Outside the new bus interchange – what’s it like for cycling?

A little while back I showed you some of the great facilities inside the new central city bus interchange, such as covered bike parking and easy access to buses. Now I’d like to show you some of the facilities immediately outside the interchange – some of which have gained a bit of notoriety (even before they were built…).

One of the more contentious decisions made by the City Council in the lead-up to last Xmas was the decision to approve a cycleway on the north side of Tuam St as part of the planned central city transport changes. The main sticking point was where the cycleway (and footpath) crosses over the main entrance for buses into the new bus interchange. All manner of world-ending calamities were predicted by some parties.

Big scary buses - how to mix with bikes?
Big scary buses – how to mix with bikes?

The decision to place the cycleway here was not taken lightly; I personally attended a number of meetings and saw various emails and reports that grappled with this over about 2-3 months. A number of different options were considered:

  • Left-hand (north) side of Tuam St (the option chosen): This has the advantage of linking more intuitively with other cycleways and intersections along the way (drivers expect to see cyclists on their left), but does mean of course that the route crosses the bus interchange entrance and also the Justice Precinct entrance.
  • Right-hand (south) side of Tuam St: While this would avoid crossing the busier entrances mentioned above, there are actually a lot more private accessways that would need to be crossed on this side of the street. There are also some tricky questions about how things would work at each intersection, especially for turning traffic; not very intuitive.
  • Down the middle of Tuam/StAsaph blocks (the South Frame): It is likely that there will be shared walking/cycling routes through here and, for many, that may be a very pleasant way to get through town. However, those trying to get from A to B reasonably efficiently on their bike would probably be frustrated by both tangling with pedestrians along this route and the lack of signalised crossings at each of the main roads crossed (the blocks are too short to add extra signals in between the main cross-road intersections).
South Frame concept plan - pleasant, yes; efficient for movement, no
South Frame concept plan – pleasant, yes; efficient for movement, no
  • Along Lichfield St instead: While this route would now be quieter from through-traffic, and links better to the cycling route along the Avon River, there will actually be quite a lot of traffic accessing parking buildings along here. At the eastern end, the route could also be blocked by the proposed new stadium.
  • Contra-flow facility along St Asaph St: The biggest challenge would be fitting in a wider two-way cycleway here without losing even more parking; as it is, the proposed westbound St Asaph St cycleway is causing a few headaches for the amount of parking it is removing. Providing adequate traffic signal phasing in the contra-flow direction would also be tricky, and there would be a lot of accessways to cross, where “wrong-way” cycling would not be expected by crossing traffic.

Ultimately the final choice came down to issues of practicality for cycling and intuitive design for all road users along the route. To mitigate the (fairly small) potential risk at the bus interchange, additional traffic signals and warnings were also installed so that buses and bikes/ped’ns are separated. This also included the country’s first eye-level bike signals to highlight when you need to stop (although it does seem overkill to have four sets of cycle signals all showing the same thing in close proximity to each other).¬†Yellow LED in-ground flashing lights were also installed in the cycleway approaching the bus interchange entrance, although I haven’t always noticed these to be operating. Mind you, it could have been worse; at one point serious investigation was given to introducing barrier gates that would automatically close in front of the walking and cycling paths…

Small cycle signals complement the normal signals above
Small cycle signals complement the normal signals above

For all of this attention to risk management, it is useful to consider that in 10 years of the old Lichfield St Bus Exchange (which had no signal protections and such-like) there had been zero reported bus-bike (or bus-pedestrian) crashes at the entrances/exits – in fact, there hadn’t been a bus-bike crash in the whole city

Anyway, on the ground there are now all manner of protective features to minimise any conflict, and I’m not aware of any reported incident to date. But the biggest problem to date has been the relatively unresponsive traffic signal phasing that doesn’t seem to actually determine when buses or bikes are approaching the entrance crossing (surely they can put detectors for both, back at the Colombo St intersection?). As a result, more often than not, I’ve come to this crossing with a red signal in front of me but no approaching buses. And like many others I’ve witnessed, after a check behind, I’ve just gone through anyway.

The cycle signal is red, but there's no buses, so...
The cycle signal is red, but there’s no buses, so…

A similarly frustrating issue is being seen at the Colombo/Tuam intersection as well. Initially cyclists (and pedestrians) on Tuam St get a protected green signal with through-traffic while left-turning traffic is held back – great for safety…

Protected cycle phase prevents turning traffic from going at the same time
Protected cycle phase prevents turning traffic from going at the same time

After a period of time, the cycle signal goes red to allow left-turners to move. If there are no left-turners however (and at the moment that is quite often), then it is rather frustrating to wait here (especially if I actually want to use the hook-turn box to turn right; I’m now going to have to wait for more than a whole signal cycle in both directions before I can exit the intersection. The main traffic signals on Tuam are synchronised for a “green wave” for traffic along the street; on a bike though that seems to mean that every time I’m approaching this intersection from Durham St I can see the green cycle signal in front of me but it goes red before I get there…

No left turners but I still can't go...
No left turners but I still can’t go…

It’s not just Tuam St where the signal timings are causing frustration. On Colombo St, with its nifty kerbed cycleways, a right-turn phase has been added to allow northbound buses to get into Tuam St efficiently without waiting for gaps in southbound traffic. Fair enough, but when there’s no-one actually using it, it’s rather annoying to see northbound traffic going through while you’re still stuck on a red southbound. Not surprisingly, again compliance with signals is not always high…

Why am I waiting for non-existent right-turning traffic into Tuam?
Why am I waiting for non-existent right-turning traffic into Tuam?

In summary, while there are some very nice cycleway treatments on both Tuam and Colombo Sts outside the bus interchange, their practical use is currently being affected by some very non-responsive traffic signal timings. This is leading to quite a bit of non-compliance of red signals by people biking; maybe one day someone will misjudge that and there will be a problem…

What do you think about the bus interchange cycleways? Is it a big risk?

7 thoughts on “Outside the new bus interchange – what’s it like for cycling?”

    1. Criggie,

      This is a common occurrence in my experience. More than half the time its a driver pulling over to talk on their phone, as if not obeying the thing immediately would mean certain death, or seven years of bad luck or some such. Right thought to pull over, wrong solution. I cannot but come to the conclusion that many drivers think a cycle lane is an “answer your phone safety pull-over lane” even if it is VERY clearly marked as a no-stopping zone. They must think their taxes/rates/road user charges are being used to very good effect.

  1. Being quite new to cycling through the city, I too have had to grapple with the Tuam/Colombo lights and the Tuam/Bus Exchange crossing! In the past 4 weeks I have only once seen a green at the Bus Exchange entrance, and noticed the amber road lights were off, all other times they are on! I’ve decided that the white ‘B’ stands for Bikes, so figure I’m good to go then, after checking behind me of course for turning cars/buses!

    On the plus side, the new set of lights on Waimairi Rd, that go from Ilam Fields to the old Teacher’s College are wonderful as the sensors always seem to pick me up, even when I am the sole cyclist and the road lights are turning amber before I even get to the crossing!! Very responsive!

  2. Because turning right from Tuam onto Colombo isn’t user friendly I don’t use the brand new cycle lanes. When cycling east on Tuam I now move to right hand side of Tuam road mid way between Antigua & Montreal so that I can turn right down Durham St South then later ride through Bath St to get to Colombo. I’m sure it confuses some drivers why I’d choose to be on right when there’s a cycle lane on left. I’m sure the designers are trying & some simple tweaks will make it better for all.

  3. Nice job LennyBoy. Your last picture highlights a concern for me. As a Brompton rider (smaller wheels, thin tyres) those gutter-grates freak me out! Why has the CCC gone away from gutter-grates that are 90 degrees from the curb line? I have a vision of cropping a wheel in there and going a-over-apex.

    1. Bear in mind that CERA oversaw this work, not CCC. My understanding is that perpendicular grates are not as hydraulically efficient (i.e. in serious rain, it won’t drain the water as quickly). The wavy design minimises that problem and in theory also gets around any concerns about getting caught in them. In reality I suspect that you wouldn’t get stuck, but that doesn’t change the perception… My personal peeve about these new drains is that they keep locating them right at the traffic lights – precisely where I want to stop by the kerb to rest my foot there.

  4. I have very mixed feelings about the new cycle lanes around and about the Bus Exchange. Firstly, they are too narrow. I heard the rationale was that in order to fit everything in that everyone wanted along these streets the cycle lane had to be narrowed to effect the necessary accommodation. Great intent, but sometimes features have to be prioritised in the interests of safety.

    Secondly, its hard to get from the separated cycle lane onto the roadway if one wishes to do so, for example to make a right hand turn off of Tuam St.

    Thirdly, one has to be exceedingly wary of pedestrians who have no idea they are stepping right in front of a cyclist, i.e. me, in the cycle lane without looking. And this is while the central city is still quiet and most of the street-side parking is not fully used most of the time. I cannot but imagine the problem will only worsen when more cars park along Tuam St., especially if and when disgorging passengers unaccustomed to cycle lanes to the left of the roadway.

    On the positive, I like that the intersection signals formalise the road code by “red arrowing” turning vehicles for a bit after greening other traffic in order to prevent them turning in front of cyclists going straight ahead. Its something all drivers MUST be doing all the time anyways when thinking of crossing a cycle lane (yeah right), so its difficult to fathom why the cycle lane green phase is much shorter than it is for vehicles – except that it practically recognises that driver compliance with this rule is abysmal.

    Negative on balance, the lights seem to be timed for travelling at 30kmph. In and of itself this is fine – for me – but for others this may mean having to stop at every set of lights. Boring. Noting above that pedestrians have trouble with comprehending that a cyclist might actually be using that funny no so wide on and off green paved bit between the roadway and footpath, however, cycling at 30kmph or faster is not a good idea unless one has an absolutely clear field of vision unobscured by parked cars. The separated cycle lanes currently extant in the central city and at University of Canterbury are OK for travelling say 10-15kmph, and maybe even 20, but not for anything above this.

    All things considered above, I am reluctant to use the cycle lane and more inclined to use the roadway.

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