The Wrong Side of my Car

The blog that wants to go obsolete

10 Nov 2016

Terrible craftsmanship: Queen Street, Northcote Point

Here we go again. This has been going on since a few years now. AT wants to do some roadworks to improve Queen Street for cyclists. And hopefully make it a bit less of the miserable wannabe arterial street it is now.

Coming soon on Queen Street?

If that image doesn’t give you the chills, you probably never cycled near one of these before.

Some context

So what’s this about? A few weeks ago, we got the news that SkyPath will go ahead. No more fearmongering, protests, appeals and objections. People will finally be able to cross the bridge without a car.

And ok, there will be toll, so we go from the emberassing situation of requiring a car to cross the harbour, to the slightly less emberassing situation of having to pay toll when crossing on foot, but not when crossing in a car. But still, progress.

Now, the next act in this (rather sad, shall I say) saga is figuring out how cyclists can get from the North Shore to SkyPath. The current situation would make it a de facto dead-end on the northern terminus. Part of the solution is building a cycle route from Northcote to SkyPath. The problem is Queen Street, Northcote Point. More specifically the yellow section on the map below.

Proposed ‘safe cycling’ routes

What’s wrong?

Well, the first obvious thing is that the image above still shows one of my least favourite situations on a bicycle: a very wide lane with the occasional parked car. That’s a worst-case scenario, as most drivers expect cyclists to swerve in and out of their way around parked cars. A dangerous and cumbersome way to ride.

But the real problem is the chokers. Especially the narrow type shown above. I used to live in an area sprinkled with them so I can tell you right away how this will end.


One of the problems pointed out is cars travelling at excessive speed. Which is hardly surprising, given that the street is over 10 m wide. There’s the occasional agressive behaviour towards cyclists too.

So, a bit of human behaviour 101: Now we’re going to make those drivers stop for no apparent reason at all. Guess how they’ll react to a choker. Will they:

(A) realise they have to calm down, and drive slowly and carefully from now on?

(B) Just speed up again after that stupid choker? Perhaps a bit more frustrated and agressive?

Gosh. I guess this is a really difficult question for traffic engineers *1. But everybody else knows how this works in the Real World™.


Even when not taking those pesky human factors into account, there are a few obvious mistakes in this design. Note that unlike their counterparts in my little village in Belgium, these are not flanked by cycle lanes.

Indeed, the cycle bypass is too close to the central lane. To understand this, we have to look at how drivers navigate these chokers with oncoming traffic. In this sketch the blue car yields to the red car. The clearest way to indicate that to the other driver is to swerve slightly to the left:

The usual behaviour. Note the swerving involved

Now, what if two drivers decide to play a game of chicken? Or one driver just tries to intimidate the other into yielding? This is a problem especially here, since it appears AT is not going to put up give way signs.

Evasive manouvre to avoid a collision with an aggressive driver

The same, but a more sudden and probably wider swerve. The same can happen on the other end of the choker if the blue car comes first, and the driver of the red car decides to be a dick about it.

Where in this picture cyclists are supposed to ride? Squeezed between cars which may suddenly swerve left, and cars parked on the side of the street. The key issue is the one I pointed out earlier: If you’re thinking about building these chokers, they must be flanked by proper cycle lanes. Otherwise it will be an dangerous and unpleasant place for cyclists.


Another pitfall is that any signs or planting on the islands obscures the view on cyclists emerging from those bypasses. I personally would not cycle through that bypass at all, to make sure drivers can see me at all times.

A note about the 3 options

The 3 options

Actually, there are 3 proposed options. The text above applies mostly to options 2 and 3. The latter additionally commits the capital offence of bringing traffic on collision course without actually slowing it down.

Option 1 is basically a glorified speed bump. Well, go ahead then. Speed bumps seem to do an OK job in for example Higbury shops. Just don’t be stupid with the spacing.

So what are we supposed to do then?

First pick one of the two options below:

And then act accordingly:

Just not the stuff above. Please.


(B) is correct, in case you’re wondering. Human factors are messy.

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