  • luke

    Is currently a disgrace. Until they actually build the cycleway I think the hard shoulder should have a barrier between it and the southbound lanes so cyclists can access the existing segregated path in some kind of safety. Is only around 800m where there would be no hard shoulder for southbound motorists. Less if some kind of bridge over the railway lines was built to access a track by the boat club.

    I umderstand there was actually a much better cyclist provision until the road was widened in the 80s?

  • Torken Faddy

    Whole thing is a disgrace really. The only function of the southbound cycle lane seems to be to give fuel to the “We built a cycleway and entitled cyclists still ride on the road” online brigade. The shared path near Kaiwharawhara is very dangerous to ride on as well with business entrances- much safer to ride on the road unless you’re going at walking pace. The best place by far is the shoulder but it means less confident cyclists are unlikely to ride from the Hutt to Wellington

  • Nick E

    I cycle this route every day.

    Southbound…

    The existing separated bike path is awful. Truly awful. It’s OK for running along but in no way is it any good for cycling. The surface is like corrugated cardboard, there are big plates cross holes, they’ve built the new gantries so they block half the path, the flaxes overgrow on a regular basis, and aside from all the glass and stones on the path when it rains it turns into a lake. In Petone the path under the bridge is regularly flooded and the Council has planted trees down the middle of the path next to Hutt Road.
    So I like everyone else use the side of the road… and actually it’s not bad. There’s a nice wide separation between the main traffic and the barrier, plenty wide enough to cycle along, and the surface is nice to cycle on. First thing in the morning the traffic speed is rarely a problem and apart from the odd truck that seems to think that it’s fun to drive along the rumble strip or the idiots trying to jump the queue at the Petone on ramp and using the cycle path as a short cut it’s certainly a lot safer than cycling up the Terrace.

    Northbound…

    Three problems really. First, the lane simply isn’t wide enough, and the width varies according to the whims of the person who laid the tarmac. Second, crossing across the petrol station and Horokiwi… to be honest people are usually pretty good – in fact the people drifting left after the Horokiwi turn off are more of a hazard. Third, whenever there is rain or strong wind rockfall from the hill litters the road – and it seems that NZTA seem to only sweep to the edge of the main carriageway. I lost my rear wheel and tyre to a large rock there in the middle of a rainstorm – $400 gone in a second.

    North of Petone…

    The section north of Petone bridge created during the Dowse-Petone ‘upgrade’ is what I dread the new cycle lane will be like.Fast flowing traffic filtering off at high speed directly across the so-called bike lane, and bikes are expected to turn at 90 degrees across this? Frankly, an idiotic arrangement and the main reason why the sensible cycling groups use Hutt Road and Block Road to travel this stretch.

    What I’d want to see:
    A wide cycleway (5m) with enough room for two bikes in both directions. There needs to be room for two way traffic and for overtaking on what should be able to double as a commuter route and a social cycling route
    Good quality road surface, well maintained (a wide track would help this happen more easily)
    Protection from the wind and elements (especially the southerly gales!)
    Priority at junctions – a cycle bridge over the junctions?

    In a better planned world the central reservation area would be used for for cycle paths with cycle bridges at each exit. It could even be raised up above the road. Replanning and widening the whole road, and replanning the junctions, would actually be a much better option for everyone than the Petone-Grenada white elephant, cyclists and drivers alike.

    Whatever they decide we’re going to have to wait five years for this… I’m already sure I’m going to be disappointed.

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