The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

14 Feb 2016

Cycling revolution: cycle lanes

So it seems 2015 was a good year for people who like to ride their bicycle in Auckland. Transportblog thinks we can unequivocally say that 2015 was the best year ever for cycling in Auckland and NZ. Bike Auckland is even talking about ‘revolutions’.

It was a great year for sure, but let’s not get carried away. Here is the big picture:

And we also know the Big Reason why. The most important revolution will be undoing this Big Reason, and we are not there yet by a long shot.

Nonetheless bicycle lanes have their place, both as a way for cyclists to have a feasible way to ride along arterials, and also because people may pick up from their presence that cycling does in fact has a place on city streets.

And things are moving along steadily. Up to now most cycling investments were restricted to 2 basic categories, and I am eagerly looking forward for that 3rd, revolutionary category to happen.

Category 1: Out of sight

The first cycleways were not part of our street grid at all, as there they would infringe on the Sacrosanct Rights of The Car. They had to go out of sight.

One of the first high-profile cycle paths in Auckland was the northwestern cycleway, along state highway 16. This is a path of low resistance — by tucking it away along a motorway, a cycle path doesn’t get in the way of our precious traffic flow, which basically means ‘cars’.

OK, time for a little quiz. Like most motorways through urban areas, SH16 has sound walls to insulate nearby houses from the relentless roaring of traffic. So, question, on which side of the sound wall does the bike lane go?

Well that’s easy. The cycle way goes on the other side than the motorway of course. Duh. So you can ride from those houses right to the cycleway. And otherwise, the cyclists are stuck between a high noise wall and a noisy motorway.

Cycleway, seen from the motorway.

And yet, here we are on the motorway. Can you see the cyclist riding between the motorway and the noise wall? As Bike Auckland has reported before, we did get it wrong on parts of the cycleway. One of the reasons was the residents of these houses, telling they don’t want that cycleway in their backyard. Because it spreads crime or disease, or it scares away unicorns. Whatever. In short, it has to literally go out of sight.

More generally, at first cycleways went where you don’t encounter them while in your car. Calling the new Lightpath ‘out of sight’ would be a bit preposterous, but it falls into this category as well. Away from our street grid. And as soon as you reach our street grid, on either end, you’ll encounter some very sucky intersections. And the Grafton gully cycleway? Yep, nicely tucked away under the spaghetti junction.

Category 2: Out of the way

Soon a second category showed up.

Look at the Hobson Street cycleway. It occupies the left lane of the upper part of Hobson Street, at the edge of the bridge. Which has the unfortunate side effect that all the apartment dwellers have to cross Hobson Street to get on the cycleway. The proposed Quay Street cycleway skirts that red fence on the northern side of the street. It even morphs into a shared path in a few places where we Really Need that Space For Cars.

And that is the common theme of our new category. We are getting into the street grid, but only in those corners where we don’t interfere too much with car traffic.

As a consequence these paths often end some meters before an intersection. Because there we really need that second (or third) lane to Improve Traffic Flow. Which makes it a de facto dead end for cyclists, or how many people would risk life and limb to merge back between all those cars at these points? They are called “pinch points” for a good reason.

This is also how we get warts like a ‘parallel route to Dominion Road’. I think you can guess how many shops are along Dominion Road, and how many shops are along the proposed diversion.

Proposed cycle routes around Dominion Road

By the way, look at all these little bulbs on these routes. Every one of those is a new speed bump. If quiet streets like this need that kind of measures to make them suitable for bicycling, we have much worse problems than a lack of cycle lanes.

And then there is the other Sacred Cow: Parking. The archives are littered with stories of mooted cycleway plans because of “oh my God we will have 2 parking spots less and all our little businesses will go broke!”. Our revolution is meeting a lot of resistance.

Revolutionary: in the way

It is coming, slowly but steadily.

Let’s look more closely at the new Hobson Street cycle path. It continues across intersections. Or in traffic engineer speak: it has a proper right of way. Cyclists even have their own green phase, possibly increasing the wait times for cars. Cyclists don’t have to give way to turning traffic at every intersection.

Which in Auckland is quite unusual — wait, what?!

The thing is, the default traffic rule for pedestrians is that at every intersection you have to give way to turning traffic *1. At traffic lights by default left turning traffic has a green arrow and pedestrians have red. Cars really are Sacred in this city. I’d better pray that my humble press on the beg button is enough for the God of Roads to give me permission to continue.

Shared paths, a popular way to implement cycling infrastructure, tend to mirror that. I’ll post a few pictures of the new Onewa Road shared path if I get the chance. You’re not going to believe how stupid that is.

Now if we want to make getting around outside a car not absurdly cumbersome, this will have to change. We will have to mirror the rest of the world and give cyclists, and preferably pedestrians too, an uninterrupted right of way.

So what about the poor car driver? Basically it means your Absolute Priority Over Everything Else will erode away. You’re no longer considered Superior once you step into a car. You may — the horror! — have to give way to cyclists (and pedestrians) at some point. You will have to keep your eyes open while turning.

The new cycle paths may be in your way.


(*1) 

A more subtle clue to this are the stop lines, which are usually aligned with the edge of the roadway.

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