The Island Bay Cycleway works well but could be improved by providing physical delineation between the cycleway and parked cars
The Island Bay cycleway is a big improvement over the old bike lanes painted (sporadically) on the road and performs its primary function of separating people on bikes from moving cars, trucks and buses really well. Having personally made over 300 trips along it since the first sections opened back in mid-December I can honestly say it makes for a much more comfortable and safe journey than previously. Some people are obviously taking a little longer to adjust to the changes than others, but that's fine and only to be expected. Building the infrastructure is just one part of the equation, it's also a big cultural and behavioural change and that simply doesn't happen overnight. It will take at least a year or two before we are able to properly evaluate the impact of the cycleway and assess whether or not it has been a success.
What I really like about the cycleway is that apart from the 30 kph shared zone through the shopping centre the only interactions a person on a bike now has to have with moving traffic are at intersections and driveways. In five months and approx. 300 trips I have encountered a car turning in to or out of a driveway no more than 10 times, or around once every couple of weeks. In every case I had good visibility and was travelling at a moderate speed so there was plenty of time to slow down and stop if necessary. The intersections all have good visibility so I haven't had any issues with turning vehicles seeing me or me seeing them. I've probably only had to yield to a car already committed to a left hand turn on a couple of occasions and the situation never felt unsafe or out of my control. The bus-stop bypasses are a joy. It makes a huge difference not having to engage in a game of leapfrog with a 12 tonne bus that overtakes you before stopping to pick up passengers so you overtake it and then repeat the process all along The Parade. My kids (aged 7 and 9) have joined me on many cycleway journeys without any issues. The only time my concern for their safety is even slightly heightened is when they go through intersections but the clear markings, good visibility and those nice yellow poles make even that very simple and straightforward.
However, there's always room for improvement and one aspect of the cycleway that is particularly annoying for both people on bikes and motorists is the lack of physical delineation between the cycleway and parked cars. This makes it difficult for people parking cars to get their positioning right so that they are not encroaching into the cycleway buffer zone. It also increases the sense that parked cars are 'floating' in the middle of the road, which a few people are finding hard to adjust to.
So what are some of the options to fix this? Luckily for us Auckland Transport has already been looking into this as part of their plans to put a separated cycleway along Karangahape Road. The design for Karangahape Road hasn't been finalised but it's likely to use parked cars as separation from motorised traffic, similar to Island Bay. All three of these options could be deployed on The Parade so let's look at some of the pros and cons versus the current design:
It's fair to say all three of these options would move the cycleway from being good to great. I would probably lean towards Options 2 and 3 because they provide clearer delineation between the footpath and the cycleway. All three options would also seem to satisfy the Island Bay Residents Association's stated desire to have the council "develop at least three alternative designs for a cycleway from Shorland Park to Dee Street that has vehicle parking at the kerbside". However, the main issue is likely to be the cost. The Island Bay Cycleway Working Party that I was a member of actually discussed the possibility of Copenhagen-style bike lanes with council officers a year ago and was told the cost would be significant i.e. in the millions of dollars. Although proper Copenhagen lanes would be fantastic the fact is that the current cycleway works well and I'm not sure that such a cost is justified when there are other parts of Wellington (including stages 2, 3 and 4 of the Island Bay to City Cycleway) that also need attention. It would be good to see the three options at least get costed, however, and I suspect Option 3 could be cheaper than the other two because the barrier would be broken at many points along its length to allow access into driveways (basically anywhere that there isn't currently a carpark marked there wouldn't be a barrier). It would also have the least impact on the existing services (drains etc).
There are also some other much cheaper options. The council could use concrete or rubber blocks, or even a rumble strip, to create greater delineation between the cycleway and parked cars. Plastic poles like the ones used in the original concept drawings of the cycleway would also provide a reference point for drivers reversing into a park and help to prevent cars parking in the cycleway. Perhaps the council should experiment with different options for delineation of parking along different sections of the cycleway?
What do you think about the various options to better delineate the cycleway from parking and provide a kerb for cars to park against? Are they necessary, and at what cost?
Survey results visualised
The results of the Island Bay Residents Association's survey on the cycleway continue to be the subject of much confusion so here's a helpful visualisation that puts the results in context.
Let's be clear - there's nothing wrong with the IBRA wanting to find out what people in Island Bay think and there's nothing wrong with running a survey. However, good intentions are no excuse for ignoring the most basic laws of statistical mathematics and it is very wrong to infer the results of a non-random survey to the entire population, especially when it involves self-selection and has a response rate of only 35%. If you did that in an exam it would be marked wrong. If you interpreted survey results for a client that way you would probably lose their business. You might as well try and argue that 2+2=5.
"No matter how large a sample is, if it’s based on non-random methods, the results will not represent the population that the researcher wants to draw conclusions about"
Professor Deborah J. Rumsey, Statistics for Dummies, 2nd edition
Concerns have been raised previously about the IBRA's survey methodology and the way the survey results were presented so it's disappointing to see this mis-representation continuing. Despite the frequent and loud claims that "the Island Bay community doesn't want the cycleway" only 35% of residents eligible to take part in the survey actually did (which is 26% of all residents). To extrapolate the survey finding that 87% of respondents (1,559 people) don't want a kerbside cycleway to the entire population means accepting the ludicrous proposition that there are another 2,878 ((5,100 x 0.87) - 1,559) Island Bay residents who don't want a kerbside cycleway but who didn't do the survey. That would mean nearly twice as many residents opposed to the kerbside cycleway didn't do the survey as actually did, which seems implausible. You can't have it both ways, if the entire community is so angry why such a low response rate?
If the survey results seem to confirm anything it's that the vast majority of people living in Island Bay (65%) don't feel strongly enough about the cycleway to do a survey, or they are truly ambivalent about it i.e. they can see both pros and cons to the cycleway and so consider themselves neutral - something that the survey didn't try to capture. The disengaged are the true 'silent majority' in the cycleway debate. Those of us who are highly engaged in the discussion can't ignore this fact and need to be acutely aware that we are subject to a very high degree of confirmation bias within our own networks. We wrote about this a year ago and it is still completely true now:
"There are two clear lessons here. First, both sides of the debate need to stop making unsubstantiated statements about what they think "the Island Bay community" wants. Second, our city councillors need to keep the feedback that they are receiving from the community in perspective. Just because actively engaged minority groups on both sides are noisy and persistent doesn't justify their views being presented as the view of an entire community. This will be a particularly important lesson for councillors to learn if they are to have any chance of delivering the vision for cycling in the Wellington Cycling Framework without every single project descending into the kind of protracted to-and-fro we have seen in Island Bay"
What is strange is why cycleway opponents even feel the need to mis-represent the survey results in this way, or to continue making generalisations about "the community" as if that is an entirely homogeneous group. These statements are easily refuted and just undermine the credibility of any other arguments put forward. That said, 1,500 unhappy people, or around a third of the population, is still a significant number that can't just be ignored. A very subtle change in the messaging to something like "a significant number of Island Bay residents don't want the cycleway" is still pretty powerful and, more importantly, factually correct. It isn't a majority, however, and in the highly adversarial win/lose, for/against framing of this debate that seems to be the problem.
Auckland Transport's cycleway design for Franklin Road provides an informative contrast with The Parade in Island Bay, and reveals a hidden jewel in Rotterdam.
Auckland Transport (AT) recently released their design for a cycleway on Franklin Road, which is based around on-road bike lanes. This is similar to the option which Wellington City Council (WCC) chose not to proceed with on The Parade in favour of parking-protected kerbside lanes. At first sight Franklin Road looks like The Parade with more trees so what gives? Have AT meekly kicked for touch when they should have gone for goal and provided a much higher level of service to people on bikes? Or, is this proof that WCC dropped the ball and got The Parade all wrong? As usual, the answer lies somewhere in between and what it really comes down to is horses for courses.
Bike Auckland have done a really good job of documenting the Franklin Road discussion in a series of posts on their website (1, 2, 3, 4). In summary, after a bit of to and fro in the latter part of last year AT announced they were looking at 3 possible options for bike lanes as part of upgrading Franklin Road:
After consultation they settled on Option 1. The reasons why Option 3 was not chosen by AT are very specific and can be summarised as:
So that's why AT decided parking protected kerbside lines were not appropriate for Franklin Road. However, only one of those four reasons is actually an issue on The Parade - the visibility for cars going in and out of driveways. WCC got around the median strip/right hand turn issue by simply removing street parking at those particular points to make room for right hand turn bays. I'm really not sure why AT didn't consider doing the same. Gradient is not on issue on The Parade, and although we have Pohutukawa all along one side they are further back from the road, between the pavement and property boundaries, so the roots aren't a problem. This is also why the issue of visibility is not as severe and can best be managed on a case by case basis (time permitting, I'll be writing a blog on visibility along the Island Bay cycleway soon).
The key point to understand is that parking protected kerbside lanes similar to Island Bay were seriously considered by AT, were Bike Auckland's preferred option and were massively favoured in consultation responses. When the 3 options were first announced Bike Auckland noted that on-road lanes were "unlikely to appeal to less confident riders" and when the decision was made to go with Option 1 they said "it provides dedicated space for cycling, and allows for some cycle growth, but is not really transformative. It’s not the kind of layout parents would let their children ride on unaccompanied". A contact at Bike Auckland told me "a parking-protected design IS better in general, but on Franklin Rd, trees and fast downhill cyclists made it less viable and safe at driveways, for this context. We think [Option 1] is a good compromise – and of course we praised it as such where parking-protected doesn't work. We feel Island Bay has space and circumstances such that parking-protected is much better, especially for children and novice cyclists". So while it's interesting to compare and contrast why The Parade and Franklin Road ended up with different arrangements it's really not fair to say that either one of them is the "wrong" decision when these kinds of decisions are often quite finely balanced. There are quite specific reasons why each design was chosen and it is very much a case of horses for courses.
But wait, there's more! The hidden jewel buried in the discussion about Franklin Road is Bike Auckland's discovery of Molenlaan, in Rotterdam. This 1.5km road runs through a largely residential area with multiple driveways and intersections. Apparently it has over 13,000 vehicle movements per day, which is significantly higher than The Parade. Despite this it has a kerbside parking protected cycleway that is very similar to what we now have in Island Bay.
The only real differences between Molenlaan and The Parade are that the trees along both sides are between the pavement and the cycleway, and that the cycleway is at the same level of the pavement. This means that cars park against a kerb. The really important thing to note is that all the key interactions between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are exactly the same. This also means that all the perceived issues in Island Bay are being successfully negotiated by the users of Molenlaan on a daily basis. For example, passengers getting in and out of cars onto a cycleway, cyclists riding across multiple driveways and visibility of cyclists being partially obscured by parked cars. Motorists coming out of driveways on Molenlaan even have to deal with their view being partially obscured by trees, a problem we don't have on The Parade. Molenlaan very clearly illustrates that the Island Bay cycleway design is not that radical at all and can work well for all road users (note 1).
There are a couple of ways in which Molenlaan is obviously superior to The Parade. One is that the cycleway is grade separated from the road so that motorists have a kerb to park against. This would definitely be an improvement to the Island Bay cycleway, and would also improve the 'look and feel'. Looking at Molenlaan the parked cars don't appear to be 'floating' in the road and the cycleway seems much more a part of the environment. It would be expensive to do this on The Parade, however, as it would probably involve relocating a lot of services as well as raising the cycleway slightly. A cheaper option could be to provide a substitute kerb using concrete or rubber blocks, and use planting or some other type of street furniture to delineate the start and end of the parking bays along a block. The intersection treatments on Molenlaan are also better. By being raised they make it absolutely clear that cyclists travelling straight through have priority and turning traffic needs to slow down and give way. I'll write a future post with some simple ideas for improvement that could make the Island Bay cycleway even better.
If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. Your reward is The Beautiful South's video for the song Rotterdam because after all, this could be Rotterdam or anywhere...
Note 1. Cycle Aware Wellington recently wrote a good blog about how the Island Bay cycleway design is not that unusual. Bike Portland also wrote a blog back in 2011 about their Cully Boulevard cycleway, which is another cycleway almost identical in design to Island Bay.
This is the story of how an Island Bay mum biked to work for the first time.
I spent a year watching people riding bikes from the safety of the bus, wishing that I too was brave. I wanted to be like them, but how to stay alive on the treacherous Adelaide Road trip? Riding a bike to work was the domain of Serious Cyclists: mostly men, and mostly wearing a lot of lycra. It was not for ladies who like dressing up and who never really bonded with a 10-speed. I was resigned to just having to wait until the whole Island Bay - CBD cycleway was finished, before I made the switch to riding a bike. In the meantime, I’d violate my personal fitness/environment values every day.
At some point, though, I started watching those people on bikes more closely. I studied their every movement, hoping to figure out exactly how much room to leave around buses, and where to sit in the green box at the lights. Was it really unsafe? Most people who ride bikes to work have tales of near-death commutes, but the awesome helmet-cam videos of my commute on the Greater Wellington website really didn’t look that bad. The narrator even said she found the bus lanes safer because they were less busy. And really, when you look out the bus window, it’s not that congested most days.
I mentioned to a few people that I wanted to bike to work but felt unconfident, and there was understanding but gentle encouragement. Other local mums were riding bikes - clearly they didn’t share my fear of leaving their children motherless following an accident. One friend opts for the footpath in a really narrow bit of Adelaide Road. Another suggested leaving a hi-vis jacket open so that it flapped in the wind to increase visibility. And if I got a puncture, I could always chain my bike up at that point, and fetch it later. When the Island Bay cycleway was completed it also gave me confidence that at least the start and end of my daily round trip would be comfortable and safe.
Meanwhile, I’d been telling my children on a daily basis to “give things a go”. Time to walk the talk (or cycle it, as the case may be). I told my husband that I’d ride a bike the next morning, then chickened out when I thought about possible heavy traffic. And then, somehow, for reasons I’m still not quite sure, I did it anyway.
In the end, it wasn’t so bad. The worst bit was arriving at my building having forgotten my swipe card (ah the irony). The traffic was moderately light and it was a beautiful day. I confess to a footpath dash for about 50 metres of Adelaide Road. Big ups to the group of real cyclists who yelled out ‘hi’ as they went the other way (clearly I looked like a novice, but I really appreciated the gesture). I followed others’ advice to sit in the lane when I was going at the speed of traffic, which made me feel more confident as I knew I’d be seen and couldn’t be sideswiped. On the way home, I could leave when I was ready without waiting for a timetable. And on the home straight, you really appreciate the traffic protection benefits of the Island Bay cycleway after negotiating the CBD section.
I've continued riding a bike to work and although I’m yet to repeat the feat on a blustery, dark, rainy day, my fear is at least partially harnessed now. And if you should do one thing every day that scares you a little, then I’m set for challenges for the next couple of months!
Island Bay mum
Here's some other great links if you are thinking about commuting by bike for the first time:
Bike Auckland's 10 Tips for Women New to Bike Commuting
Wellington City Council's cycling tips and tricks
Pedal Ready - cycle skills for everyone
The official New Zealand code for cyclists
Cycling journey planner
And don't forget our tips for using the Island Bay cycleway