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Research: Recommended road user rule changes

A bunch of walking and cycling research just dropped on the NZTA website. This report by MHW and ViaStrada looks at several possible road user rule changes (PDF). The first consideration is fundamental to supporting high quality cycling facilities, and the second is, well, fundamental to living in a city in 2017.

Here is the first: Giving cyclists precedence over traffic when separated cycleways cross side-roads

The first rule addresses the absence of clear guidance on separated cycleways at signalised and unsignalised intersections (see image below). While a person in a cycle lane has precedence over turning traffic, there is no consideration for the priority of a cyclist on cycle path (shared path, etc) which is a facility that doesn’t sit in the carriageway (between the kerbs). There is also lack of clarity around kerb and flexi-post separated cycle paths.

 

Dashed lines give way to solid lines

This is how the new report summarises the proposed changes:

  • People cycling on a separated cycle facility along a road corridor would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving side roads (signalised or priority-controlled)
  • Vehicles turning across cycleways from the adjacent road would have to give way to the cyclistTraffic on side roads also obliged to give way to the cyclist

And this is what the report recommends with regard to implementation:

  • Give priority for crossings at signalised intersections universally across New Zealand via a change to the Road User Rule (unless signs or signal phasing prohibit it at certain locations)
  • Priority across unsignalised intersections should be either universally across NZ or only where signs/markings allow it, possibly only in lower-speed (urban) areas.
  • A key change needs to occur around the definition of “roadway”. The roadway needs to include all cycle paths and cycle lanes, regardless of the form of separation.

For comparison in the Netherlands right-of-way is clear and unambiguous supporting the wide scale development of cyclepaths (sidepaths). They use an extended version of an almost universal rule where turning traffic gives way to through traffic. This is how the rule is defined as described by Peter Furth:

Unless signed or signalled otherwise, motor vehicles and bicycles turning off a road, whether turning right or left, must give way to cyclists and pedestrians traveling along that road in the same or opposite direction. For this purpose, cyclists and pedestrians are deemed to be traveling along a road if they are traveling on the roadway or on a path or sidewalk within 6m of the roadway edge. 

The report also discusses some interesting supporting solutions such as the flashing amber yellow arrow. I could see something like this being very useful in order to allow a longer straight through green phase for cyclists (see also, Invisible Infrastructure: Turning the Corner Campaign).

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Here is consideration of the second rule change: Giving pedestrians precedence over traffic when crossing side roads

New Zealand is a global oddball with this one (see image below). It’s pretty straightforward. Pedestrians crossing an unsignalised side road do not have precedence over turning cars. While pedestrians have priority at intersections when facing a green disc or with a green man, the report says:

No similar precedence currently exists for pedestrians facing traffic turning or crossing at unsignalised intersections.

At this point, I’m concluding that there is not an explicit requirement for pedestrians to give way to turning traffic, but rather the absence of a rule, along with an established norm where pedestrians are expected to jump out of the way of cars, or step backward after starting to cross (see also Peds Rule).

Dashed lines give way to solid lines

Interestingly, the report also mentions that pedestrians are given priority “at a ‘pedestrian crossing’ (aka ‘zebra crossing’)”. Pedestrian precedence at zebra crossings is not surprising, but in the context of a sideroad crossing the use of a pedestrian crossing is rare.  The few I can think of are located across one-way streets like here on Symonds Street and Wakefield Street.

So this is a bit of a plot twist. The discussion has grown to include traffic control devices (signs, markings) as well as road rules. More on this later.

This is how the report summarises the proposed changes:

  • Pedestrians walking alongside a road corridor who wish to cross would have precedence over traffic entering or leaving a side-road.
  • The pedestrian priority could apply only when the pedestrian crosses from one footpath (or shared path) adjacent to the main road to the continuation of that footpath on the opposite side of the side road.

And this is the recommendation for this rule:

  • Do not adopt this rule universally at this stage without the presence of suitable signs/markings
  • Implement initially at limited trial sites in New Zealand via the introduction and legislation of new signs/markings to allow this, ideally at very low-speed (30-40 km/h) areas first
  • Monitor behaviours/performance of trial sites for consideration of wider uptake

The report recommends the introduction of new signs and markings, something akin to North American parallel crosswalks or the less common ladder crossings. Here are the examples provided.

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Source: Review of Road User Rules for People walking and cycling

Introducing new crosswalk line markings seems like a reasonable first step before introducing universal road user changes. Once people understand the road rules, priority can be mediated by simple stop limit line in many places, and with crosswalks where needed (near schools for example).

There is also a suggestion that existing pedestrian crossings can still be used, but suggests that the current practice requires that they are set back from the intersection. There are a few of these around Auckland. They seem really confusing compared to a stop line and a crosswalk.

For comparison, here is an intersection in Toronto.

Finch Avenue, Toronto

Overall the report is very comprehensive quoting specific road rules where available and also the Traffic Control Devices Rule and other legal precedents.  After reading this report I’m convinced that very few people in New Zealand would even know what the road rules are!

It is also very exciting to see this work progress. I think it offers the biggest opportunity for wide-scale improvement of walking and cycling conditions in New Zealand.

32 comments to Research: Recommended road user rule changes

  • Dan C

    Wow. Progress from NZTA. Maybe they are not so blind to non-motorised transport afterall.

  • Chris R

    This seems like a very cautious step in the direction of progress. I’m not convinced we need signs/markings to change the side-road precedence rule: changing the right-turn give-way rule had just as much potential for chaos and they managed that without new signage or markings. (Also, if they recommend only trialling it in low-speed areas, they’re going to have trouble finding many trial sites. Which is another problem in itself…)

    I wouldn’t be opposed to painting in some ladder crossings and parallel crosswalks, but I wish they’d just get on and change the rule.

    Also, wouldn’t changing the side-road precedence rule obviate the need for a rule-change about cycleways crossing side roads? Though the expansion of the definition of ‘roadway’, or adopting the Dutch definition which includes pedestrians, seems like a good idea anyway, whether or not side-road precedence is changed.

  • Di

    No no and no. What is wrong with Pedestrians and Cyclists taking their turn like any other traffic? Both are equiped with the ability to stop. CBD perhaps but the one size fits all is just ridiculous in Auckland and especially quiet urban areas and outside the RUB. The cost? Just so cyclists can be prioritized – no, no and no.

    • Scott G

      One rule for everyone regardless of mode. If you’re going straight ahead, turning traffic gives way. Simple.

    • Why can’t other traffic take their turn just like pedestrians and cyclists, cars are equipped with the ability to stop. What is your rationale for giving a turning car right of way over a cyclist travelling straight ahead.

    • Sailor Boy

      We already give cyclists in a cycle lane priority over turning traffic, just like we give motorists priority over turning traffic.

      The cost is minimal just so that motorists are no longer so heavily prioritised.

    • RIght, based on your theory of taking their turn, if I am walking across a side road, all motorists should be giving way to me in the same way they would give way to another motor vehicle? I would encourage you to give this a go and see what happens. Take care though.

      • KP

        That’s pretty funny. Motorists are required now to give way when crossing footpaths and cycle lanes…. but I’d encourage you to give this a go and see what happens.

      • Nick R

        Bryce, that is the law in the united states, turning traffic gives way to straight ahead, be they car, bike or foot.

      • Bryce, that’s exactly what happens in Canada. Having spent a few weeks walking around Vancouver and Montreal I can report it is *delightful* as a pedestrian used to NZ rules, and the local motorists seem to cope just fine. Far from being unthinkable, it is a practical and easy improvement.

    • Chris R

      We’re happy to take our turn, but the current rule doesn’t treat us like ‘any other traffic’. Motorised traffic doesn’t have to give way when going straight; neither should pedestrians and cyclists.

      (Edit: It isn’t a question of ‘prioritising’ cyclists, as you seem to think, but of giving them and pedestrians equal priority with other road users. Most of the rest of the world has figured this out…)

  • Yay — one step closer to make walking a dignified option.

    Whoever is working on it deserves a big ribbon cutting ceremony when this gets implemented.

  • Rob Mayo

    Hurry up and implement these new rules NZTA and bring New Zealand into line with the rest of the developed world. All left-turning traffic must always give way to cyclists and pedestrians – no excuses.

  • Patrick O'Rourke

    Why are we in New Zealand so backward in looking after pedestrians? I go to Melbourne regularly and if I am walking along the footpath on a main road and come to a side road which is not a controlled intersection any vehicle turning into that side road must give way to me when I cross. The State of Victoria rode code says “When turning at any intersection (except at a roundabout), you must give way to any pedestrians crossing the road you are entering “. The Aussies make it work a treat in Melbourne and the drivers are very polite about it. Instead here in New Zealand drivers turning into side roads make it their business to ensure pedestrians jump out of the way. We should change the rule to be like Victoria and many other parts of the world.

  • jmarshall

    Yay! This is such a revelation when walking overseas to realize one doesn’t need to stop for turning traffic.

    I don’t see why it can’t just be changed immediately though. A thorough public education campaign as per the change to the right hand turn and drivers will get used to it quickly.

  • evanj

    Whatever laws are introduced we need to give them five or six years for the behaviour of drivers to fall into place. We see it now with bus and cycle lanes, which, by and large, are accepted by the average driver – couriers excepted. It it quite rare to see vehicles using the bus lanes outside the designated hours, even though they are able to do so.

  • john smith

    A rule that turning motorists yield to pedestrians is essential for practical reasons. Picture it: you’re walking along a busy arterial road with a constant stream of traffic. You want to cross a side street. It’ll take you 20 seconds to cross. At any second, maybe without indicating properly, any of the cars on the main road might start to turn across your path while you’re in the middle of the street.

    What are you meant to do? Wait until there’s a big enough break in the traffic on the main road *in both directions simultaneously* so you can be sure that no-one might start to turn across your path while you’re in the middle of the street? You could be waiting all day. [continued]

  • john smith

    [continued] The problem still arises on less busy roads, particularly if you’re walking on the left. Are you meant to cross the side street *while looking over your right shoulder the whole time*, just in case a car coming behind you starts to turn left? And if it does, what are you supposed to do?

    In these situations, the rule that motorists yield is essential for pedestrians to have any chance at all of crossing safely.

    • ” *while looking over your right shoulder the whole time* ” – Yes and for me turning my neck that direction that far back is painful, and makes a walk more unpleasant. To be safe in that regard you risk walking into someone who has stopped or moved into your path while you are looking back so far. I’ve seen a calculation, I think referred to on this blog, in some situations based on cars travelling at 50kms/hr where you don’t actually have time to get all the way across before a car could reach you if it starts to turn after indicating 3 secs before turning (and you started crossing before it starts indicating)….man that’s hard to explain clearly.

  • john smith

    The road rules contain NO concept that could be described as ‘having right of way’. The rules describe situations in which one road user must *yield* to another. It’s different. The fact that A must yield to B in one stated situation does NOT mean that B must yield to A in other situations, when in fact the law is completely silent about those other situations.
    To be specific: the road rules contains lots of rules about situations where motorists must yield to other motorists, and a few rules about situations where motorists must yield to pedestrians (in relation to marked crossings). The rules are completely silent about interactions between motorists and pedestrians at places other than marked crossings.** The is NO rule that pedestrians must yield to motorists generally.
    ** with one exception that doesn’t affect the main point: a pedestrian must cross a road at right angles as far as possible and not loiter while crossing, (Land Transport (Road User) Rule 200, 11.4-6)

  • john smith

    I think I detect a bit of ‘not invented here’ syndrome among the folks concerned that making turning motorists yield to pedestrians might have perverse outcomes (from giving pedestrians a false sense of security), . Remember, this rule is pretty common in other developed nations. If it really did have perverse outcomes, maybe they would have noticed by now?

  • engineer_mark

    I recently read through the entire Road User Rule from beginning to end and surprisingly I didn’t find a single clause or sub-clause which explicitly requires a pedestrian to give way to a driver when crossing the road.
    Clauses 3.2 through 3.5 only state when pedestrians must not enter a roadway, but not give way
    The closest clause I could find to a give way rule for pedestrians was ironically 11.5 Entering Crossings which states a pedestrian must not enter if “an approaching vehicle is so close to the pedestrian crossing that the driver of the vehicle is unable to give way to the pedestrian” but once again, doesn’t explicitly state a pedestrian must “give way”, that onus is still on the driver.
    So legally we’re already half way there to giving pedestrians priority. The biggest barrier to this change is driver culture and attitude. Cyclists and horseback riders still aren’t seen as legitimate road users and often treated as second class citizens, and how often do you see a driver give way when crossing a footpath? or approach a left turn at traffic lights with caution? As much as I’d love to see these changes written into law, I fear that what’s written on paper will have very little effect on the status quo

    • Patrick McDonald

      Your “pedestrians was ironically 11.5 Entering Crossings which states a pedestrian must not enter if “an approaching vehicle is so close to the pedestrian crossing that the driver of the vehicle is unable to give way to the pedestrian” ” has been removed by the Land Transport (Road User) Ammendment Rule 2009. The Ammended Road code now states…
      34 Pedestrian crossings
      Clause 10.1(1)(a) is revoked and the following paragraph substituted:
      “(a) give way to pedestrians, and to riders of wheeled recreational
      devices or mobility devices,—
      “(i) on the pedestrian crossing; or
      “(ii) obviously waiting to cross it; and
      This clearly puts the onus on motorists as they approach ped crossings to be ready to stop immediately. Clause A.II is the real kicker!
      Further I do believe New Zealand motorists can accept change and adjust quite quickly. Take the old silly right turning rule that has been brought into line with international practice. Its working quite well for me now. Who else is finding this as well?

      • GlenK

        Clause 11.5 is still there; you can’t just rush out onto a pedestrian crossing and expect a motorist to yield if basic physics wouldn’t allow that. And appreciate that all references in the Road User Rule to a “pedestrian crossing” don’t mean any old place where peds cross the road; the definition specifically refers only to what are commonly known as zebra crossings.

        Meanwhile clause 11.1 states that peds have to remain on a footpath where practicable (obviously not practicable when you wish to cross the road) and clause 11.6 states that peds aren’t allowed to remain on the roadway for longer than necessary when crossing. So no, peds don’t have to specifically yield to motorists but they’re also not allowed to just wander or remain on the road when they feel like it.

  • Ak-Sam

    Any progress toward a better clarity is very welcome As a designer our toolbox of cycleways has been quite limited to date..I do use the dual-direction cycleways but it usually makes for a complicated negotiation around signage, traffic lights, kerb placement etc etc.. New rules will simplify it all and we should see cycleways on more roads in future.

  • I think #3 “Allowing cyclists to use a turning lane while riding straight ahead” will require some thinking about what happens after the intersection, as there will be conflict between cyclists and cars merging into the same lane. In a lot of cases there’s not enough room to safely ride and drive side by side, especially if there are cars parked on the street.

    • GlenK

      That potential issue was acknowledged in the report but introducing a road rule shouldn’t have to wait until every single location has built best-practice road infrastructure (e.g. we changed the give way rules, but didn’t introduce right turn bays everywhere to accommodate all the newly delayed right-turners). Practically speaking too, most riders are already doing this behaviour if it is perceived as safer for them (I do it every day at about half a dozen intersections riding to work), so a rule like this would just legitimise what is already happening rather than greatly change cycling behaviour.

      This is a similar issue to many of these proposed rules; while it is possible to introduce them with minimal road changes, in many cases it will be far more effective to provide supporting design treatments (e.g. raised platforms for turning traffic over parallel peds/bikes at side roads). In a similar way, we already allow councils to create a legal zebra crossing with just some stripes and poles, but best practice for safety is to also include elements like islands or platforms.

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