Shouldering the burden

Around the outskirts of Christchurch, there are many “urban-fringe” roads that are popular both as recreational and commuting cycling routes. However, they are definitely not for the faint-hearted on a bike, because often they have some rather negligible shoulders provided for riding on. Coupled with higher speed limits, this introduces a worrying risk.

Traffic squeezes through between the bikes
Traffic squeezes through between the bikes

In many cases, there is barely half a metre of shoulder beyond the white line; no surprise then that many riders will ride further out so that following motorists will not ignore them. Most drivers I’ve observed are actually pretty good about giving good passing space when going past, using the opposing lane as well. The problem is when there is an oncoming vehicle; then many drivers will still try to “squeeze” past (AKA “Must get in front” Syndrome).

A bit wider, but at 80km/h I still want more than a metre...
A bit wider, but at 80km/h I still want more than a metre…

While we could certainly work on improving driver behaviour (and a mandatory minimum passing gap may help there), I think we should also acknowledge that many of these roads do not provide a safe shoulder for the level of cycling that happens there. Now, I get that Council funds are limited and they have to work out how to balance competing priorities. But if they truly want to encourage cycling across the spectrum, then they need to look at providing some proper shoulder widths on some key cycling routes, rather than the current half-baked ones. If that’s a problem in the short-term, then some reduced speed limits would be in order. Fixing up some of the short “shoulder gaps” (where the shoulder just briefly disappears completely) with a bit of maintenance work would also be great.

Shoulder is fine where the developers have had to improve it, but then back to nothing
Shoulder is fine where the developers have had to improve it, but then back to nothing

The interesting thing is that the crash data for Christchurch in recent years doesn’t actually show up many cycle crashes on our urban fringe routes. While that’s good news, it’s no reason to be complacent, as we’ve actually had a number of high-profile cycling fatalities around the periphery of Christchurch over the past decade. The biggest benefits economically of shoulder widening don’t tend to be cycle crash savings anyway; typically you get much greater benefits from improved motor vehicle safety and reduced road edge maintenance.

I'm really not sure what these markings are supposed to be achieving here...
I’m really not sure what these markings are supposed to be achieving here…

There’s a lot of great work going on developing the Major Cycleways, and other locations with cycle lanes. But let’s not forget the roads that don’t even have a decent shoulder to ride on.

What do you think of Christchurch’s urban fringe roads for cycling?

6 thoughts on “Shouldering the burden”

  1. I think that in Christchurch most urban streets have footpaths and some kind of space to cycle in but most roads through greenfield areas lack footpaths or adequate space to cycle in. I especially notice that most State Highways managed by NZTA have very little provision for walking or cycling, even through urban areas e.g. Main South Road.

    Like I stated in my previous comment, I think that the root cause of the problem is the focus on cars when building these roads. We really need to be planning for every mode of transport when building a road, not just motor vehicles.

  2. Hey Glen, what would be the best way of contacting the council to see if they’d consider improving an intersection for cycling? I’m having an issue with getting across Annex road when coming from the West from Blenheim road. The intersection doesn’t have a clear pedestrian crossing and traffic blocks the crossing point. I’d love to try and change this because it’s a cycling route to get to Hillmorton.

  3. I think Selwyn Council got it pretty right around Lincoln, with the cycle paths that are flat and wide and simply go on and on past farmland.. Road crossings are always hard, but nipping back onto the road works okay. More of that in the sub-rural roads please!

  4. Or perhaps an easier way is to just have a 1.5 metre wide shared path along all Springs Road and Lincoln/Tai Tapu Road?

  5. Few things scare me when cycling, but being passed by a truck on my side of the road of dubious width in the face of oncoming traffic on a shoulder-less road sure does the trick. Its the one situation where I will use an off road cycle way, although these are almost entirely absent where they are most needed. Birchs and McLeans Island Rds are exceptions even though their intersections and driveway crossovers leave a lot to be desired. Otherwise, I completely favour using an adequately wide, adequately constructed shoulder. I guess these are more expensive to construct, however, assuming they require a fully fledged road substrate? Otherwise CCC (and SCC) almost completely avoids paying all due attention to road width and the provision of adequate shoulders for cyclists on its peri-urban roads.

    There are too many narrow, shoulder-less or effectively shoulder-less roads on the periphery of Christchurch (as the photos attest). Even where there is a shoulder of any – usually immoderate – width its often as rough as guts and worth avoiding at almost all cost but the literal pain of death on any kind narrow tired, suspension-less bike. The roughness is nothing to do with the quakes but everything to do with the the “shoulder” being an after thought and that they lack the same substrate as the road carriageway proper. This is compounded by the all too common use of the roughest chip available for macadam roads so even after years of use the only truly smooth road surface is gained through repeated vehicular weight on the roadway proper but this might be a place where cyclists fear to tread. The all to typically poor quality of any shoulder substrate also means that it is prematurely potholed over the adjacent road surface properly engineered.

    Its ideal to ride at least 1m from the left marginal white line on any shoulder-less or poorly shouldered road so motorists MUST actively react to one. This works OK waaaaaay out of town on rural roads where the left marginal line IS the shoulder and its frequented by tourists as much as locals (obvious tourists – obviously in rental vehicles – tend to be more respectful of cyclists, by the way); but around town with go for the gap impatient locals 30cm from the left marginal white line seems like the better compromise. If the carriageway is of adequate width its all good; but where it usually is not and its trucks coming both ways (cars are usually OK) and the one coming from behind gives every indication of going for the gap irregardless, I do deviate from my line before as well as unintentionally after the vehicle eddy wash passes me by. There are a few truckers who do the right thing and wait to overtake at a slow to moderate speed (on roads with limits of up to 80kmph) with a margin of at least a metre and a half, but around this town and in my experience they are in the very large minority.

    Photo 4 shows a section of Sparks Rd very badly designed, no? Who knows what the person putting those lines in place wasn’t thinking? Cycleway “provision” to the letter by some sort of overly literal interpretation of set distance from the roadway centre line completely ignorant of context and merely ticking boxes, methinks. Says way too much.

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