This is a guest post from Peter N (@AklBikes)
Upper Harbour Drive is one location where Auckland Transport has been adding protective concrete barriers to existing painted cycle lanes. It’s part of a programme that will create 60km of protected lanes.
Adding barriers is a quick and affordable way to make these lanes safer for a wider range of people on bikes, and is also proper physical infrastructure, unlike painted lanes which are almost glorified road-shoulders.
Why add physical protection?
- It stops motorists from driving or parking in the lanes.
- It protects people cycling from motorists who may veer into their lane, something that happens with drivers who are new to driving, or in a rush and cutting corners, or on their phone, or even in some more extreme cases purposefully attempting to frighten or harm people on bikes (based on ill-conceived views which are often further fueled by politicians to score points with the unenlightened, or the media to drive more audience to their content).
- It can also protect someone who’s cycling from veering out into traffic if they lose control for whatever reason – in which case, hitting a concrete barrier is preferable to being hit by a passing car.
Above all, this added protection allows a much larger range of people to use the cycle lanes, instead of just confident/ fearless riders. Families, children, newer or more vulnerable riders can now ride to places they’d have been unlikely to do so before – in the case of Upper Harbour Drive, a safer connection to the North Shore.
So why do some people have an issue with it?
Good question. I believe most of the issues are being amplified by certain groups or individuals who either think there’s only one kind of rider (the confident or sporty types who are comfortable riding even without painted bike lanes), or oppose cycling altogether.
Here are some of the myths being shared:
1. “Motorists and cyclists won’t be able to avoid hitting the barriers.”
I have travelled the route back and forth several times since the concrete protectors were added. Plenty of riders in the bike lanes (and even giant trucks and buses in the traffic lanes), all of whom had plenty of clearance, much more generous compared with many other locations.
Here’s a couple of pictures, judge for yourself:
Here is a large bike placed horizontally in lane, for scale and bonus Ford Ranger in the background, with plenty of room to spare:
It’s true that there have been some collisions with the new barriers. The main 3 events which appear to have shown up in the media, and made the rounds on Facebook are:
- A white SUV hitting the barrier. This seems like a loss of control – was the driver distracted, or not used to driving such a large vehicle, and hugging to the left?
Here’s a dual cab ute in one of the more narrow sections, with plenty of room to spare, and surprise, surprise a Flush Median is present along most of the road too:
How is this anything but a good result? If a person had been cycling at this spot, the barrier – by interrupting the car’s motion – would have given them more time to react, and reduced the force of any potential impact.
- A passenger bus doing much the same:
A paid professional driver also encroaching on the bike lane – imagine how much more fatal that could have been without the concrete protectors!
- A cyclist hitting the barriers from inside the lane. As someone who has come off their bike on numerous occasions, breaking bones, I can totally relate and am sorry they had to go through that. But what if the barriers weren’t there, and a car had been passing at the time? That could have ended much, much worse.
This all really just shows that the barriers are doing their job. Some of these incidents may be teething issues with driver awareness of road changes, or the fact that AT was not quite finished with all the work. Others will be legitimate careless driving, which is a much bigger issue that needs to be addressed on a national level.
Additionally the speed limit is also presently a whopping 70km/h, but this will likely be dropping to 60km/h under Auckland Transport’s Proposed Speed Limit Changes – Phase Three which is set to come into force by the end of the year. This makes sense, given there is already a parallel motorway at 100km/h for anyone travelling further distances. And the speed limits could of course be lower still, to reflect Vision Zero principles and improve safety for everyone.
2. “But you can’t pass other riders.”
If it’s important to pass another person on a bike, you can simply move into the general lane when it’s clear – there’s plenty of gaps in the separators to do this – then rejoin the cycle lane. This is no different to before the separators were installed.
3. “There’ll be wheelie bins in the cycleway.”
This was also an issue before the protectors were added, and around Auckland as a whole. Residents should be placing their bins on the berm: refuse trucks can easily reach over the cycle lane with their mechanical grab arm. Unfortunately, some residents or rubbish truck operators are not following this practice. This can be fixed with good communication – letters to residents, and raising it with refuse truck operators.
Here is one Auckland-based refuse truck reaching out over an entire general lane width, this is plenty more than needed to take and return bins to the berm over the bike lane:
Meanwhile, if you’re cycling and encounter a wheelie bin in the way, you can check if the general lane is clear, and go around. Not ideal of course, but much like before – except that now, you’re less likely to encounter parked vehicles and other obstructions, thanks to the concrete protectors.
4. “But some people will still cycle in the general lane.”
Mayoral candidate Craig Lord posted this to Facebook. Some politicians love to generate unenlightened angst with those of lesser understanding, to score “points” with said crowd.
Setting aside the cringe misuse of Levi Hawken’s famous scooter-outside-the-dairy-quote, the post seems to be saying: let’s not create safe cycle lanes for anyone, because someone might not use them sometimes.
The counterpoint is that just because bike lanes are there, doesn’t mean you have to use them. Much like:
- Trucks or carpoolers do not need to always be in T lanes (T2, T3 etc.). Nobody would suggest they do – these lanes are clearly there to provide an advantage in peak time.
- Buses do not need to always be in bus lanes. People rarely suggest they do. Again, it’s there for modal advantage in peak time.
- Emergency services vehicles do not need to always be in the emergency shoulder lanes on the motorway.
- Ironically, there is also a multitude of motoring-only lanes adjacent to Upper Harbour Drive, called SH18 – i.e. a motorway running completely in parallel nearby. And yet nobody is suggesting that all cars should be in their designated motoring-only lane instead of the general traffic lane.
Likewise, bikes need not always be in bike lanes – but people will constantly suggest that’s where they are somehow obligated to be. (And the same crowd will also likely defend motorists from driving or parking in the bike lane.)
While I personally would take full advantage of the extra safety of the protected bike lane, so I can ride through with fewer worries, I have absolutely no problem with anyone who needs to ride in the general lane. Here are some reasons why:
- They could be turning right ahead, and you can’t easily turn right directly from the bike lane.
- They could be sports cycling, which may require a bit more sway and cornering space whilst they are in a physically exerted state.
- They could be passing a slower rider in the bike lane.
- They could be avoiding something in the bike lane – such as the aforementioned bins, or other obstructions like parked cars, which have been reduced by the new barriers but not eliminated.
- They may have tires that are prone to puncture from debris, which I will cover more below.
So yeah, any number of things. But the key point is, they have every right to be in the general lane, and there are many potential reasons they could be there. To say otherwise sets a dangerous precedent, thus opening many riders to needless abuse from motorists.
A way for Auckland Transport to aid cyclists who choose to use the general lane may be to add sharrows, a cheap and cheerful method to remind motorists that everyone is welcome in the general lane, and to make it clear cyclists are welcome to ride there, if it better suits what they are doing.
It’s a brave rider who will mix with 70km/h traffic, or even 60km/h, so we can expect most people cycling here to take advantage of the newly protected space. That said, a small handful of riders have apparently suggested that they won’t ride in the protected lane, as some form of protest. And that’s their prerogative. Here’s a picture from Twitter in 2021, before the protection was added – for their own reasons, some riders still rode in the general lane, regardless.
Obviously not enough budget to also reseal the Upper Harbour Drive cycle lane pic.twitter.com/tFgzU7J2dS
— Todd Niall (@toddniall) December 11, 2021
5. “The bike lanes will fill up with debris.”
Well, there’s been debris in bike lanes before protection was added – it’s an issue across Auckland. Indeed, if you’re riding to/from the Upper Harbour Bridge near here, that shared path also frequently has debris, as it’s isolated from regular sweeps, and special requests have to be raised with either AT or Waka Kotahi for SH18.
In any case, protected lanes are becoming more common throughout Auckland, and AT’s contractors do have methods for sweeping them. The last time the issue of debris was raised on Upper Harbour Drive (pre-protection), AT sent sweepers to clear the debris. So it’s weird to see it suggested as a reason to oppose safe infrastructure – surely the smart thing to do is just to phone it in and get it sorted?
You can also use puncture-resistant tyres (Marathon Plus / Durano Plus or equivalent). Sure, they may be a bit heavier than some race tires at 385g for 25mm wide tires, so this isn’t for everyone – but as mentioned above, using the general lane may be a better place if you’re a confident rider avoiding debris; just as in many other locations.
6. “We won’t be able to ride as a sports cycling group.”
This type of group sports riding typically occurs on general lanes anyway, and they’re not the intended audience for protected cycling space. Even if they did stick to the painted lanes, without physical protection many groups would likely have spilled out onto the general lane anyway. And that’s fine.
I definitely agree it could be wider, to allow for social side-by-side riding by families and friends. After all, drivers get to enjoy a side-by-side ride even when they’re alone in the car.
For better or for worse, the current programme of adding protection to painted lanes allows fast delivery because it works with the existing space. This is a start – and hopefully at a later stage these can get enlarged, which will allow group riders, and families riding together, to do so in greater comfort.
So what are these people after?
Why the angst? It’s not particularly clear. Some people may just want to grumble about Auckland Transport. There are also a few who want to remove the infrastructure entirely including the painted lanes. And others who want to revert to the paint-only setup from before. Their reasons seem to fall under one or more of the following:
- Anti-cycling sentiment, or a general preference to any and all spending going towards other modes such as motoring (which already receives the vast bulk of transport expenditure)
- … maybe combined with some misplaced nostalgia for curbside parking, even though it was never present on this stretch of road,
- … or a rider who feels they personally don’t require this kind of infrastructure, as noted above, and somehow can’t see it’s useful for other kinds of riders. (And/or maybe they’re feeling the pain of motorists demanding they use the cycle infrastructure instead of the general lane, when they actually don’t have to.)
On Thursday, 21st July 2022, there was a public meeting around these changes held by local MP Vanushi Walters. It was dominated by locals, and a certain point of view, and those who do not share similar views either did not attend as they had no concern to raise, or felt uncomfortable expressing a differing opinion to those attending.
The thing is, this isn’t just a local instance of infrastructure. It’s the only obvious route to and from the North Shore from West Auckland – and by extension Central, East and South too. In the absence of a direct harbour crossing for walking and cycling, it’s the only way for those on bikes to reach the North Shore without using a ferry.
Also, during adverse weather, or at night when ferries are not running, or when you don’t have money for a fare, it’s the sole method to get to and from the North Shore by bike at present.
So I hope Auckland Transport sticks to their principles here on Upper Harbour Drive, and in the other planned locations for added protection. After all, increasing cycle ridership and reducing emissions are their objectives – and better for all of us.