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.

What’s causing Upper Harbour Dr congestion

Last week the Upper Harbour Local Board passed a resolution (below) to try and get Auckland Transport to rip out recently installed cycle lanes near the intersection of Upper Harbour Dr (UHD) and Albany Highway. It’s a section of road that I am very familiar with as I use it regularly when I ride to work.

That the Upper Harbour Local Board:

request that Auckland Transport urgently revert to the board with an interim solution regarding the potential to reinstate the second vehicle lane near the intersection between Upper Harbour Drive and Albany Highway, by evaluating options including a shared cycle path and walkway.

The cycle lanes along UHD were installed last year and I’ve previously written about how AT removed the existing broken yellow lines (BYLs) when installing the cycle lanes resulting in locals parking in the cycle lanes. This issue wasn’t unique to UHD but something good came from it with AT agreeing to change their policy and mark BYLs on all cycle lanes.

So what’s the problem this time?

This year UHD has been noticeably more congested this year than it has in the past. On the worst day I’ve seen the slow moving queue was over 2km long* although that’s an extreme – I’ve definitely been thankful to have been on my bike and not caught up in that.

Upper Harbour Drive Congested 3

Drivers and residents have been complaining to the local board about the congestion and all have taken a correlation equals causation position on the matter. In their view the problems all stem from the creation of the cycle lanes. You can see the old layout on the Google Maps image below where for about 200m prior to the intersection there were two lanes, one for each direction.

Upper Harbour Drive old layout

And here’s what it looks like now from Streetview. The cycleway extends to the intersection. You can still see the old lane markings.

Upper Harbour Drive new layout - streetview

Here’s what the local board chair told our friends at Bike Auckland:

Since the upgrade we have had too many complaints to count and have asked the residents for patience. We met with representatives several months ago, but the issue has only worsened. The peak time queue is at pre motorway levels.

The issue is the merge to one lane meaning cars wanting to make a free left onto Albany Highway have to wait. The police have been involved due to driver behaviour with people reported driving up the berm along the footpath etc. it is unsafe. There are corresponding issues on Albany highway with cars driving straight ahead in the right turn lane to jump the queue but that has nothing to do with the cycle lanes – it is the function of the junction as a whole.

It is noted that since the road changes there is significant additional traffic using it from the several hundred new homes in Hobsonville, Whenuapai and beyond. We have substantial delays on all of our arterial roads but this one has been exacerbated by the on road cycle lane.

What we are investigating is whether we can relocate the cycle lane on to the footpath and reinstate the free left. We do not wish to remove the cycle lane. Neither the footpath nor cycle lane is busy at peak times with commuter traffic but is well used at weekends by recreational cyclists. Over time with the many hundreds more homes planned in the surrounding area the delays will get longer and we will need to look at bus priority measures.

I don’t think it is car vs cyclist in this case but getting the most out of what we have with a population growing almost daily.

Even the local Community Constable is blaming the cycle lanes and pushing for the cycle lane to be removed or able to be used by cars.

Below are some observations I’ve made from travelling through here:

  • Northbound towards the commercial area (over 15k jobs) north/east of Albany Highway is frequently more congested than southbound traffic. In the few times I’ve driven to work I’ve also noticed the left turn off the motorway is normally much more backed up than the right turn.
  • I’ve frequently observed cars simply ignore the cycle lane and try and use it as an extra vehicle lane- ultimately they end up blocking the cycle lane.
  • The footpath is too narrow to be a shared path and widening it wouldn’t be cheap and would lead to poorer outcomes for those on bikes or walking (not many). For one it would likely increase the risk for those like myself who are turning right as we would have to cross the slip lane reach the right turn lane.
  • Returning the road to a three lane configuration would also likely require the removal of the westbound cycle lane.
  • If it’s new development which is causing the issue, then any change is only likely to have short term benefits at best before it’s all congested again.

By now you might be asking, “but didn’t we just build a parallel motorway, why aren’t people using that?” The image below is from Tauhinu Rd which crosses over SH18 at the southern end of UHD. Like UHD it only seems to have become so congested this year.

SH18 Congested - Tauhinu Rd

This changes the question to “why are both of these routes suddenly seem so much more congested than they were last year?”

The answer to that is actually quite simple, and is one of the oldest reasons in the book – roadworks. For some time now Auckland Transport have been working on Albany Highway and since about the middle of last year that work has focused on the southern section which is the one that most affects traffic to and from the commercial area. Those road works are due to finish later this year. That needs to be completed before any assessment is even considered.

It’s also worth pointing out that traffic isn’t always bad. This was taken last week at the same time and day of the week as the first photos. It was also taken the same day as the image above. The road was empty all the way to the intersection. Perhaps the congestion on UHD was being exacerbated by people trying to use UHD as a rat run to avoid the motorway?

Upper Harbour Drive Uncongested

I’ll obviously be watching closely to see how Auckland Transport respond to this request from the local board. It seems to me a case of correlation does not equal causation and if it is decided that the only way to get bike infrastructure is only if it never impacts drivers then it will be a very much longer and more expensive to make any meaningful progress.

 

* the 2km long queue appeared to be the result of the drivers rubbernecking at the police stopping drivers who travelled through the intersection illegally.

Another case for Yellow Paint?

With the government is now seemingly on-board with the need for safe urban cycling and Auckland Transport are about to embark on some great new cycling projects. Unfortunately it seems a shadowy group within AT are working to make the few cycle facilities we already have decidedly less safe. This issue has been really highlighted to me with some new cycle lanes I use.

I ride to/from work once a week and my route takes me via Upper Harbour Dr, the road that was formerly a semi-rural state highway until the SH18 motorway opened less than a decade ago. The road still has a speed limit that is a hang-over from its former status of 70km/h and provided little in the way of facilities for walking or cycling. In fact much of the road didn’t even have a footpath requiring people (including school children walking to bus stops) to walk on the road. In short it wasn’t great for any one not in a car but at least the road was fairly wide and importantly yellow lines along its length meant there were never any cars parked. As such it was easy for (most) drivers to give plenty of space. Here’s an example of what the road looked like.

Upper Harbour Before

Given its lack of facilities for walking and cycling and that it is the only route cyclists can use to ride between the North Shore and anywhere else in the region – without taking a ferry, bring on Skypath – AT decided to do something about it. The project was to add a new footpath on one side of the road and cycle lanes on both sides. Due to the speed of vehicles they also proposed those cycle lanes have an extra buffer zone.

https://at.govt.nz/projects-roadworks/upper-harbour-drive-walking-cycling-improvements/

The project has been underway for some months and is almost at completion with seemingly the only thing left to do is add a few bike symbols on one side. All good so far but ….

As part the process to install the painted cycle lanes the existing yellow no parking lines were removed. In probably no surprise to anyone pretty quickly the local residents took advantage of this change and cars started appearing parked on the street. At this time the markings for the cycle lane were still going in so I was told by AT to wait till this process was complete.

Fast forward to this week and as mentioned above the project is nearly completed with one side fully marked and the other not far off. Below are just a few examples that of what I’ve encountered on my ride, forcing me and other cyclists out in to the general traffic lane with vehicles going 70km/h – many much faster.

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 3

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 4

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 5

Upper Harbour Cars Parked - 6

There’s something seriously wrong when the process of installing cycle infrastructure leads to a reduction in safety for people on bikes. The problem all stems not from the lanes themselves but the fact that the yellow lines were removed. Like parking on footpaths I suspect many drivers have either forgotten or don’t realise that parking in a cycle lane is illegal. By comparison compliance of yellow lines is very high.

So I asked Auckland Transport for a few comments on why they removed the yellow lines here (and in other cases that I’m aware of), especially seeing as some cycle lanes do also include yellow lines. I’d also heard that the decision not to include yellow lines was made by a group within called the Traffic Control Committee who I understand have to sign off road designs. Here’s their response.

Motorists are not allowed to stop, stand or park in a cycle lane, relevant section is 6.6 of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004.

The requirements for marking cycle lanes are outlined in section 11.2 of the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004. A road controlling authority is not required to install broken yellow line markings to indicate that motorists should not park in cycle lanes. However, Section 12.1 (3) of the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004 does allow a road controlling authority to install broken yellow lines if it deems it necessary.

Some of the legacy Council’s choose to install broken yellow line markings in addition to the cycle lane markings and some did not. This resulted in inconsistencies across the region, in some cases customers believed that if the broken yellow lines were not present they were allowed to park in the cycle lane.

In order to address this issue the Traffic Control Committee issued a directive in December 2014 advising that broken yellow lines should no longer be installed in cycle lanes. Existing broken yellow lines would be allowed to fade and would not be remarked. The purposes of this directive was to try to move the region towards a consistent approach that customers could easily understand.

The Traffic Control Committee consists of the Manager Road Corridor Access, Manager Parking and Enforcement, and Manager Road Corridor Operations. Authority for passing resolutions under bylaws was delegated by the Auckland Transport Board of Directors to the Traffic Control Committee at its meeting of 26 October 2010.

In my view this is group have been negligent and as a result created unsafe environments – ones that will do nothing to encourage more people to ride a bike. It also seems completely at odds with how we treat road safety elsewhere such as actively designing roads to reduce hazards. What’s it all for, saving a little bit on the cost of yellow paint?

Of course AT could always go out and actively enforce the no parking rules however we we’ve seen that is only likely to drivers feeling like they’re being victimised. It also has the potential to create animosity between locals and those on bikes.

Lastly who thinks those buffers would be the perfect place for a few flexi poles or perhaps