This is a cross post from our good friends over at Bike Auckland.

Just in time for Halloween, we have a dark and terrifying tale for you. Remember Victoria St and Calliope Road? This Devonport intersection is an often busy and rather tricky one, with a sharp bend, a downhill, and a pedestrian crossing to a school. In 2014, Auckland Transport was tasked with making the dangerous situation safer for everyone and for people on bikes in particular.

After considering a roundabout, in May 2017 AT came up with a design featuring raised bike/walk crossings and dedicated bike lanes. Amazing progress! Sure, there were some pro forma grumbles from the Local Board about the cost, but something urgently needs to be done at this intersection (three years and counting) and as we asked at the time: What price safety?

Then, just as it seemed a solution was at hand – something alarming happened.

Gentle reader, steel yourself. Those of extremely delicate constitutions may wish to look away, or at least move your coffee cups away from your keyboards.

In the last few weeks, Auckland Transport seems to have decided the safest thing  to do is…

…to do away with the bike lanes altogether!

Wait, WHAT? Or: how did we get here?

In August 2014 and September 2015, Bike Auckland submitted on the original roundabout design – generally a thumbs up, with several recommendations for improvement. (That design was shelved in 2016 because the project exceeded the $300k threshold for NZTA funding.)

In May 2017, AT came up with a modified T-intersection design. Again, we were generally in favour – something needs to be done! – and recommended a number of enhancements to make it better for people on bikes.

In October 2017 we became aware that AT had commissioned a Road Safety Audit (RSA) of their design… and that in order to address aspects of the audit, AT proposed getting rid of the cycle lanes.

But WHY?

Patience, dear reader. Here’s AT’s logic for removing the bike lanes from the design:

  • The Road Safety Audit identified a ‘Moderate’ level concern around the lack of queueing space for cars turning into Calliope Road, which could potentially lead to a collision, as illustrated below.
  • So, wouldn’t you just move the crossing slightly to the west, so a single car could wait without intruding on the crossing or the cycle lane? Smart thinking: we’d suggested as such in our May submission, and that’s also exactly what the RSA suggested as a solution here.

  • But alas! AT claims this is too hard, because of a driveway on the southern side near the crossing. They claim they can’t move the crossing too far west, or it would be ignored by pedestrians. (Note: the RSA suggested re-aligning/ re-locating the driveway further westward, away from the crossing, if needed).
  • AT also claims they can’t just widen the cycle lane or move it a little eastward because heavy vehicles might intrude on it as they sweep round the corner. (Again, the RSA was all over this one as well: it noted that the very large vehicles these tracking curves were designed for are rare on this route, which is why it rated this potential safety issue as ‘minor’.)
  • Therefore, AT proposes removing the northbound bike lane…
  • … and, for ‘consistency’, they propose to also remove the southbound bike lane.

And that’s how we end up with a design with no bike lanes. Because, consistency.

But… but… that’s not OK – is it?

It’s really, really not OK. But AT says it’s acceptable, because:

  • This is an ‘intersection improvement project’, not a cycling project.
  • An extra ramped crossing further down Victoria Rd will slow vehicles down, so it’s fine for cars and bikes to share the road here.
  • And anyway, in a few years, a grand plan for cycling in the Devonport area may well see Copenhagen lanes and a proper traffic-calmed environment for Devonport Village. All things come to those who wait!

Bike Auckland rejects this reasoning on both technical and strategic grounds.

The technical case for keeping the bike lanes

Firstly, adding an additional ramped crossing further down Victoria Rd will not promote a sufficiently traffic-calmed environment to enhance cyclist safety at this intersection, and will do nothing to encourage new cyclists to give it a try.

Secondly, going back to the Road Safety Audit: RSAs breaks issues down into four classifications: Serious, Significant, Medium and Minor.  Serious and Significant issues generally receive remedial action, Medium and Minor less often so, and generally the changes are much smaller. In fact, we know of a number of RSAs where medium and minor issues received no remedial action at all, as they were either deemed low risk, too expensive to remediate, or the remediation introduced a greater safety issue than the issue it was attempting to fix.

The Victoria/Calliope RSA didn’t identify any Serious or Significant isses. It identified four Moderate concerns and 14 Minor concerns – and the Road Safety Audit did not mention removing the bike lanes as a possible remedial action for any of the issues raised.

We think it’s extremely bad practice to trade off a ‘moderate’ safety issue – one which is not even ‘resolved’ by the proposed cycle lane removal, just hidden – in exchange for such a negative outcome for a specific user group. In fact, we doubt that the safety implications of removing the bike lanes were themselves safety-audited.

AT’s attempt to use the RSA as justification for cycle lane removal is therefore fatally flawed. The presence of the cycle lanes will greatly improve safety and amenity for cyclists at this intersection – and their removal from the design will introduce/retain a much greater safety issue.

We say AT can engineer its way through this. They should employ a skilled consultant to review the design, and refine it along the lines suggested in the RSA while keeping the bike lanes. Even subtle dimension changes to allow a little more space for a stacked vehicle will further reduce the already low risk of collision.

The strategic case for keeping the bike lanes

As Auckland’s Road Controlling Authority, AT has to consider the needs of all road users and alltransport modes when upgrading the roading environment.

Lake Rd, with its Albert Rd/Victoria Rd extension to the Devonport Ferry Terminal, forms one of the most popular cycling routes in Auckland outside the CBD, with the Lake Rd cycle counter routinely recording hundreds of cycle movements daily. The route is part of AT’s Auckland Cycle Network, and is included in AT’s future plans to enhance cycling due to Devonport’s proximity to the city. Any changes to any aspect of this route must acknowledge the existing bike traffic and seek to enhance safety, both for existing cyclists and to encourage new ones.

It is inconceivable to us that, in 2017, AT would abandon plans for safe cycling infrastructure, let alone do so based on spurious arguments. It’s particularly appalling given the strong and growing mandate – at organisational, citywide, and national levels – towards more people biking in a safer environment:

  • AT’s own Statement of Intent 2017/18 – 2019/20 says that AT will be more enthusiastic in promoting walking and cycling, and will double the number of cycling trips from 996,000 in 2015/16 to 2 million in 2018/19. AT’s own research shows that 60 per cent of Aucklanders would cycle if separated cycle facilities were installed. If AT fails to provide and improve biking facilities here, it will actively deter new cyclists – especially the broad demographic of ‘interested but concerned’ people who would love to cycle if only it feels safe to do so.
  • Mayor Phil Goff clearly stated in his December 2016 ‘letter of expectation’ that he wants AT to be “maintaining momentum on delivering the cycling programme, incorporating priority for cycling and walking into projects, and building the case for a continuation of central government’s Urban Cycleways Fund beyond 2018.” Emphasis ours. This is clearly applicable to ‘intersection improvement projects’ like this one.
  • The new Labour-NZF-Greens Government has also clearly stated that it expects a stronger focus on walking and cycling, both at the network level – including a commitment to SkyPath which will see more round trips on the Devonport route – and on the local level, specifically safe routes to school. Taking away proposed bike lanes here does nothing to help create a safe environment for school children.

And then there’s the optics

Lastly: whether AT intends or not, taking the bike lanes out of this design will be seen as the thin end of a political wedge. On the one hand, AT will be understood as willing to sacrifice cyclist safety in favour of greater motor vehicle speed. Meanwhile, given how vehemently the Lake Rd cycle lanes are opposed by a few members of the Devonport community, this will be seized upon as a willingness by AT to capitulate to those who are the noisiest about bike lanes, rather than those who need them most.

To sum up…

Once upon a time, we’d have been ‘shocked, shocked’ that AT was thinking of taking bike lanes out of a street design rather than engineer their way through any challenges. We’d have been appalled, but we wouldn’t have been surprised.

Now, we really are shocked – to see gambling (with people’s safety) going on here.

We utterly refute AT’s assertion that the safest solution here is to take away the bike lanes. It’s simply not justified on technical grounds, as minor remedial actions can address the issues. Nor is it acceptable or justified on strategic grounds, given that AT is bound and committed to promoting safety for people on bikes, so as to encourage more of them.

Accordingly, we’ve asked AT to reconsider this design direction and engineer their way through the challenges. We will share their reply with you as soon as we hear back.

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28 comments

  1. Normal health and safety guidelines should be applied to all public spaces, meaning worksafe would have a fining bonanza with the car/moar roads fraternity

    1. How do you figure that? Worksafe would just ban stuff. No cycles, no pedestrian crossings unless they are grade separated and have a sign on them that says “Multiple Hazard Area” and no cars or buses unless someone walks in front with a red flag.

      1. Is a bit of double standard.

        For example If I was part of warehouse design which we knew had a high likelihood of injury to people from forklift in order to decrease forklift delay that would not meet the standard and I would be committing an offence.

        However if I were to design an intersection on a public road that did the same thing in order to decrease vehicle delay that is all good.

        1. The way Worksafe operates you would be just fine with the warehouse until someone got injured. Then they would be interested in prosecuting you. They don’t care about safety only about retrospective blame. Let’s face it they only really exist in their current form because a government that ran down the mines inspectorate wanted to make it look like they were doing something after Pike River.

    2. Reading the comments below…a this a high cycling and pedestrian area then the roads ned to be made safe for them as first priority (safety first). Cycle lanes are a necessity and need to be designed in.
      Why not slow the whole lot down to a 30km/hr area as the road sweeps down to a very busy mall, schools, multiple pedestrian crossings, cars parking driveways and fairly chaotic especially weekends. Slowing down the cars will improve safety signficantly, also it won’t really add much to journey times – if you’re going into Devonport what’s the rush… just enjoy being there? Put in a 30km/hr zone from Hastings st vic st intersection down to the bottom of the zone.

      Thanks Transport Blog – AT could have done a much better job, cycle lanes are a reqirement

      1. Yes, we would agree with slowing down the speed limit – however, just putting up a 30 km/h sign doesn’t do much at all (see Wynyard Quarter). You do need a road design that also slows down traffic, such as narrow lanes (adding cycle lanes can help, as it narrows the rest of the road if done well) or add raised crossing tables (like the two proposed in this design).

        1. And – here I’m being aspiration, I know – you need a speed reduction rollout across the city in one fell swoop, concurrent with changes in laws about giving way to pedestrians, an advertising campaign, and loads of enforcement. This would mean it’s not about getting drivers to drive more slowly by changing the streetscapes one by one, but rather to drive more slowly and courteously to the existing streetscapes, and lowering the expectation for speed.

          People have adapted to a more rushed culture/ more lineups of dense kerbside parking/ more traffic, by driving in difficult streets without slowing or being courteous where they would’ve done so in the past. I think the reverse can be achieved, too.

  2. That’s quite an interesting excuse.

    Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but won’t you get exactly the same potential problem with swerving around cars without that painted cycle lane?

    1. Yes…. but aparently because there wouldn’t be a cycle lane, cyclists and drivers would see it coming, and cyclists could claim the lane, or whatever. I don’t know. Its pretty f***ed up.

      1. As a cyclist, I actually agree a useless painted green paint line probably should be taken out because if it’s not done properly it gives you a false sense of security. A child or first time user of this route wouldn’t know to expect a vehicle blocking the lane & forcing u out into the general traffic lane, you wouldn’t be prepared to assess the situation. Am I understanding it correctly? If it’s up a steep hill perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue due to the slow cyclist approach to the potential conflict.

        1. The point is that the cycle lane is not useless even if occasionally u would have to swerve AND that u can fix the issue without removing it. It’s like ripping out a window from your house plans (and also the window on the opposite wall!) because ur architect says it weakens the wall the way you designed it – instead of changing the window design.

          1. Max, I imagine you get to sit down with AT team members and nut out some details. Do you have any ideas about what could work to ensure that good design from the cycling and walking team doesn’t get overturned by someone else in AT who isn’t even following AT’s stated objectives? Like a Council-appointed overseer of some kind?

          2. Hi Heidi – AT has been given a lot of independence from Auckland Council, thanks to Rodney Hide setting them up as a CCO with (even compared to other CCOs) further distance. This has been a friction between Council and AT for years. In the interim, getting AT’s own higher ups to follow the directions of their strategies and higher management more would be the best bet. Culture change is very slow of course.

        2. Children and beginner cyclists might swerve out into the traffic. Some might be more likely to just stop, though, especially as you point out, that they’ll be going slow uphill. Whereas with the green painted “Look at How We Suck at Cycling Infrastructure” cyclelane, at least the turning drivers would have some green paint alert them to the idea there might be a cyclist to look out for. Not much, I agree.

  3. We hear about problems with car bias in local politics in Devonport. Is this the problem here? Or, as I suspect, is this a clear example that AT will only go so far for cycling? I can spot some potential options other than moving the crossing further to the west.

    What about a one-way traffic, two way cyclelane all the way around Mt Victoria? What about banning traffic turning into Calliope St together with improvements for whichever alternative route to Calliope St AT would prefer that traffic takes?

    1. The local board is completely useless, with an honorable mention for Jennifer McKenzie who asked that her vote against the local board’s submission be noted.

      Bike Devonport has made multiple approaches to the local board over the last 4 years with projects the board could back to improve cycling. The board has no interest in promoting anything other than auto dependency.

      In their world, nothing is more important than cars being able to move as fast as possible and being able to park right outside their destination. Anything else is considered a waste of time. They pay lip service to children biking to school but will not support anything that is even vaguely negative for cars.

      They are also incredibly lazy overall. Nothing really gets done at all.

      1. But they all (bar one) supported reducing speed limits in the area. An immediate reduction to 25km per hour would be a prudent first step while this is sorted out.

        I don’t think you can blame the local board for the auto-dependency, That sits with council and will continue to plague the area until AT is instructed in plain language to lift its game regarding public transport fares and frequencies. You’re right to say nothing gets done with the current city structure.

  4. Good article. Love the graphics. Did I miss the link to AT’s latest proposal (the one without the cycle lane*)?

    * not really a ‘cycleway’ as I would envisage one; being so short, and especially without the grade separation

  5. Your F#cked, We’re all F#cked . Its would seam we have out rage for work place safety events, Road toll for cars, sports players having a pint or two yest when it comes to a human life on a bicycle – Yeah Naa . New Zealander ‘Kiwi’s are a SIMPLE lot. ie replacing national electric rail lines with diesel, Electric bus tram lines with diesel and remove bike lanes for cars.

  6. If you are going to remove the bike lanes, then it will need to become a 30 km per hour street to keep everyone safe..Without this it is a splendid example of archaic car-centric thinking…

    1. Good point. Whatever happened to AT’s Cycling Level of Service Tool? This is in direct contravention of their own documents. Following that guide, this road needs a protected cycleway. Another example of lip service, AT.

  7. The curve and the slope are only slight complications to the absolutely standard problem that right-turning traffic crosses cycles and pedestrians as well as oncoming traffic. That traffic needs to wait until there are no cars, bikes or pedestrians crossing. It is the unwillingness to wait that is at the heart of the problem.

    Refusing to put in a cycle lane in this situation (and thus ignoring the cyclists’ needs) is the same thing as refusing to create a safe way for pedestrians to cross. Here they’ve bothered with the crossing and the traffic problem becomes apparent. Elsewhere, they don’t bother with the crossing, and the pedestrians take the risk.

    The biggest problem with this atrocious decision-making is that it is simply an overt expression of what we’re having to put up with everywhere: decisions to favour cars are still putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk. Goff’s words, AT’s statements, Council plans… they all call for safe and prioritised amenity for pedestrians and cyclists, but AT will only do so where it doesn’t affect the traffic flow. It has to change.

  8. I don’t understand. Why not build the roundabout?

    If NZTA funding is such a constraint, then why not ask the cycle ways budget to kick in some dosh? I thought AT underspent that budget the last few years, or do I have that wrong?

    1. The cycle budget is NOT underspent as such – quite the opposite. It is simply been extended in time allowing some of the money to be spent later (for a lot of 2017-18 start construction work, basically).

  9. I cycled uphill / northbound through this intersection yesterday. Its awlful.
    It would be greatly improved if the existing left hand slip lane leading into Calliope were removed. As it exists now, slow moving cyclists have to try and change lanes at the intersection with traffic passing in both of the lanes, while looking out for cars turning into Calliope fron the other direction

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