In this recent post Matt asked why we were still building dangerous intersections. One part of his post caught my eye, specifically proposed changes to the intersection of SH1 and SH26 in the Waikato. The location of this intersection is shown below.

SH1 and SH26a

You can see that the intersection exists firmly within the Hamilton urban area. Moreover,  I understand the area to the east is planned for residential growth in the future. I.e. there will be more and more residential development to the east.

The reason this caught my eye is because the proposed changes, in my opinion, seem likely to result in a horrific clusterfuck of an intersection that will, at a minimum, destroy urban amenity and, potentially, result in pedestrian carnage. In my opinion, this roundabout design is completely inappropriate for an urban area. And unlike NZTA I don’t agree t hat potential delays to vehicles are sufficient reason to provide wholly unsatisfactory facilities for pedestrians. Facilities that are so lacking that they seem likely to increase the risk of injuries to pedestrians who need to cross at this intersection.

The proposed changes are illustrated below.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

Now I should mention that the NZTA press release for the changes mentions an additional pedestrian crossing is to be located on SH26 to the east, which I presume (although can’t be sure) is beyond the extent of works shown above. The press release also noted the presence of a pedestrian underpass on SH1 to the south, which is being retained in the new design.

What NZTA are proposing for the southern and eastern approaches to the roundabout is relatively poor practice and ill-suited to an urban area such as this.

But perhaps most importantly, the proposed pedestrian facilities don’t seem to address what happens on the western approach to the roundabout. As anyone can easily see from StreetView below, NZTA’s beautiful junkspace landscaping is *already* being severely trampled beneath the feet of hapless pedestrians as they scamper across the existing road. QED there’s an existing problem that needs to be resolved, not ignored as the proposed design has done.


Anyway, I was sufficiently motivated by this proposal to start digging for more information.

The background study for these intersection changes was completed in 2008. Given that it’s now almost 8 years since the study was completed, I thought I’d go and look at traffic volumes since that time. In the figure below I’ve totalled the AADT on the two closest counts on SH1 and SH26 over time (NB: This will double-count many vehicles, which is why the total AADT shown here is significantly higher than the figure of 37,000 vehicles per day using the intersection that is quoted in the NZTA in their press release. Nonetheless it’s likely to be broadly indicative of general trends in AADT).


The volumes bobble around a bit, although current AADT is about 3% below the level achieved in 2008, i.e. the time that the report supporting the proposed changes was developed. Is it reasonable to assume that vehicle volumes will increase or decrease from here?

Well, there’s some growth out this way so it’s plausible to suggest there may be more demand. On the other hand, there’s one major question that I’m not confident is addressed by the studies associated with this upgrade: The Waikato Expressway, specifically the Hamilton section.

For those who aren’t familiar with this project, it’s part of the RoNS programme.

While I’m no fan of the RoNS programme per se, if these projects are to go ahead then I would at least expect NZTA to maximise their potential benefits, especially with regards to re-configuring parallel routes to support more livable urban places. In this context, the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway is  high-speed, high-capacity route that seems likely to shift vehicles away from the existing SH1 and away from this roundabout. Construction of the Hamilton section is expected to start in 2016 with a target opening date of 2019.

I note that the NZTA website states that the Hamilton section of the expressway will:

  • Connect the Ngaruawahia section of the Expressway, completed in late 2013, to the Cambridge section, due for completion in late 2016.
  • Reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on Hamilton’s local road network by significantly reducing through traffic.”

And yet NZTA’s proposed changes to the SH1 and SH26 intersection (which appear to have been formulated prior to the RoN being confirmed) are designed to increase capacity.

One has to wonder why the NZ Transport Agency is spending $2 million to create a situation that is more dangerous for pedestrians than the present one, while at the same time spending the best part of half a billion dollars building a high-speed bypass around the same intersection.

Call me a simpleton if you will but I would have thought the more logical sequence of actions would be:

  1. Complete the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway in the next 3 years as planned; and
  2. Monitor changes to vehicle volumes in response to growth (which apparently is quite low at the moment) and expressway; and
  3. Develop options for the intersection which respond to these changes, but which are also appropriate for an urban area.

In terms of #3, this really brings us full circle. I cannot understand why NZTA would think the proposed design is appropriate for an urban area. I can tell you that in my opinion it’s most certainly not. While I’ll reserve my full and final judgment until I have more detailed information to consider, the proposed intersection seems to compromise pedestrian safety to a level bordering on negligence.

I know that’s a big call so let me present some reasons why:

  1. The design does not seem to meet the present need for a pedestrian crossing on the westbound SH1 approach, e.g. to access the adjacent school. There is already demand for this pedestrian movement, as we can see from StreetView. This demand will only increase as the area develops in the future.
  2. The approaches are wider than the current facility. The western approach on SH1 , for example, is three lanes wide. This will increase the distance pedestrians will have to cross before they reach the landscaped sliver of land in the middle of the road.
  3. The design incorporates features that seem likely to increase vehicle speeds. The western approach on SH1, for example, now includes what is effectively a “slip lane” for vehicles travelling through. This features will enable/encourage vehicles to maintain their speed on their approach to (and exit from) the intersection. This will increase risks to pedestrians who (legitimately) need to cross the western approach, and the severity of accidents.

I draw two *preliminary* conclusions from all this. First, the proposed changes to the intersection is unacceptably dangerous for pedestrians and should not proceed as designed. Second, the proposed intersection has been designed without consideration of the Waikato Expressway and thus are likely to represent poor value for money and low strategic fit.

I’d really like to know what others think: Am I mis-reading the situation here? Or is it as bad as it looks? An outdated and seemingly dangerous design being imposed on what is very much an urban area, just prior to a major expressway bypass opens? What is going on?

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  1. “The design does not seem to meet the present need for a pedestrian crossing on the westbound SH1 approach, e.g. to access the adjacent school. There is already demand for this pedestrian movement, as we can see from StreetView. This demand will only increase as the area develops in the future.”

    Not arguing, but can you highlight where such a pedestrian crossing would be. As it is, there is an underpass under Cambridge Road directly outside Hillcrest Normal School.

  2. Spot on Stu. I agree with your assessment. This is negligent and only takes LOS for motor vehicles into account. Which is, as you’ve mentioned, ludicrous when you consider the RoN going around the city.

    1. Because pedestrians don’t use them either. When walking the obvious direct route should be supported because that’s what will be used, regardless of other roundabout options, no matter how safe.

      1. One should also know that the island has another underpass crossing Cambridge Road on the southbound leg, allowing access to the mall from Morrinsville Road.

        It has been a nasty piece of work for some time.

  3. While I am not a traffic engineer, I grew up walking, cycling and driving to the New World from the Northwest so I feel well qualified to give some local’s insight.

    First, let me point out that this intersection has always been absolutely terrible for drivers. People frequently turn right from the left lane (mostly from SH26), and people coming out of the Burger King exit have very limited views of traffic to their right (coming from SH1). So some tweaks to improve traffic management would no doubt be beneficial.

    As it is, I agree with you wholeheartedly about waiting for the Waikato Expressway. This is quite likely to dramatically reduce traffic at this intersection, which will be huge in its own right.

    But I don’t know that an additional pedestrian crossing is strictly necessary. There is an underpass 200m to the west, right outside Hillcrest Normal School, so really the only people who are scampering across the road are those for who are willing to risk life and limb to get to the fish’n’chip shop, instead of taking a 200m walk. I’d suggest that the better policy approach would be to rezone the fish’n’chip shop to residential. It creates poor traffic outcomes and does not serve any function that isn’t fulfilled directly across the road. In that situation the only households for whom there would be any incentive to run across the road would be in the orange box in this link

    1. “rezone the fish’n’chip shop to residential” I think that’s a bit backwards, the problem is putting a design suitable for a rural highway in the middle of an urban area.

      As of why people tend to not use underpasses, I’m not sure. In my experience walking through an underpass is never really pleasant and can feel a bit dodgy at night. And here in NZ I’ve gotten quite used to risking life and limb to get across. There’s no immediate thought of “that’s weird, how am I supposed to get across?” Traffic-island-hopping is the norm.

      1. Might be a bit of a chicken and egg situation then, I’m sure the fish’n’chips (or their predecessor) were established at a time when this road was a lot less busy, and gradually over time the combination of the two has become an ugly one.

        I guess the question then becomes one of how much are we willing to spend to provide an alternative for people who are willing to island-hop instead of making a 200m walk.

    2. Except that the orange box includes St Francis’ Church (marked “92” on your map), which provides a public walkway between Morrinsville Road and points north, with Hillcrest High students prominent among its many users. Not that you’d guess that from the NZTA design.

      1. Good point, I forgot about nipping through the church. Again though there’s a crossing 100m up SH26 (although good luck getting the high-schoolers to use it!)

    3. “…the only people who are scampering across the road are those for who are willing to risk life and limb to get to the fish’n’chip shop, instead of taking a 200m walk”

      Gosh, only 200m; why would they risk life and limb? 200m won’t seem much in a car; at urban speeds that’s about 12-15s. But for a pedestrian? More like 2-3 minutes at typical speeds.

      Suggesting that people should just walk x00m to the nearest crossing point ignores the simple reality that human beings generally WON’T make that detour if they can get across more directly. And trying to prevent from making the direct route is more likely to just put them off walking altogether.

  4. Having participated in a recent “safer systems” course put up by NZTA, I must say that the presentation that I most disagreed with – most of the others were excellent – was the roundabout one. It seemed weird to me seeing the many ways multi-lane roundabouts disadvantage pedestrians and cyclists that this was still being pushed, and hard (partly because “its a safe system for car drivers”).

    One of the arguments the presenter brought in favour of multi-lane roundabouts, when I challenged him on it, was his argument that that this kind of design was acceptable because it wasn’t being proposed for urban areas. It seems this is in reality not the case however, bringing us full circle again to this totally inappropriate design.

  5. Hamiltron is south of the Bombay Hils. Therefore, this is not a relevant issue to Auckland or modern civilisation in general.

    Seriously though, I can agree it is a waste of money, but we can’t really prove that this design is dangerous at all. Looks like plenty of solid medians which you can see pedestrians do use. It is on the fringe of the town and probably far less peds than a more central location. Statistically it is pretty safe for the able-bodied with 1-way flow of traffic. It is far safer than a 4 lane road with no median at all. At least they aren’t suggesting sticking up fences on the median. There is a safe crossing for pedestrians, but it is probably a bit far away. Granted it appears to be a 60kmph zone so that means cars are doing 70kmph so vehicles can be quick through there but the two roundabouts will help slow speeds down presuming balanced flows. Basically they are not making it worse than current. If there were a serious pedestrian safety issue present, then NZTA would deal with it in the proposed design. It is part of their mandate. But there is a big difference between a dangerous design and a standard design that doesn’t do anything for pedestrians. It’s probably terrible for cyclists though no matter what you do there.

    1. Really, you think that the NZTA who also control hundreds of kilometres worth of roads in Auckland building shit roads is not relevant to Auckland?

    2. Think of the children. Children are less able to estimate how long it will take a fast-moving car to arrive. Cars tend to go fast through those big roundabouts.

      And think of the less able-bodied. They still have the right to use our streets.

  6. Is there any way we can object to it, or is $2m being wasted whatever anyone thinks? The Expressway is claimed to be good for the economy, yet NZTA can’t readily tell me how much the total cost is, nor the total area taken up; I asked 2 months ago and haven’t yet got an answer. If they don’t know, they’re clearly not checking if they’re getting value for money.

    1. That’s because the expressway is still in tender phase at the moment and the initial cost estimates are based on a high level specimen design by opus which will likely be optioneered down by the two main proponent alliances. Similarly the final alignment isn’t fixed yet as this will be a key area of cost saving by the proponent alliances.

  7. Having worked at this New World, and lived just down the road from the intersection, I can confirm it is a total cluster for pedestrians. Trying to cross to the fish’n’chip shop (which was, at the time I lived there, an amazing store) in the rain is essentially playing Russian Roulette. Detouring for hundreds of metres to the underpass is not an attractive option, either. Also, accessing the stores by car from that roundabout is terrifying, as you crossing multiple lanes of impatient traffic, held up by a roundabout that has massively imbalanced traffic flows.

    The solution would be to make the roundabout into a set of lights which have the SH1 citybound traffic with a green light at all times (except for a pedestrian phase), with a controlled right turn lane, and a merging lane for the Morinsville Road traffic. There could be left in/left out at the lights from the shops, but no access across to/from Morrinsville Road. People travelling from SH26 who wanted to access the shops could go left at the lights, and then take the current right turn into McCracken Ave. Similarly, those wanting SH26 from the shops would turn left from McCracken, then right at the lights.

    Essentially, the intersection would function as a more urban version of Otaika/Rewa Rewa Road intersection (also SH1) in Whangarei, or for an Auckland example, the Southeastern Highway/Waipuna Road lights, if you could turn right from Waipuna Road. I’m no traffic engineer but I think this would actually improve traffic flows, and allow for a signalized pedestrian phase on what’s currently the northern leg of the roundabout.

    The only issue is the fact that some people use the roundabout to u-turn, due to the solid median north of it that prevents right turns. Exactly how this could be addressed, I don’t know; perhaps the right turn merge lane from SH26 could have its entry angled so as to enable u-turns from southbound on SH1 (perhaps in their own lane). Surely it’s possible.

  8. They have lots of these multi-lane roundabouts on similar roads in the UK, all of them have traffic lights on them. The traffic lights have two purposes – allow pedestrians to cross, and balance out uneven flows of traffic. I’ve never understood why we don’t put traffic lights on our roundabouts, surely the likes of Greenlane / motorway and royal oak are crying out for it. There were traffic lights at the temporary roundabout at the end of the south-western motorway when it was being extended and my understanding was that they were really successful.
    Personally I’d prefer just a standard set of traffic lights but if we have to have roundabouts why not put traffic lights on them?

  9. NZTA have been doing this for decades. I.e., when they are about to give up a state highway to a local council, because they’ve by-passed it with a new state highway, they massively upgrade the old road before handing it over.

    I well remember the upgrades they carried out on the old SH1 between Albany and Silverdale whilst at the same time building the new motorway. A few years later they resealed the entire length of the old Upper Harbour Drive portion of SH18 with a high performance asphalt designed to quiet and smooth traffic noise, whilst they were building the new Greenhithe motorway that would remove most of the traffic from the upgraded old route.

    They seem to like the idea of spending up large and improving or providing more capacity on roads they are planning to lower usage on. They should be just walking away from them without spending a cent.

  10. This scheme is simply a product of the blinkered transport-culture of our time.

    Until we get a complete culture-shift, the traffic-first mentality looks set to continue in Aotearoada.

    We need a change of government, but with the drooping profile of the Greens since Russel Norman’s unhelpful departure, the voice for transport-reform is growing weak.

    Labour is as uninspired and as uninspiring as ever. What do those guys actually stand for? I don’t think they know.

    The only other hope is that Winston will get more active on this subject. He may end up with a large party-vote-share after the next election, if Lab and Grn don’t lift their game.

  11. Thankfully we have NZTA to balance out the loony section of our society that wants to destroy vehicle flow for no good reason.

    As the article states the new bypass will take some traffic away from this area. With lower traffic flows pedestrians will have no problem finding a space to cross the road at their leisure. As has been shown by the mown down foliage, pedestrians are successfully crossing at the moment. With less traffic there will be few issues for pedestrians.

    There is no need to over-engineer our roads to cater to every special interest group that wants to spend public money to fulfil their fantasy about the world should look like.

    Common Sense and courtesy, not rules and regulations.

  12. As a current resident of hillcrest on cambridge road I can see the potential risks to pedestrians. My son uses the underpass by burger King, but still has to cross on Morrinsville road. Having the slip lane meaning no need to slow down could cause this area to become more of a risk to pedestrians. There are three major schools in this area, hundreds of school kids that use these areas everyday. It is a potential recipe for some nasty outcomes.

  13. I also live in the Hillcrest area and cannot believe what they are doing to the roundabout. It would have to be the most dangerous one in Hamilton and it is only going to become more dangerous. Never mind the traffic flow, which I am in every day. I also use the New World shopping centre and trying to get out of there to go straight through to Morrinsville road is taking your life in your own hands. Traffic comes flying down SH1 from Cambridge and you just have to put your foot down when you see a slight gap and hope like hell that the traffic coming the other way sees you as they are generally flying through also. The bypass isn’t going to be finished for a few years so there will be even more accidents happening. What is wrong with lights to give everyone a fair go – pedestrians included.

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