Flashback Friday: The Curletts Road Conundrum

Post-quake Christchurch wasn’t great fun for cycling, with lots of motor traffic suddenly transplanting itself to unexpected places – overnight, some roads got 10 years of traffic growth all at once. While I sympathise with the challenge created by this, the subsequent decisions often seemed to make cycling (an obvious alternative to battling congestion) even harder to do. So it was with this proposal (originally featured back in Aug 2013) for Curletts Rd. While it’s great that we’re now getting a parallel major cycle route along Hansons Ln as we speak, even today there is still little to recommend pleasant biking on Curletts Rd…

The NZTA are currently consulting on proposals to reconfigure the layout of SH73 along Curletts Rd in Upper Riccarton. This proposal has some serious implications for cycling (or not) along this route.

The road section of interest – SH73 Curletts Rd

Some background: In the aftermath of the 2010-11 quakes, one sore point for cycling was the removal of a number of cycle lanes to “reduce congestion” resulting from redistributed traffic. Whilst acknowledging that traffic patterns had significantly changed after the quakes, discouraging alternative modes like cycling hardly seemed a sensible option. Most of these lane changes have since been reinstated, but Curletts Rd (previously a two-lane road with cycle lanes) has continued to be operated as a “tidal flow” three-lane road with a reversible central lane and no cycle lanes.

The Curletts Rd of old, complete with cycle lanes (OK, even then it did have a bit more traffic usually)

This arrangement has been operated to date by means of shifting cones daily from one side of the central lane to the other. Now NZTA want to establish something a bit more permanent. Traffic volumes have gone from 20,000 vehicles/day pre-quake to about 25,000, so consideration has gone into how to provide for the peak traffic flow along this route.

Tidal flow now in operation (note the blacked out cycle lanes)

Three options are proposed by NZTA in their consultation:

  • Option 1 – A two-lane road with a painted (flush) median and extra clearway lanes that only operate in the peak hours; otherwise they are just normal parking shoulders. Both the traffic lanes and the clearways would be 3.2m wide.
Plan View of Option 1 – Clearways
  • Option 2 – same as Option 1, except the footpaths are widened into 2.6m shared walk/cycle paths by sealing over the grass berms.
Typical Cross-section for Option 1. Option 2 adds shared pathways.
  • Option 3 – removal of the flush median and putting the width into wider (4.2m) clearway lanes
Typical cross-section for Option 3, with wider outside lanes

There are also possible options to make the clearways permanently four lanes (which would be “easier to understand” for motorists). A permanent three-lane tidal-flow configuration was also considered (using overhead signs and pavement lane lighting) but this was ruled out because it “doesn’t improve travel times sufficiently.” {it might provide some cycleway space again though…}

As you can see, not one of the options replaces the previous cycle lanes; your options are either nothing, a shared pathway, or a wide traffic lane. Given the traffic volumes and the likely foot traffic around the school, none of those options seems particularly attractive or convenient (OK, at least the clearways would have some value in the off-peak). Indeed, NZTA have stated that “we will continue to encourage cyclists to use an alternative route” (e.g. Hansons Lane instead). Um, and what if your origin/destination is actually on Curletts Rd? Or if I was coming to Riccarton High from (say) Peer St, I’d hardly want to bike considerably out of my way to get there via Hansons and Suva.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that none of these options should be considered a permanent solution to the current situation with Curletts Rd. The real problem is either (a) not enough space for everything, or (b) too much traffic there. So that would suggest that the real solutions are either (a) purchase some frontages to provide a proper-width corridor for all modes, or (b) stop encouraging so much traffic to go down this way (e.g. NZTA are busy building a four-lane road between Hornby and Yaldhurst – shouldn’t traffic heading out west be encouraged to go that way instead?)

If you want to have your say on this matter, you’ve got until Fri 6th Sep to make your submission. There is a also drop-in day on Wed 21st Aug at the Upper Riccarton Library between 3-6pm, where you can discuss the options with NZTA and their designers.

What do you think of the options for Curletts Rd? Is there an “Option 4”?

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