Way out West – Are new developments cycle-friendly?

The growth in housing demand around Greater Christchurch has seen a lot of new subdivisions spring up, particularly on the periphery of the city. Areas that were farmland not too long ago are suddenly just another part of suburbia. We’ve seen how residential development has been done in places like Germany; so how do things compare in Christchurch? Are we creating new places that are cycle-friendly?

For a street with indented parking, this still seems incredibly wide

For a street with indented parking, this still seems incredibly wide

I recently took a look at some new subdivisions in Halswell and Wigram to see how they are providing for cycling. Specifically, I checked out the latest areas being built in Longhurst, Knights Stream Park, Broken Run, and Wigram Skies.

Not sure if that's meant to be a footpath rather than parking space, but this lane is easy enough to walk or bike along anyway

Not sure if that’s meant to be a footpath rather than parking space, but this lane is easy enough to walk or bike along anyway

The first step to encouraging cycling is land use – it’s no good for example having lots of lovely cycleways around your housing area if you still have to travel miles to get to the shops, school, work and so on. A lot of earlier stand-alone subdivisions were essentially just “dormitory” suburbs full of houses and nothing else.

Shops, playgrounds, and places to park your bike

Shops, playgrounds, and places to park your bike

Fortunately more of the recent developments have tried to incorporate a bit more mixed-use planning, by including neighbourhood centres with shops, cafés and maybe even some offices; there might also be a school site planned for the future or a local childcare centre.

Some local shops and cafes, plus bike parking and a calmed street layout

Some local shops and cafes, plus bike parking and a calmed street layout

The challenge with all of these facilities is the need to have a “critical mass” of residents before they will often become viable. So, unless the developer subsidises things in the early days, it may be difficult to see these mixed use features in there from day one. It’s one thing to say that they will be built later on when the population grows (same with providing bus services to the neighbourhood) but, in the meantime, the early residents might get into the habit of just driving further afield to do what they need to do.

Good bike parking outside the local health centre

Good bike parking outside the local health centre

I’ve also yet to see a community central area in Chch that doesn’t let you drive all the way through the middle of it. Unlike virtually every town I encountered in Europe, we seem to lack the courage to create community hubs that you can only walk or bike through, with car parking on the periphery.

Houses and offices; a pity that the pathway has no ramp onto the road

Houses and offices; a pity that the pathway has no ramp onto the road

Destinations also need convenient bike parking. This is something that seems to be improving (possibly due to City Plan requirements), with facilities like shops and parks increasingly having some bike parking on hand. Some of it still seem a tad impractical for securing your trusty treadly, but in the main it’s getting better (another piece of advice: a ramp from the road to the bike parking area is helpful!).

Handy parking by a playground, but a bit of a squeeze to get your bike handles through

Handy parking by a playground, but a bit of a squeeze to get your bike handles through

Busier streets in some subdivisions have painted cycle lanes along them. I’ve yet to come across many (any?) going even further and providing Dutch-style separated cycleways, although the traffic volumes arguably don’t warrant them.

Not sure if this path exit onto a road really required this much traffic control...

Not sure if this path exit onto a road really required this much traffic control…

Single-lane roundabouts are a popular treatment along these routes, and the standard provisions for cycling appear to be either to (a) have the cycle facilities disappear on each approach or (b) steer riders onto the adjacent footpath and have them use that to get across the intersection. Hmm… The former can work well enough if the roundabout is geometrically constrained so that no-one can drive through faster than biking speed – not always the case. Off-road pathways probably won’t appeal to more confident riders because they have to cede priority when crossing each roadway.

Dealing with roundabouts: is this the solution?

Dealing with roundabouts: is this the solution?

Indented parking bays are a nice way to provide on-street car parking without leaving the street too wide and encouraging faster driving. Well, that’s the theory, but it does rather rely on keeping the remaining carriageway reasonably narrow, and also not letting cars still park along these sections (typically right where you want to cycle…).

Not much room to bike when cars park out on the roadway as well

Not much room to bike when cars park out on the roadway as well

Many developers will claim that their subdivision has a great network of off-road pathways for cycling on. I would believe that a bit more if (a) the pathways were actually wider than a standard footpath, and (b) at each end, the pathways had kerb ramps that allowed you to access the street (rather than having to use the nearest available driveway).

A useful path connection; just not clear how you get onto it...

A useful path connection; just not clear how you get onto it…

A key incentive for cycling is also where those pathway connections provide handy shortcuts between streets while drivers have to go the long way around; generally I’ve found a mixture of those that do this well and those where there is little advantage to be gained (hint: winding indirect pathways through reserves are not a convenient way to get quickly from A to B!).

A handy cycling connection between streets but a bit wiggly and narrow

A handy cycling connection between streets but a bit wiggly and narrow

Away from specific cycle facilities (which you would really only expect on busier streets), speed management is critical for the comfort and safety of cyclists (and pedestrians). To that end, it’s interesting that I’ve never seen a new subdivision where the local streets had a 30-40km/h speed limit on them from day one.

50km/h, just like everywhere else in Christchurch

50km/h, just like everywhere else in Christchurch

As for the streets themselves, it’s a bit of a mixed bag; some have useful traffic calming features but many are still just big wide straight carriageways with little incentive to slow down. Is it seen as a potential turn-off if residents can’t drive completely unimpeded to their houses?

Does this look like a street to drive slowly along?

Does this look like a street to drive slowly along?

In summary, it feels like the report card should read “must try harder”. While there are nods here and there to providing more cycle-friendly environments, some of them do feel like lip-service only (i.e. the Council said we had to do something…) rather than a concerted effort to encourage more residents out of their cars.

A false roundabout breaks up the street to slow traffic down

A false roundabout breaks up the street to slow traffic down

Part of that is understanding that a network of cycle lanes and pathways is only half the battle; tools like compact mixed land-use and speed management are also very important.

I foresee a path being worn in the grass at this zigzag before too long...

I foresee a path being worn in the grass at this zigzag before too long…

Ultimately the true test is in how many people I actually saw biking around the four subdivisions I visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon in late July – I could count them on one hand…

More work needed to make this a more common occurrence...

More work needed to make this a more common occurrence…

Are new subdivisions getting better at providing for cycling?

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7 Comments

  • Mike
    29 August 2016, 7:05 am

    Interesting that further south in Lincoln the penultimate section of the cycle lane from Prebbleton to Lincoln has been swallowed up as driveways, roading and footpath. Obviously, a very different approach is being taken in the Selwyn District 🙁

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  • Rich
    29 August 2016, 4:26 pm

    The most important aspect of these subdivisions is their low density and distance from the city to start with, which straight away discourages cycling, not to mention the emphasis on the car taking up half of the street frontage of the house. You would have to be a keen cyclist to want to cycle anywhere from most of these places.

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  • Rich
    29 August 2016, 10:01 pm

    The main issue for these suburbs isn’t so much their interior cycle-worthiness, but more their low density and distance from the rest of the city. In suburbs where the architecture is a shrine to the car, it would take a dedicated cyclist to make the desolate trip into town along the motorway and through industrial areas. It’s possible, but not exactly pleasant urban cycling, especially at night. The urban form of the rebuild is locking Christchurch into a sprawling car-dependent future, in spite of all the great work on cycleways.

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    • Rich@Rich
      29 August 2016, 10:04 pm

      Sorry for the double post – the earlier comment didn’t show up until I posted the second one, in spite refreshing the page.

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  • Toby
    30 August 2016, 11:09 am

    Picture #8: if I interpret the give way sign correctly, cyclist now have to give way to cars entering or exiting a private driveway? I thought the footpath at least would have right of way. And in this case it’s no wonder many cyclists might opt for the road instead of broken up and slow cycling paths.

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    • Velocipede@Toby
      1 September 2016, 8:21 pm

      The photo shows a formalised merge or a give way to the traffic in already in the lane you are intending to enter. Its Road Code stuff and entirely routine.

      Exactly how a cyclist should proceed may be open to interpretation depending upon how far any through traffic (including cyclists) is from the curb: if a metre and a half I say go for it after signalling the manoeuver fully aware of one’s surroundings of course. If not, give way as usual. I specifically mention other cyclists as I have had cyclists pull out from a footpath (usually after "cheating" a red light) right in front of me on the road without paying attention no signalling at all too many times. Fortunately I have been paying sufficient attention and no collision has occurred.

      The intersection (if that is what it is) is a little ambiguous as to the driveway. The last thing I would want anyone using the driveway is to assume that they have priority. Anyone wishing to pull into the driveway ought to give way to through traffic which I trust should include merging cyclists? Or is is technically a case of give way to the right for merging traffic in such a situation not yet having reached the through lane? In any case anyone leaving the driveway MUST stop at the footpath before crossing it. That ought to give them ample opportunity to see any cycle traffic passing through and which should have right of way. Should – as if.

      I don’t know what the separated cycleway was designed to avoid but I cannot but recommend keeping to the roadway and taking the lane at all times – at least up to one’s level of confidence. Ambiguity as in this instance along with all to willfully ignorant motorists almost always makes this the safer option in my opinion.

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  • Velocipede
    1 September 2016, 7:55 pm

    A good summation of the state of affairs.

    New subdivisions including those "way out west" are not designed with cyclists explicitly in mind even as they are more approximately total (dare I say New Urbanist?) developments offering a range of facilities and dwelling sizes. Cars still come first by some considerable distance over all other design and human factors, however, as if not being able to drive straight through everywhere and right up to wherever one wants to go is a fate worse than death.

    Designing development for cyclists – indeed people – is at best a holistic affair and not a simple matter of tacking this and that theoretically good feature on in an arbitrary manner and without full cognisance of, and reference to context. Form follows function in urban design as much as it does in architecture, I proffer. A misplaced, mal-designed or less than accessible cycleway is no longer a cycleway but an out of context design feature, for example. The photos provided show too much of this.

    Not that I ride through any new suburban development all that often, but overall they are an improvement over the older style facility-less modernist subdivisions built when the car first became the god of the masses and fossil fuels were an infinite resource. For one and for cyclists more specifically the streets are generally not as wide and therefore not quite as life negating or a wannabe motor speedway. For two they tend to pleasingly asphalty and smooth whereas the older school macadam streets are too often unpleasingly rough for a cyclist.

    It is true that new subdivisions never start with speed limits less than 50kmph, even though the way the roads are often designed and actually used – as long, narrow, double-sided car parks with one viable moving lane – veritably demand that drivers default to 30kmph. You know, driving to the conditions? As if. It may even be counterproductive to have an official speed limit of 30kmph lest it work as some sort of perverse incentive to speed egregiously as it appears to have done in the new central city 30kmph zone (the existence of which is threatening the entire rebuild and the future of civilisation as we know it, no less). I write with tongue in cheek, but only a very little.

    I prefer white lines demarcating adequate width without pinch points on well designed roads when the speed limit gets up; or unambiguously designed roads with or without white lines for cyclists for travel at 30kmph or less where one can readily (all due confidence present) take the lane even if not going the speed limit. Traffic calming features and through roads for cyclists and pedestrians (and skateboards and scooters and wheelchairs…) but not motorists can play a part here over overtly separated cycling surfaces. Separate cycle paths are especially good for children, however.

    Another good point about roundabouts. I always use the roadway to negotiate them: never any peripheral pathways supposedly designed with me in mind but which are effectively designed to be a cyclist negating inconvenience. Cyclist know thy place: get off the road. The busier the road the more negating they are. It would be nice if some of the roundabout approach lanes were wider like at Sockburn, however, but there’s no harm slowly taking the lane in a queue of traffic when required but for the extra dose of toxic fumes. The southern approach to this roundabout is as good an example of an after thought disaster as I can think of and does require that one has their wits fully intact, by the way.

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