Cycling Accident Leaves Larger Questions To Be Answered

Multi-Prong Approach Needed

 

Note: The cycling issue is still a hot button issue provoking emotions from all sides of the debate. Talking Auckland welcomes objective debates and comments in the comments department. I will not tolerate subjective including flaming comments in the thread. If you do comment subjectively or abuse someone else your comment will be “moderated.”

Also first time commenters are held in moderation until I approve. After that you are free to comment (subject to the rules)

 

The recent death of the cyclist at the Stanley Street – Parnell Rise Intersection is tragic (as are any deaths) and raises some interesting wider points in terms of our transport infrastructure. We know that the particular intersection where the accident occurred is an extremely busy intersection as it serves as a carriageway for trucks going to and from the port. The intersection also serves as access points to: the Waterfront, Downtown, Parnell and Newmarket, and Tamaki Drive heading to Mission Bay and St Heliers. And when I mean access point I mean access point for cars, buses, pedestrians and cyclists. The intersection is dangerous to all users  especially is there is a slip up by any other the users on that intersection.

Here is a map of the particular intersection:

If the map does not open – just click the link above

 

Having traversed that intersection very often I know the hazards well enough and the fact you need your wits on you. None the less the intersection despite its high volume is relatively safe to travel through if the road rules are followed including Green and Red traffic lights. I will get to infrastructure in a moment but I do say this about traffic light controlled signals.

Per the Road Code which all road users must adhere to:

  • Red means stop. No ifs, buts or maybes – it means STOP
  • Yellow: Slow down and prepare to stop unless it is unsafe for you to do so
  • Green: You may proceed if it is safe to do so
  • Turning traffic (unless otherwise stated) must give way to pedestrians crossing the road on the respective green man or completing their crossing on a flashing red man. The Red Man means though no pedestrian is to cross that particular crossing

The rules are straight forward and leave no room for interpretation. So if you have a red light it means STOP. And by that I mean STOP! Failure to adhere the rules does run consequences as does every decision we make in our lives. If one decides to actively and willing disobey a red light or red man the consequences are straight forward and can be (but not limited to): fine, near miss, accident causing injury, accident causing death). Deliberate and willing acts are very different from a genuine mistake situation where an accident occurs as a consequence of that mistake. Please remember this if you comment as I do recognise the difference in genuine mistakes and deliberate stupidity.

We are awaiting for the coroners report into the death of the cyclist after a truck collided with him at the intersection earlier this week. Eye witness accounts state that the truck had the Green Light and was proceeding through to I believe the motorway system. Thus based on the eye-witness accounts so far, the cyclist coming from Parnell Rise had a Red Light thus legally required to stop. In saying that we await the official coroners report on the accident (as we still have medical issue and mechanical failures in play) but I do point out the very harsh reminder that if cyclists (or any other person or motorised vehicle) willingly and actively disobey the red light the consequences of his decision were at the extreme and ultimate end – death. There is no mashing words around and the remark will and has already upset people (on Twitter).  I see too many cyclists especially in the CBD (as well as cars and trucks who are equally no better) willingly and actively disobeying red lights. I do find this unacceptable as it puts people at risk that does not need to be there. That said it can lead to the next question: infrastructure and how can infrastructure mitigate cycling accidents.

 

Infrastructure: How can infrastructure mitigate against cycling accidents

The answer can be wide-ranging whether you are shooting for quick short-term solutions or going for longer term solutions. However, costs and benefits have to be weighed up as well for any given project – something that takes time (and creates frustration along the way).

None the less infrastructure can be used to mitigate against cycling accidents (and other accidents in Auckland). The benefits of this investment is not only improving the safety for cyclists and other road users but also increasing the vitality of the City through better transport options available for residents and tourists alike.

So what options does Auckland have in using infrastructure as a mitigation tool against cycling accidents – while improving the vitality of the City along the way?

 

The Short Term Options:

  • Better traffic light phases: Nothing worse than sitting at red lights for excessive amounts of time regardless if you a car, truck, cyclists or a pedestrian. And these excessive red light phases do cause impatience and people to take unnecessary risks. Short and maybe double phases (Queen Street is a good example of both) allows for efficient movement of all forms of traffic and minimising impatience owing to excessive red light waiting. A spin-off often seen from short and/or double phases is that (when drivers show intelligence) it also slows traffic down as well. This is because the motor fleet would rather travel at a slower speed approaching and then going through the intersection so that they can keep “going” and not constantly have to apply power or brakes. When this occurs we get efficiencies. It is like when I approach ramp signals or in heavy traffic on the motorway. I adjust my speeds and following distances to that I can keep moving along rather than the jerking stop start motion. Constant (although slower) motion is better for my fuel consumption, better on my engine and breaks, minimises nose to tails, and I don’t get as frustrated (of course that bit is reliant on not have dimwits constantly lane changing or cutting me off). So adjusting our light phasings (most in Auckland are absolutely pathetic) is one short-term solution that can help the safety of our cyclists (and other users)
  • Better plate sensors: Most light controlled intersections have plates in the road that detect the vehicle and trigger the respective light phases (after a countdown on the timer). Catch is those plate sensors are not so good in picking up bikes. Meaning a cyclist can rock up, run over the plates and the intersection computer will never know the cyclist was there thus here comes the frustration. I wonder how difficult it would be to retrofit the plates so that they can pick up cyclists thus triggering the respective signals to allow the cyclist through. Now this refitting I would call a short-term option although a more expensive one (than say altering phase timings) as most likely the road will need to be dug up to retrofit the plates. That will cause inconvenience in the duration of the construction period however road surfaces do need replacing periodically so the retrofit can be timed along the road surface replacement. And yes I know that would mean at least a decade before all our intersections were retrofitted with cycle friendly traffic light road plates.
  • Enforcement: That means stiff fines for: disobeying red lights, cars sitting in cycle boxes at intersections, cars driving through a cycle lane, and other dangerous behaviours using the road. Proper enforcement coupled with stiff fines, and education will do its part in improving cycle safety in Auckland (although not an infrastructure mitigation technique)
  • Cycle boxes at intersections and cycle lanes: Yep a straight forward and often “cheap” short-term solution in using the paint to create dedicated cycle lanes in attempts to keep them ‘separated’ from general traffic. Of course the lanes needed to be added properly and not be in such a way in that if you have also on-street parking the car door does not open into the cycle-lane taking out the poor cyclist. The below photo is a good (but not excellent) example of a cycle lane without the on street parking
Cycle lane with no parking on Porchester Road - Addison
Cycle lane with no parking on Porchester Road – Addison
Cycle lane on Porchester Road - Addison
Cycle lane on Porchester Road – Addison

Note: Porchester Road is heavily if not brutally patrolled by the police. Whether it be just a single cop car or the radar van with six cop cars in the area it is policed and 99% of motorists stick (or learn quickly) to 50km/h.

 

Medium Term Options

These options require either (or all) planning, capital set aside in advance, or consultation with local communities before they can be put in place,

  • Shared Paths or separated cycle paths: The three photos below give a demonstration of cycle paths that allow cyclists to be off the roadway thus travelling safely.

Fitting these kind of dedicated paths can be very easily done in new Greenfield developments like Addison. Retrofitting existing developments can be somewhat expensive and have potential to annoy residents or businesses during construction but none-the-less can be done. Davis Avenue (http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/improving-transport/smaller-projects/Pages/Davies-Avenue.aspx) is an example of a retrofit in an existing development. However, that one was a straight forward retrofit as Manukau City Centre is blessed with wide medians that give the flexibility to the retrofits. The pictures of Davis Avenue show the boulevard under construction as well as give inspiration to retrofit other roads like that in Manukau (Ronwood Ave, Manukau Station Road and Druces Road being classic examples):

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A catch with these kind of cycle paths is the amount of land needed, and the situation this photo below points out:

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Cycle path (right) having to cross the road

Crossing the side road (and yes the place of the crossing is pretty bad too). Without a dedicated zebra or traffic light controlled crossing the cyclist forced into a stop-start pattern in crossing the road that has right-of-way for the car (cue safety hazard). However, as I mentioned just earlier that if these kind of paths are to be built; elevated zebra crossings (flip the intersection to traffic light controls like the Te Atatu Interchange and its cycle rails for riders to hang onto while waiting to cross the road) and if possible lowering the speed limit to 30km/h for the side street (see picture below) would give further benefits to the path.

Side street of Porchester Road, Addison that could be dropped to 30km/h instead of 50km/h
Side street of Porchester Road, Addison that could be dropped to 30km/h instead of 50km/h

Remember generous reserves are needed in established areas to build these dedicated paths for cyclists. While those generous reserves can be found in South and West Auckland they are not so easily found in the inner suburbs and CBD. Thus another medium term solution is needed as can be seen below:

 

  • Raised Kerbs

Source: pic.twitter.com/A710PDzMIZ h/t @TreeHugger

Turning parts of the existing road space into “separated” cycle lanes protected by raised kerbs. What you see in the picture above has been happening in some US cities with positive results.  Cyclists and cars are protected from each other by the raised kerb while still using the same road “space.” The raised kerb acts as a better physical barrier compared to the white-painted line on the road.  If on street parking is needed as well the cars would be still on their side of the kerb with the raised kerb wide enough to allow car doors to open WITHOUT collecting the poor cyclist (as can happen when the white paint is used and the lane between parked car and the road).

Raised kerbs are practical and can be done in any street (minus the motorway) regardless of the speed limit. The only downside I can see (apart from usual planning, consultation, NIMBY’s, and getting the budget for it) is a safety issue of cars and trucks entering and leaving a side street where a raised kerb cycleway runs across. Despite the fact most drivers in Auckland have a licence out of the Weetbix Box the potential blind spot is when the cyclist is riding the same way you are and he is behind you – ultimately in your blind spot before you turn. I would need to see a simulated model or a raised kerb in real life to see how this potential hazard would get eliminated otherwise no objections from me in using this technique to separate cyclists from motorised traffic.

 

  • Bay Parking

This photo illustrates what I mean:

2014-01-10 14.17.07
Bay parking which is common in Addison and parts of Papakura

With our generous berms in most streets through out established Auckland building these indented bays should not be a difficult exercise outside of the normal planning and budget processes. I am quite fond of these indent parking arrangements as they offer benefits to car and cyclist alike. For the car they are “off the road” thus allowing efficient flow of traffic. For cyclists they do not need to play the weaving game if these bays are present nor per-se have to worry about that cursed car door as you get with conventional street parking (whether or not the cycle lane is also there too).

I noticed Transport Blog’s “How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods” built on Brent Toderian’s argument about off street parking in the suburbs. Knowing the; Single House, Mixed Housing Suburban and Urban Zones have quite well “anal” prescriptions around off-street parking and especially garages.

Ironically this Tweet from Brent as I was writing this:

I wonder how many people use their garages for storing cars? Mine is used as storage and for the train set I have. The cars are either in the driveway or on the road in one of those indented bays like the photo above. Furthermore we (my wife and I) are looking at converting the garage into a rumpus room with a studio “apartment” above it (the cars will have a car port built for them along the driveway).

This brings me to the question of off street parking and the benefits of providing these bays for the benefit of the neighbourhood, through traffic and cyclists through safety gained from the bays. All this needing some further research but from what I see this kind of feature (seeing them work in parts of Papakura and Addison) could be a standard roll out across Auckland – providing this is mitigated against:

2014-01-10 14.17.37
Maximum extent of my car door being open which means I could still “collect” a cyclist by accident

The bay is not quite wide enough to prevent me collecting a cyclist by accident if say the wind caught my door and wrenched it to its maximum opening width (happens). And no I don’t open the door that wide either to get in and out of the car. What I was doing is illustrating a hazard that needs to be mitigated against.

 

One last thing on off street parking, check this from the first stage at Addison:

Notice the driveways and garages are at the back of the property like this close up:

2014-01-10 14.19.05
Parking and garages are at the back of Addison properties with the front “open” to the streetscape

One way of addressing the off street parking issue like parts of LA do.

 

  • Shared Spaces and 30km/h streets

We see shared spaces and the limit dropping to 30km/h in the CBD and some newer developments in Auckland (see photo below for a Fort Street example). However, we need to introduce both concepts more widely across not just the Centres of Auckland (Super Metropolitan, Metropolitan, and Town Centres) but entire residential areas established and upcoming as well.

I see no reason why by-roads (those that are not deemed arterials or thoroughfares) in residential areas should not have their speed limit dropped from 50km/h to 30km/h and flipped into shared spaces (where practical). Give our residential streets (and Main Streets in the Centres) back to the people including cyclists (as the Dutch do with their planning). Do that and we encourage:

  • cycling (and walking)
  • social interaction and inclusion rather than exclusion
  • vibrancy (including economic from increased activity to retail areas)
  • desirability
  • Less crime through passive surveillance

Time to have a debate about the shared space/30km/h concept being rolled out City wide.

The Fort Street shared space photo

 

Long Term

While there might be more ideas out there for long-term (so over five years or a complex matter as NZTA might be involved) I have three items for improving cycling safety in Auckland. One is our planning in itself, the other is dedicated cycle ways like next to the North Western Motorway and under construction in Grafton Gully with the final being the Eastern Transport Corridor (often known as The Eastern Highway).

  • Planning

Our planning methodologies are still a lot to be desired when it comes to an integrated (not fragmented as it is now) transport system that includes cyclists. The medium term ideas listed above need to be vigorously tested and peer-reviewed on their effectiveness and where improvements can be made. This will take time however, once done I strongly believe those medium term concepts should be standard practice in our planning methodologies. The time of auto-centric planning of the 1950’s is over. It is time to head towards more people-centric planning that allows a good range of choices between the car, walking, cycling and public transport. Enough of favouring one over the other

 

  •  Cycle-ways

I am talking about dedicated cycle-ways that are truly separated from roads and have their own dedicated routes like the North Western Motorway cycle-way. We build roads for cars, trucks and buses; we build rail for trains, footpaths for people. But we are slow in dedicated paths for our cyclists. I see no particular issue in building a dedicated cycling network like our road and rail network for cyclists to get around Auckland without worrying about cars and those trucks. I’ll leave it up to Transport Blog and Cycling Action Auckland to draw up a Cycle Network like the Congestion Free Network.

 

  • Eastern Transport Corridor (aka the Eastern Highway)

This is a blog post in its on right but it is time to revive the Eastern Transport Corridor (which included cycle-ways and even the Botany Rail Line) and retest its Benefit:Cost Ratios on the four options (Local, Sub Regional, Regional, and Integrated) in today’s environment to see if we can divert trucks away from Grafton Gully and onto the ETC heading to and from Penrose, Onehunga, Otahuhu and further south.

Yeah I can hear people screaming NO MOAR ROADS. However, if the ETC was built as an expressway (so Sub Regional-Integrated) in 2004 coupled with cycle-ways and the Botany Line could it have relieved the congestion and mitigate the hazards we see now at Stanley Street through diverting freight traffic (and opening up more active and mass transit opportunities allowing less of a need for the car) down the ETC and away from the gully. I believe that answer would have been a yes!

However, as I said at the beginning the ETC will be a dedicated post in its own right.

 

Concluding remarks

The tragedy of the cyclist last week served as reminder of two things: 1) The Law and consequences for one’s decisions if they actively and willingly disobey the law (which is very different from an “accident”), 2) We have light years to go before our transport and planning systems are up to scratch in promoting cycling safety through infrastructure provisions. Three sets of ideas were given over short, medium and long-term timeframe but the list is just not limited to what I wrote.

Some ideas have spin offs (like shared spaces, 30km/h streets, and indented parking bays) into wider community benefits as well as the cyclist. The catch is can our local and central politicians get their acts together to start the ball rolling in improving cycling safety not just in Auckland but nation wide.

 

We wait and hold our collective breaths.

 

Repeating the Note: The cycling issue is still a hot button issue provoking emotions from all sides of the debate. Talking Auckland welcomes objective debates and comments in the comments department. I will not tolerate subjective including flaming comments in the thread. If you do comment subjectively or abuse someone else your comment will be “moderated.”

Also first time commenters are held in moderation until I approve. After that you are free to comment (subject to the rules)