St Lukes Rd becoming safer for bikes

One of Auckland’s oldest cycleways is finally getting a much needed upgrade in the form of some protection. Here are a couple of tweets showing the new protectors that are in the process of been installed.

The protected lanes are a welcome addition as its common for the bike lanes to be ignored by other road users, As Brendon showed with this video last year. It was also not uncommon for vehicles to use the cycle lanes as extra queuing space.

Good on Auckland Transport for putting them. Perhaps they should put in a mass order of these barriers and start rolling them out to more of the existing painted cycle lanes around the city.

February-2017 Ridership

Auckland Transport’s hold a board meeting next week which means we finally get to see how public transport performed in February. February’s results are always slightly more interesting than normal as they give an indication of what kind of results we can expect from March Madness as the busy conditions usually start manifesting in late Feb – and so far, March has been noticeably un-mad. February this year had an additional dimension to keep an eye on as last year had an extra day due to being a leap year – although there were the same number of normal working days.

The good news is the results were strong, the highlights are:

  • Overall ridership for February was 7.38 million, up an impressive 8.6% on February-2016. That’s almost 600k more than in February last year and sees ridership on 12-month rolling basis, rise to 85.7 million trips.
  • The Rapid Transit Network continues to see strong growth with usage on the RTN clocking in with 2 million trips, up 11.3% compared to Feb-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 10.3% to 1.6 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 15.2% to 395 thousand
  • The big surprise from February’s results was the non busway buses which hasn’t been doing as well as other modes in recent times. In Feb though, usage on them rose an impressive 7.8% compared to Feb-16.
  • Ferries continue to glide along with nice growth, increasing 6.3% compared to Feb-16.

Most PT trips happen on work days and for those, you can see on bus and train that February was well ahead of previous years and that sets us up for a great March result. Could we see March reach 80,000 trips per day on the rail network?

If the current trends hold then we’re in for a bumper result in March, and without almost all of the cramming and missed buses of previous years.

The farebox recovery has been a measure we’re been keeping a watchful eye on a lot recently to see what impacts the various service and fare changes made in recent years are having. The results for February are notable in that for the first time, the net subsidy per passenger km for trains is lower than it is for buses.

We’ve sometimes seen subsidies measured on a per trip basis however per passenger km is more accurate as it takes into account that the average train trip of 13.26km is longer than the average bus trip of 7.54km.

One aspect that isn’t clear is what is causing farebox recovery ratios on buses to be falling. I suspect one element of it would be all the extra services that were put on both recently and prior to Christmas to help combat March Madness.

While not ridership specifically, AT added an interesting set of graphs to their Monthly Indicators pack. We’ve shown them before for specific projects, such as with AMETI. In all but one of the examples, you can see that PT can often compete with driving usually in the peaks – although we think PT needs to be more time competitive throughout the entire day. There are a couple of things that stand out though and the biggest one is how in most scenario’s the travel time via PT is at least in the range or close to it, with the exception of one – the northwest. This of course highlights once again how important it is we get a proper busway built along SH16.

Perhaps the buses along SH16 being so slow also has a small part to play in increasing popularity of the NW cycleway. For Feb, the counter at Te Atatu was up an massive 47% on Feb-16 while at Kingsland numbers were up a still impressive 18%

Lastly, Wellington also published their ridership numbers for Feb – but they’re definitely not quite as pretty as the Auckland results. For the month of Feb-17 compared to Feb-16:

  • Total trips taken were down 5.9%
  • Bus trips were down 4.7%
  • Train trips were down 7.7%
  • Ferry trips were down 20% – although this was off a very small base

 

AT’s Albert St preliminary design

On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.

Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.

The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.

The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.

The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.

Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.

The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.

But those trees disappear outside the district court.

Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.

 

The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:

  • The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
  • There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
  • Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
  • Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
  • Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
  • The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
  • While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St

While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.

One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.

there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.

I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.

Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.

Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:

  • bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
  • bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
  • the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
  • bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
  • bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.

Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.

In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)

To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.

Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?

Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.

It’s not the Cycle Lane causing congestion

I avoid the stress of congestion by either using PT or by cycling to work and until Skypath exists, my option for cycling to work involves riding along Upper Harbour Dr. You may recall that almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the local board wanting to rip out the cycle lanes that were installed by AT in 2015. This was in response to severe congestion that had been occurring for just a few weeks resulting in queues over 2km long back from the intersection with Albany Highway. The board, many members of the public and even the local community constable put most of the blame for this congestion on the cycle lanes.

As I had suspected, within a few weeks of that post the traffic had all but disappeared and for the rest of the year and the beginning of this year, cars driving along the road had a mostly free run. In the last few weeks that’ all changed again and the long 2km+ queues are back. So, I decided to film it.

There’s something uniquely special about passing vehicle after stopped or slow moving vehicle while on a bike or bus in a dedicated lane – or on a train in the case of the Southern Motorway between Ellerslie and Remuera. This is something more and more people will get the opportunity to experience if we can continue to roll out bike and bus infrastructure.

It’s worth noting that while the cycle lanes on Upper Harbour Dr are a little bit of a step up from your usual painted cycle lane, they do suffer one fatal flaw that many don’t. In this case these lanes lead straight to the intersection with Albany Highway which is probably one of the worst in Auckland for people on bikes. The trouble exists for people wanting to turn right to head towards the lower North Shore. This video is a bit older, from before the cycle lanes were put in, but it shows what people on bikes wanting to turn right have to endure.

Coming back to the issue of the congestion, the local board’s solution last year was to remove the cycle lane and call the narrow footpath at the end of the video a shared path. Thankfully that hasn’t happened but with the congestion back, it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried again. But even if AT did just what the board asked for last year, would it make any difference. Well this is Albany Highway, even if removing the cycle lane allowed them to get to the intersection a little faster, they’d still be faced with this and so going nowhere fast.

Like last year, the solution is to wait out March.

Te Whau Pathway Consultation

Auckland Transport yesterday opened consultation on the proposed Te Whau Pathway, a 12km walking and cycling link between the Manukau and Waitemata harbours, mostly following the Whau river. Once fully completed in an estimated 5-8 years, the pathway is expected to connect 33 reserves, esplanade strips, sports parks, and roads along it’s route.

AT say some of the benefits of the project are

  • Provide safer, more convenient connections to the city centre and within neighbouring suburbs.
  • Offer better connections to 13 schools, and access to the Northwestern Cycleway and the proposed New Lynn to Avondale Shared Path.
  • Maximise opportunities to experience the Whau River, and improve access to the river for small boats and kayaks.
  • Offer new spaces for recreation (such as fishing and bird watching) and education.
  • Improve the natural environment through a clean-up of the water’s edge, restoration, and weed removal following construction.
  • Attract tourists and visitors from other neighbourhoods.

Here’s a map of what’s ultimately proposed and as you can see, some parts are already completed.

A few thoughts I’ve had about the proposal

  • I wonder if the option to straighten some of the route, especially near the NW motorway and at the New Lynn ends. I don’t think that would diminish the recreational value of the path but it could help make it more appealing for other journeys too. For example in the future we hope to have the NW busway with a station somewhere around Te Atatu and this path, if designed well, could provide an easy connection to that station for many residents in Glendene and Te Atatu South.
  • Likewise at the other end, the proposal seems to make no effort to improve connections to New Lynn which seems like a missed opportunity. Sure it connects to the New Lynn to Avondale path alongside the railway but a more direct connection from the North seems like it would be useful too.
  • As well as the path along the river, it seems a good opportunity to also provide some connections across the river too, to better link in the Rosebank peninsula. Some of the associated documentation suggests a future project of a bridge as an extension of Hepburn Rd.
  • AT say it will be a minimum of 3m wide however browsing through the various scheme plans shows suggests that all the boardwalk sections will be 4m with the narrower sections being those on land and through reserves. Could it not be kept 4m the entire route?
  • As mentioned earlier, the obvious intention of this is for recreational use however the completed section shown to the east of New Lynn is the existing cycle lanes on Portage Rd. These however are only paint and the lanes are often located outside parked cars. Unless there is an intention to improve this, which the documents indicate there isn’t, then this section won’t be used by families or less confident cyclists.

One thing important to note is AT say the boardwalks will be designed to account for sea level rise over the next 50 years

The pathway has been designed to last for 50 years. Because of predicted sea-level rise, the boardwalk has to be built for the predicted sea level in 50 year’s time, in a major storm event. A coastal processes assessment has estimated the sea level in year 2070 during a severe storm to be 3.46m (AVD-46 Datum) or 5.20m (Chart Datum). As a comparison, the current high tide generally spans between 1.2m to 1.8m (AVD-46 Datum).

The bottom of the boardwalk will be built at 3.5m. Any level lower than this will be a case-by-case scenario to be confirmed in detailed design. The height of boardwalk is yet to be confirmed and options to minimise the structure’s thickness are being explored.

Overall I find the path intriguing and has the potential to really improve connections to many of the communities along the route which are disconnected by not only geography but also in many cases, poor street networks. It certainly has the potential to be another of the fantastic recreational paths we’ve been building or have planned and I can imagine it will be something people will jump on the train to New Lynn with their bikes to ride along. With a few tweaks could also be much more functional for other trips too.

Working towards a car-free city centre

An emerging trend in cities is to increasingly go car-free, primarily in city centres. This is primarily related to being able to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and transit while also reducing emissions and improving the health of residents.

In some cases it’s limited to certain vehicle types, in others certain streets and one of the most ambitious is in Oslo where they plan to ban all cars from the city centre in 2019.

Given the trends starting to build around this, it feels only a matter of time before the question gets asked about making Auckland car-free. This isn’t to say we should be going car-free in the next few years but the desire to do so in the future is a possibility and so something we should remember when thinking about the future. If we decide we want the city centre to be increasingly or fully car-free, it will be for the same reasons that these other cities are.

While we tend to focus on the how we deal with the tens of thousands who travel to the city centre each day, and who can be relatively easily counted as they cross the motorway moat that surrounds the city, what is often overlooked is the rapidly increasing population of people living within the city itself. The city centre is the fastest growing location in Auckland, and possibly all of NZ with Statistics NZ estimating that as of mid-2016, the population had increased by over 11,000 in just two years to reach almost 47,000 people. That’s more than was expected in the Council’s City Centre Master Plan by 2032, what’s more, with all the development underway in the city right now and on the horizon, that number is only going to continue to increase.

The people living in the city have been a critical factor in helping the city to become a more vibrant and interesting location, a far cry from the 6 o’clock ghost town it once was after all the workers scurried home. More people living in and around the city centre in the future will only help to further improve the area but we need to support these residents by providing more public space and making easier for them to get around. Addressing how we use our road space will be critical for this

On top of the resident population, the city centre is the single largest and most dense cluster of employment in Auckland, home to over 111,000 jobs while the universities and other education providers are estimated to account for over 60,000 students.

I don’t know the exact most recent numbers but indications from Auckland Transport suggest that normally, over 80,000 people cross the motorway noose to enter the city centre every weekday during the AM peak (7-9am). Of this just under 40,000 do so either driving or as a passenger in a car. Interestingly this number has remained relatively static for at least the last 15 years while the total number of people arriving has increased significantly, meaning that all the growth to the city every morning has come from growth in transit and active modes. What’s more it means those non-car modes now account for over 50% of all trips to the city each morning. Of course, many more people enter the city centre at other times of the day too and it’s been estimated in that past that over 200,000 people visit the area every day.

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t suddenly expect everyone to stop driving to the city centre. For one thing, we know from the likes of March Madness that there simply isn’t the capacity yet on our transit networks to cope. The City Rail Link will undoubtedly help with this but that alone won’t be enough and so we’d also likely need other projects too, in particular the core of the proposed Rapid Transit Network including vastly improved links to the Dominion Rd/Airport, the Northwest and the North Shore. In our view, we really need to get this core network in much faster ATAP proposes.

Along with or after building out the RTN, there is always the question of how fast we might change our streets. Do we go for the ripping the plaster off quickly method like Oslo and do the entire city centre in one go or do we incrementally work towards that.

The good news is know there is plenty of opportunity and capacity to make significant changes to how we use our streets without having to wait for a lot of big projects to be completed. For example, the City Rail Link has seen significant amounts of road capacity removed from Albert St and parts of Customs St and yet Auckland Transport’s monitoring shows almost no impact to travel speeds. That raises the question of whether we actually need to return these roads back to the way they were or even to the scale proposed post-CRL and also just how many other roads could we scale back to being more people friendly.

One on that list would of course be Queen St which would be made a transit mall with the installation of Light Rail (although it could be done before that)

Another would be on Victoria St and the linear park which is vital for moving the massive numbers of people exiting the City Rail Link but which Auckland Transport wants scrapped and four traffic lanes retained.

 

While there will always be a need for some vehicles in the city, we could and should be taking steps to make it more pedestrian, bike and transit friendly at every step. Along the way, the process of doing so will increasingly make the city more car-free and make it easier in the future to go fully car free if we ever wanted to.

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.

Mr. Bridges, open this gate. Mr. Bridges, tear down this wall!

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood by the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and called on Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to take down the wall cutting off Berlin’s east and west halves.

A photo of a photo which also includes a photo. The black and white bit is the Brandenburg Gate at the end of World War Two. The colour bit is what the gate looks like today.

In 2017, I’m calling on the Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, to take action. I could have called this post “let’s get rid of mandatory helmet laws in New Zealand” (and I’m not sure comparing Simon Bridges to Gorbachev, or me to Reagan, does either of us any favours), but let’s roll with it for now – at least it gives the post titles some variation.*

Back in September/ October 2016, I took a holiday to Europe, visiting Germany (Munich and Berlin) for the first time.

Germany is the country that gave the world Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi and Porsche. It’s the country famous for its no-speed-limit autobahns, which I remember being told about in reverent tones growing up – probably one of my strongest wired-in memories to do with Germany.

Germany today has a very different zeitgeist. I was struck by the popularity of cycling in both cities (and also by the great quality, well used public transport, but that’s a story for another day). I found the contrasts so striking that I started writing this post while I was still in Berlin, and I’ve stuck with the title that came into my head then. Because if Germany, this famous automotive country, can make cycling so popular then New Zealand can do the same. Because in Munich, Berlin, and every other great cycling city around the world, hardly anyone wears helmets.

People on bikes by the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall and decorated with street art.

Berlin today is ranked as one of the top cycling cities in the world, #12 in the Copenhagenize index. Munich is now outside the top 20 of that index, but still regarded as a very cycle-friendly city. There are bikes everywhere in Berlin, at least in the more tourist-friendly inner parts of the city. There’s a widely available bike share scheme, run by DB Bahn (who also run the public transport).

100 metres from where I stayed in Berlin, there was a cycle school – a little cycling track, mocked up with miniature street signs, cycle lanes and different turning scenarios. In Berlin, all primary-school children take a cycling safety course.

People on bikes in Berlin

People on bikes in Munich (where helmets seemed a bit more common than Berlin)

Cycling in New Zealand

New Zealand, of course, has more vehicles per capita than almost every other country in the world (712 vehicles per 1,000 people; Germany has 572). Germans make the cars, but they don’t drive them anywhere near as much as Kiwis do. Cycling in New Zealand has become a fringe, marginalised activity, although this is getting better. Cycling rates have dropped precipitously since the 1980s – they’re now climbing again, but off a very low base. With cycling, there’s safety in numbers. The lack of cyclists in New Zealand means that drivers aren’t looking out for them, so our accident and fatality rates for cycling are well above those of European countries, despite our policy of mandatory helmets.

New Zealand’s government has been quite forward-thinking on cycling in the last couple of years, launching the Urban Cycleways Programme and also spending more on cycling out of the National Land Transport Fund (of course, it’s still a tiny percentage of the overall fund). The cycleways programme was an inspired piece of policy: it provided some funding, but also leveraged this as a way to encourage councils to invest in cycleways. Costs now get split between the Urban Cycleways Fund, the NLTF, and the local council.

I think it’s quite appropriate that the cycleways programme uses funding from outside the general transport funding sector. Looking at the costs and benefits from cycling, the biggest benefits are actually health-related, and nothing to do with transport. Ideally this could be recognised by funding some cycling initiatives out of the health budget, but at least they’re coming from outside of transport.

Of course, if we make helmets optional, we’ll get much better value out of these cycleway investments – there will be more people cycling and using them. Plus, there’s much less need for helmets on cycleways – serious cycling accidents are overwhelmingly caused by collisions with cars and other vehicles, not falling off the bike.

Cycling and Health

The direct costs of cycling are pretty straightforward – it’s the amount being spent on infrastructure, whether it’s cycleways or token splashes of paint on the roads. As for indirect costs (externalities), cycling arguably has less than any other travel mode. Cyclists aren’t hurting anybody.

The benefits are a bit more complex. Like public transport, cycling helps to mitigate congestion – so car users benefit from having faster, more reliable travel times. Cycling also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Then there are the health benefits of cycling. Quoting from a 2014 paper which modelled potential cycling investment in Auckland (emphasis added):

Our findings suggest that the most effective approach would involve physical segregation on arterial roads (with intersection treatments) and low speed, bicycle-friendly local streets.

We estimate that these changes would bring large benefits to public health over the coming decades, in the tens of dollars for every dollar spent on infrastructure. The greatest benefits accrue from reduced all-cause mortality due to population-level physical inactivity.

Overall, the authors estimated that a $630 million investment in cycleways and “self-explaining roads” (traffic calming etc) would get cycling mode share to 40% by 2051, and give benefits of more than $13 billion, with a benefit:cost ratio of 24:1. Pretty good really. And we’ve found so far that the benefit:cost ratios for cycleways, at least the ones getting funded by the Urban Cycleways Programme, are often an order of magnitude higher than what we get for roads.

So, riding a bike is good for fitness and keeps you healthier for longer. At the New Zealand level, if more people cycled we’d have a healthier population, with lower mortality.

The next step: making helmets optional

Now, let’s have the conversation around helmet laws. Looking at the international picture: New Zealand’s compulsory helmet laws make us an international outlier. The evidence on their effectiveness has been mixed at best. Yes, helmets can reduce the severity of head injuries; but they’re also a barrier to cycling uptake.

We don’t know for sure in New Zealand, because the research hasn’t been done. But here’s my personal view. If we got rid of the law that says you have to wear a helmet while cycling, we’d have more people on bikes. This means car drivers will pay more attention to them, and drive more carefully. As such, it’s not clear whether the rate of serious head injuries (and in the worst case, deaths) would rise or fall. It depends on which effect dominates – cyclists being less likely to wear helmets so getting more severely injured, or drivers being more alert around cyclists. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter effect wins out.

But here’s the thing – even if the latter effect doesn’t win out, it’s probably still a good idea to get rid of the law. Because there are all the other benefits from cycling to consider too – a healthier, fitter population, plus the congestion and emissions benefits. Those benefits are likely to be much greater than any ‘net’ cost from having more cyclists injured.

We’ve got an unusual split of powers in New Zealand:

  • The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) funds the costs of accident injuries. Every time a car slams into a cyclist, it’s ACC who pays for it. Understandably, ACC is all about doing things that reduce the risk and severity of injury (helmets can help with the latter, and don’t help and may even hurt the former). As noted above, it’s not clear whether making helmets optional would be better or worse for this.
  • The Ministry of Health handles the remainder of the public health system. They should be very interested in things which boost the general state of health among New Zealanders, such as cycling.
  • The police are responsible for enforcing the helmet law. It’s positive to see that cops aren’t fining cyclists as often as they used to, but ultimately they’re still giving out fines because that’s what the law says.

ACC and the Ministry of Health are more or less separate, with separate departments and different Ministers. The police are also separate, of course. These different organisations may have differing views on cycling and helmets, given their different responsibilities. We need a consensus-builder (a Gorbachev or perhaps a Bridges?) to bring the parties together and make, the right decision to give the best outcome for society.

Mr Bridges, it’s time to open this gate, and let the cyclists through. In order to get the most from the Urban Cycleways Programme, to encourage cycling as an everyday activity, and to unlock the health benefits, we need to get rid of the helmet law and make helmets optional.

* It also seems kind of unnecessary to have gates, walls and Bridges all mentioned in the title, but such is life

The Bike Blueprint 2020 – where should Auckland invest in cycling next?

This is a cross post from our friends over at Bike Auckland. It was written by Max

The Urban Cycleway Fund has given a huge boost to new bike facilities over the last few years – but its initial 3-year funding period ends in mid 2018. And well before that happens, both Auckland Transport and NZTA will need to have a strong vision of where to go next, and a programme of projects prioritized and ready to go.

That’s why, over the last six months, Bike Auckland has been working behind the scenes on the next tranche of Auckland’s bike infrastructure, 2018-2021.

With an eye to round numbers – and the “vision thing” – we called it the Auckland Bike Blueprint 2020, and have been sharing it with AT and NZTA to help inform their official plans.

If you’ve been to recent Bike Auckland meetings, you may have seen earlier iterations of the Blueprint – but this is the first time we have shown it online. Read on to find out how we developed this vision, and where and why we want to see more cycleways in the next funding period…

The “Routes” and “Areas” base maps combine together to form the Bike Blueprint (read on for explanations, links, and close-ups).

What is the Bike Blueprint?

The blueprint shows Bike AKL’s proposed priorities for Auckland cycling infrastructure over the ~3-5 years from 2018.

These priorities are set out in two key maps: The Routes, which are new key backbone links; and The Areas, which are coordinated approaches to a whole suburb or sector.

What is it not?

It isn’t a citywide network – that’s a much larger and longer project. Rather, it’s parts of the future Auckland cycle network that we think can and should be prioritized in the next funding and building period.

It isn’t everywhere – because if you prioritise everything (much as we’d like to!), you prioritise nothing. And by scattering your investment across the map, you risk not making the kind of measurable difference needed to guarantee more investment. But be assured that as we cut our strategic cloth to fit the vision, questions like “Is this fair?” and “Shouldn’t this area get something?” were some of the most difficult and most hotly debated.

It isn’t Greenways – but we do see Greenways as a smart way over the coming years to ensure bike-friendly changes in areas that are not being prioritized with major chunks of AT or NZTA funding. We’re also alert to local“windows of opportunity” in areas we haven’t prioritized, which can provide unexpected chances for improving cycling as part of unrelated projects.

How did you develop the maps?

We looked at the following key criteria for investment:

  • Potential users (employment / residents)
  • Gaps & opportunities in the bike network (aiming to Ungap the Map, as our Vancouver mates phrase it)
  • Planned housing development & planned transport projects
  • Positive feedback loops between the “routes” and “areas”

More on all that as we go through…

So, what are the “Routes”?

Continue reading The Bike Blueprint 2020 – where should Auckland invest in cycling next?

AMETI finally moving forward

One of the items I had on my list to write about this year was to ask what was happening with the AMETI busway. That’s because since at least as far back as September 2015, the notice of requirement for the Panmure to Pakuranga section has been listed in AT’s board reports as being due to be lodged within the next three months. In April last year they even put out a press release saying they’d lodged the notification but nothing was heard since. Well now they’ve finally said the project is open for public submissions.

The Panmure to Pakuranga section, otherwise known as AMETI Section 2A, includes a number of big changes, such as:

  • The notorious Panmure roundabout will be replaced by a signalised intersection
  • About 2.4km of urban busway from Panmure to Pakuranga – an urban busway means there’ll still be some at grade intersections, as opposed to the Northern Busway which is grade separated, although some current intersections with Pakuranga Rd will be closed.
  • The route will have a mix of shared paths or and dedicated bike facilities
  • The busway and walking/cycling paths will be accommodated on a new, dedicated bridge crossing the Tamaki River
  • Changes to how side roads in Pakuranga interact with Pakuranga Rd, this includes linking some cul-de-sac’s together so only one intersection is needed.

The intersection that will replace the Panmure roundabout

The busway can’t come soon enough. East Auckland is easily the poorest served part of the urban area when it comes to public transport and as such it’s no coincidence that PT usage is low leading to a high reliance on driving and of course, congestion. The low use of PT is easily seen in this map of census data based on journey to work data showing East Auckland being equivalent in usage to rural areas. The busway will help extend decent quality PT further into the east, especially when combined with a quick, easy and free transfer at Panmure to the rail network.

Here are a couple more images suggesting what the project will look like.

Stage 2A is shown in the map below in yellow and is the first stage in what will eventually be a 7km busway that extends all the way to Botany. AT have also said they plan to put bus lanes up Pakuranga Rd towards Highland Park and that too and combined, will make PT much more useful and reliable in the east.

In their press release, AT do say they’ve made some changes to the design based on earlier feedback and that the changes include:

  • Changes to the design of the Panmure intersection.
  • Adding in a U-turn facility on Queens Road in Panmure.
  • Moving the proposed new Panmure Bridge 5m north to future proof the upgrade of the existing road bridge.
  • Widening Williams Avenue in Pakuranga to allow parking on both sides and two lanes of traffic.
  • Improvements to property access along the route.

Along with the public submissions opening for this stage of the project, AT have also released a new video of the project.

In both the video and the press release there are a couple of things that caught my attention, the biggest of which was the positive language used. For example from the video:

  • “Imagine getting into Auckland City from Pakuranga in less than 30 minutes”
  • “A new congestion free urban busway will provide a fast, reliable travel alternative”
  • “When the busway is finished, you can travel stress free between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany”

While the press release said

Auckland Transport AMETI Eastern Busway Project Director Duncan Humphrey says the project will deliver the initial stage of New Zealand’s first urban busway, allowing bus travel on congestion-free lanes between Panmure and Pakuranga.

“AMETI is aimed at improving transport choices and better connecting residents of east Auckland to the rest of the city.”

“The Panmure to Pakuranga section of AMETI will allow buses to travel on congestion-free lanes. It’ll mean quicker, more frequent and reliable buses on lanes separate to general traffic, making public transport more attractive and improving the quality of service. It will also see major improvements for both cyclists and pedestrians giving them safer, more direct connections.

It’s fantastic to see AT using the term “Congestion Free”. When we created the Congestion Free Network back in 2013, one of the key aims was to get AT to improve how it discussed and presented rapid transit. We encouraged them to embrace the network and terminology and it appears they’ve done just that.

The video also highlights a couple of other things too, that the existing Panmure Bridge will be replaced in about 20 years with a fourth general traffic lane added – which seems odd given the changes above will leave Lagoon Dr with only a single lane each way for general traffic. It also shows that AT are still pushing on with the Reeves Rd flyover, at a time when many cities are, or are planning to tear down similar structures.

As part of the notification, AT are holding some open days for the project. The details are

Date

Time

Venue

14 February 2017 6.30am – 9.30am Panmure Station, mezzanine level
16 February 2017 4pm – 9pm Pakuranga Plaza (outside Farmers)
18 February 2017 6pm – 10pm Pakuranga night markets, Westfield (under The Warehouse)

Overall, it’s good to finally see some progress on this project which has been on the books now for over decade. AMETI was born out of the failed pushed for an eastern motorway by the likes of John Banks. It started as a scaled down version of that motorway plan but positively, over time it has morphed into a more balanced transport project although it still retains some of its heritage in the likes of the proposed Reeves Rd Flyover. The biggest concern however is the timing, even this section of busway (if the consent is approved), is not expected to start construction till about 2021.