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?

Can we put cyclists through Lyttelton Tunnel?

A post currently doing the rounds on Facebook is once again raising the possibility of getting bikes through the Lyttelton Road Tunnel under their own steam. At present, the 52-year-old tunnel only allows bikes that are attached to the racks of the buses that go through. On the very odd occasion, people walking and cycling have been allowed through, most recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tunnel in 2014 – and what a demand there was for that…

2014: A sea of humanity enjoys the Tunnel sans cars

2014: A sea of humanity enjoys the Tunnel sans cars

The latest graphic proposes that the ventilation shaft of the tunnel (above the roadway) be re-purposed to also allow people to walk and ride through. This large space (~12 foot high in the middle) is split in two longitudinally; one side pumps fresh air into the tunnel and one side extracts vehicle emissions. The idea of course is to allow people to access the former section where the fresh air is, by creating path links up to each end.

The grand plan: Bike access through the tunnel

The grand plan: Bike access through the tunnel

I’m not sure who came up with the $1.5 million pricetag but, in the current scheme of things with hundreds of millions being spent on cycleways in Christchurch and around the country, it’s not a particularly outrageous cost (particularly in the context of >$400 million being spent on two motorways near Christchurch this week…).

LytteltonTunnel-XSectionThis is not the first time that this proposal has been considered; in fact 15 years ago, Spokes Canterbury were engaged in discussions with (then) highway operator Transit NZ about options for cycle access. So is it feasible? There are a few things to consider:

    • Halfway along the ventilation shafts are bulkhead doors that allow the fans to work most effectively. So any proposal would have to come up with some way of allowing people through these doors, presumably while still maintaining an effective ventilation system.
    • I could imagine that the ventilation system would be pumping air fairly strongly into the tunnel. Depending on which way you were travelling, that could mean a strong tailwind or headwind. Perhaps not so much of an issue for the Lyttelton half of the tunnel, with the 3% gradient of the tunnel counteracting the opposing air pressure. But it could be a bit trickier in the Heathcote half if you have an uphill gradient and a headwind…
    • In these days of heightened health & safety awareness, an enclosed space like a ventilation shaft introduces new risks that the tunnel owners (NZ Transport Agency) would have to be happy to deal with. I see that the above proposal is suggesting regular alarm buttons and security cameras, but even that might not be enough to please the powers-that-be.

Interestingly, when Spokes looked at it, they acknowledged some of the inherent difficulties with a ventilation shaft route, and suggested using a shuttle vehicle instead – the tunnel operators have to maintain service vehicles for things like escorting large vehicles through the tunnel, so it wouldn’t seem to be a big stretch to fit one with seats and bike racks for an on-demand service. Mind you, this was 15 years ago, when the prospect of the state highway agency doing much for cycling (let alone spending $1.5m on a cycle project) was unheard of – times certainly have changed…

Lyttelton Tunnel under construction, showing ventilation shafts above

Lyttelton Tunnel under construction, showing ventilation shafts above

It’s an interesting discussion; I’m not sure that the fundamental technical issues can be addressed, but that’s something that others with more expertise than me in this area would need to consider. I guess an interesting parallel is with Auckland’s Harbour Bridge walk/cycle crossing (SkyPath), where various technical and financial objections to it by NZTA have been progressively dealt with by the very persistent campaign group – and it looks like it is almost over the line now. Will Lyttelton Tunnel be Christchurch’s SkyPath?

What do you think about trying to get bikes through Lyttelton Tunnel?

Photo of the Day: Chch Adventure Park Progress

While we bemoan how long it takes to build things like a conference centre (or at least do something with the Cathedral…), it’s great to see that the exciting new mountain-bike adventure park in the Port Hills is continuing full steam ahead. Reports have been popping out about the project, as it tracks ahead of schedule and is now starting to look for potential employees. There’s also a great little competition for the youngsters to help design one of their pump tracks.

I went up the Worsleys Valley the other day to see if much is evident yet. The best views to be had are probably from up on Dyers Pass Rd (not that there’s many places to safely stop…). Closer to ground level, this was about as close as I could get with a view:

This peaceful view is hiding a flurry of activity...

This peaceful view is hiding a flurry of activity… (click to enlarge)

It’s hard to see at first glance just what has been happening here so far. The buildings in the lower right of the picture are the offices and construction base for the project. Approaching the stand of trees in the middle of the valley is roughly where the base buildings of the park will be (shops, cafe, booking and hires, etc). From there the chairlift will extend up to the top of the forested peak centre-right; if you look carefully you will notice that there is a “part” down the middle of the trees at the top where the line will run. At the moment, work is focused on building the foundations for the chairlift towers; the towers themselves should start turning up in a month or so.

Initial construction activity is concentrating on tracks around the right-hand side of the valley, plus a series of zip-lines to get you from the top to the bottom. Once opened, work will turn its attention to the left-hand side closer to Dyers Pass Rd. All up, it may take a few years before the park is close to complete, but there will be plenty available on opening day. While things like the chairlift, zip lines, and bike hires will cost, access to the park tracks themselves will be free. You can follow more on what’s happening (including regular video updates and live chat sessions) on the Adventure Park’s Facebook page. Opening date is scheduled for Fri Dec 16th!

Are you excited about the new adventure park?

New National Cycle Network Planning / Design Guidance

One of the important things announced at last week’s 2WALKand CYCLE Conference in Auckland was the public release of the NZ Transport Agency’s Cycling Network Guidance. This has been an exhaustive 18-month long project to develop and update national guidelines for planning and designing cycling facilities and networks (disclosure: my company ViaStrada was heavily involved in this). After trialling the draft material and website interface, the guidance is now ready for practitioners in New Zealand to be able to start using.

Now available - NZTA cycling network guidance

Now available – NZTA cycling network guidance

Historically, NZ has largely relied on following guidance from Austroads, the national transport authority from Australia. A NZ Supplement to Austroads was also produced and separate cycle network planning guide (PDF) was developed 12 years ago. But lately it has been a confusing combination of documents as Austroads have slowly updated some of their material (e.g. the NZ Supplement was still referring to since-superseded 1999 guidelines), whilst still not reflecting some of the latest thinking in cycling provision. Given the rapidly changing nature of cycling best practice, there was also a desire to have a more dynamic reference source that could be easily updated as new information came to hand, rather than waiting for re-publication of a hard-copy document. Hence the birth of the Cycling Network Guidance!

Main structure of the CNG - Planning, Design, and supporting topics

Main structure of the CNG – Planning, Design, and supporting topics

Side menus on every page

Side menus on every page

Getting to the Guidance material is easy; just go to www.nzta.govt.nz/cng. The site has a lot of material, so it can initially be quite daunting to find your way around. At the top of each page are links to the main subject areas, and then down the side of each page (or at the bottom when viewing on smaller devices) is a menu of more detailed sub-topics. If you’re really lost, you can also use the Site Map page to find your way around.

As well as information on traditional topics like cycle lanes and cycling strategies, the guidance has introduced a lot of new material on recent topics of interest (many that we have talked about previously), including:

For each topic, there is information about both conceptual and detailed planning and design issues. Any relevant legal/regulatory issues in NZ are also discussed, and there’s also information about any local trials underway. Where possible, case studies from around NZ are also highlighted, so that people can look for models of how things have been done and lessons learned.

Each section includes a range of considerations, including legal issues and any trials underway

Each section includes a range of considerations, including legal issues and any trials underway

To save reinventing the wheel, often there are also links to useful external documents and resources as well. A nice touch too in the Design section is that each facility topic has a link back to the Planning section so that you can check that it is the right facility for the situation. And there are copious photos (most of them from NZ) showing examples of what is being discussed.

Lots of great photos help to illustrate the CNG - including many from Chch

Lots of great photos help to illustrate the CNG – including many from Chch

The Cycling Network Guidance is by no means complete. NZTA acknowledge that there are topics and issues that need further improvement or expansion, and the material is currently open to feedback from users of it on what needs tweaking. A lot of the construction layout details will be provided in the relevant parts of the Traffic Control Devices Manual, which are still not quite released. At the moment there are also a number of trials underway that will inform parts of the Guidance, and no doubt there will be plenty more in the near future (many driven by the national Active Modes Infrastructure Group). But already the CNG provides a consistent and valuable resource on how to provide for cycling in NZ.

Still lost? Use the Site Map

Still lost? Use the Site Map

Have you looked at the Cycling Network Guidance? What do you think?

Bike to the Future Awards now open

It’s nearly time to honour some of the best initiatives for cycling around the country. In previous years, the Cycling Action Network have held their Cycle-Friendly Awards to celebrate great cycling efforts. This year, the NZ Transport Agency have joined the party and rebranded the exercise as the Bike to the Future Awards, and nominations are now open!

NZTA-Bike2theFuture

Nominations are for cycling projects/champions over the period 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2016 and can be received for the following categories:

  • Innovation Hub Award: This category covers the design, engineering or construction of a cycling facility (including innovative processes, materials, designs, partnerships, delivery models, etc).
  • Taking Communities on the Journey Award: This category covers excellence in communications or community engagement activities related to a cycling project that resulted in a community welcoming new infrastructure.
  • Big Bike Bling Award: This category covers transport infrastructure projects that have had the most significant impact on encouraging more people to ride and creating a bike-friendly future.
  • Get On Yer Bike Award: This category covers education or encouragement projects that have had a significant impact on encouraging more people to bike.
Flashback to 2014: Who might win one of these next time?

Flashback to 2014: Who might win one of these next time?

  • Bikes in Business Award: This category covers businesses and organisations that have made significant efforts to encourage and support cycling for its staff, customers, and/or clients.
  • Outstanding contribution to a bike-friendly future: This category recognises the outstanding contribution made by an individual New Zealander to the promotion of cycling.

Awards will be presented on 7 July 2016 in Auckland at the 2WalkandCycle Conference. It’s not actually clear what the winners will receive (other than the glory…); hopefully something like the nice bike-bell trophies of the past.

Anyone can make a nomination; you can even self-nominate. So what might be some potential contenders for these awards in Christchurch?

  • Innovation Hub Award: Some pretty nifty bike facilities (both for parking and travelling on the bus) can be found in the new Bus Exchange. Another meritorious mention might also go to Christchurch City Council and their consultants for the development of completely new cycleway design guidance and audit/review procedures for the Major Cycleways. And of course we’ve also seen the introduction of the Spark Bikes public bikeshare programme around the central city.
Snazzy facilities at the new bus exchange

Snazzy facilities at the new bus exchange

  • Taking Communities on the Journey Award: I think that some kudos can be given here to the consultation teams for the recent Major Cycleways through Papanui-Edgeware and Linwood. In both cases they have had to get some quite long and complex cycle route details out to the general public, and then had to incorporate a lot of feedback back into the re-worked designs (including even putting out alternative route options to consider). The end result are two very significant cycleways that have received the tick from City Councillors and are now working through final detailed design before construction. When you compare that with the dramas plaguing projects like the Island Bay Cycleway in Wellington, the teams behind these Chch projects have done well to keep them largely on track.
Cycleway consultation through Edgeware Village proved tricky...

Cycleway consultation through Edgeware Village proved tricky…

  • Big Bike Bling Award: The pragmatist in me thinks that it might be hard for anyone to beat Auckland’s magenta pathway this time around (although there will probably be a whole swag of Major Cycleways ready to be honoured the next time). Perhaps the work done to create the first stage of the scenic Coastal Pathway might merit some attention?
Chch Coastal Pathway

Chch Coastal Pathway

  • Get On Yer Bike Award: Here’s where there is a plethora of great Christchurch-based activities happening. For example, Connie Christensen’s Go Cycle Chch initiative, helping new cyclists to get underway (for good measure, she also helps run Frocks on Bikes rides too).  Meanwhile, the fabulous teams at ICEcycles and RAD Bikes help the community to acquire new or reconditioned bikes and to repair existing ones. And there is also the growing tradition of the annual Winter Solstice Ride, which celebrates getting people out on their blinged-up bikes. I guess even this esteemed website might warrant a mention…
Connie from Go Cycle Chch (c/ J.Kirk-Anderson)

Connie from Go Cycle Chch (c/ J.Kirk-Anderson)

  • Bikes in Business Award: As the rebuild continues, a lot of companies are starting to get it right in terms of providing for cycling in their new facilities. A few that come to mind include Meridian Energy, Environment Canterbury and Opus International Consultants. Where else?
The new Environment Canterbury building features 150 staff bike parking spaces (c/ Fairfax)

The new Environment Canterbury building features 150 staff bike parking spaces (c/ Fairfax)

  • Outstanding contribution to a bike-friendly future: Probably the key champion locally over the past few years has been Cr Phil Clearwater, Chair of the City Council’s Infrastructure Cm’tee. Phil has been a steady campaigner for getting the Major Cycleway projects over the line, always with a smile on his face it seems. Other worthy nominees could include Rob Henderson, who has been the guiding hand behind Spark Bikes and has also helped with Lazy Sunday Rides.
Cr Phil Clearwater

Cr Phil Clearwater

Nominations close Fri 27th May, so why not take the time to put in an online nomination?

Who or What do you think is worthy of a Bike to the Future Award?