Are new cycleways OK for existing cyclists?

When considering potential objections to cycleways, or “bikelash”, there are the usual suspects to consider, such as businesses worried about losing parking, and motorists worried about getting held up. But another group has also been making noises about some of the new Major Cycleways: confident existing riders.

The trials and tribulations of a confident cyclist in Chch…

The general objections usually go something like this:

  • The new cycleways don’t allow me to still ride at a fast pace
  • The new cycleways often don’t let me easily pass slower riders
  • Turning traffic is more likely to hit me when I’m positioned behind parked cars
  • I have to stop all the time at signals waiting for a cycle signal (even when the main road is still going)
  • A simple painted cycle lane would be much simpler and cheaper

Now, as a fairly experienced and confident rider myself, I have sympathy with some of the concerns. E.g. it was suggested to me by someone involved in the cycleway programme that a design speed of 20km/h was being applied, to reflect the lower travel speeds of many newer riders. That would explain some of the ridiculously tight curves in some places. Generally I see no reason why most elements of the cycleway network shouldn’t still be planned for a faster rider such as 30km/h; typically a best-practice approach elsewhere.

Cycleway curves like this seem unnecessarily tight

For those of us who are already confident enough to ride around Christchurch, we have to remember that these new cycleways are not being built for us. They are designed to attract the “interested but concerned” target audience, a far larger group of the population who would like to cycle more but are particularly sensitive to riding with traffic.

Here’s the thing: to provide additional safety you often have to trade off efficiency to achieve it. For example, if you want protection from turning traffic at an intersection then you need a special separate cycling signal phase to achieve this, BUT you won’t be able to cycle at other times when the turning traffic is allowed to go. If you’re previously used to getting to go anytime the adjacent traffic is also going, then this will seem like a loss of service. Meanwhile many new riders will think that the special phase is great in providing them with protection when they need it.

Cars get a green light, so how come I don’t get to go as well?

One solution for the confident rider is to shift over to the main roadway and go with their green signal. Perfectly legal to do so, although it does result in a related perception problem with the general public – seeing cyclists still riding in the roadway rather than “their” costly new cycleway…

The other thing to remember is that motorists are also having to get used to the new cycleways too, e.g. remembering when and where to check for riders. Now a lot of work does go into making cycleways safe at intersections and accessways (and the designs are constantly improving in that regard too), but it is naïve to think that you can blat through at full pace right now and think that having right of way will protect you (I wouldn’t even recommend that approach on a cycle lane…). So, for now at least, slow down a bit and ride defensively near potential conflict points.

It’s quite likely that some of this group are not that comfortable riding on just painted cycle lanes…

I guess the upshot is that we are probably not always going to create cycleways that cater for everyone’s need, because some people are more concerned about a high level of protection and others with minimal delay. And if you’ve “been cycling for umpteen years without any problems before now”, then just remember: these cycleways are not for you

Do you find the new cycleways meet your needs? Are you the target audience?

16 thoughts on “Are new cycleways OK for existing cyclists?”

  1. The needs of commuter/experienced cyclists and of interested but concerned cyclists were raised with both Council and CERA when plans were being considered. In both instances the need to make it easy for people to commute were ignored.

    Catering to the interested but concerned is great. If government really wants to encourage cycling as transport they also need to cater to the needs of cycle commuters. They don’t due to money. Research and experience both indicate that it is cheaper to get people on bicycles than to build more roading for cars. The cultural change needed to implement that continues to lag behind.

  2. This article is correct, but ignores the key problem; designing/installing cycle lanes with insufficient capacity. A gold standard cycle path would have capacity for cyclist to pass. Too often we see low capacity cycle lanes being installed and on completion them being at capacity (during peak times). See for example the cycle lane at the bottom of Queens Street in Auckland, woefully narrow and frequently at overcapacity. Plan cycle lanes for what we want… 40% mobility share on bikes and there won’t be a problem.

    1. A very good point, and fortunately most of the new separated one-way cycleways in Chch are being built to 2.2m to allow for passing (the central city ones are a bit narrower at 2.0m but still workable for two-abreast riding)

      1. I’m afraid as a daily user of St Asaph St I would have to disagree that 2m is adequate.
        It is a compromise to an already compromised design.
        My wife, who fitted the target for these cycle lanes no longer rides into the city after a bad experience on St Asaph st.
        However, may I suggest a solution for advocacy?
        Rather than continue to argue over St Asaph St, focus advocacy on Lichfield St. It is connected to Ara via High St and Hospital corner by Oxford terrace. It is already a 30kph zone, is not a traffic through route and the traffic that will be there will be slow/queuing for Lichfield st or the Crossing car parks. Turning this into a cycle priority st will only need a few line markings and will bring cyclists, experience and first timers directly into the city centre.
        Just a thought.

      2. Lichfield St / Oxford Tce might be a useful alternative for those from the northwest, but the many heading from Addington and the like may not be so convinced by an extra 200m to go that way to Sth Hagley Park. As noted in other recent posts on this blog, it also sends them through the Hospital Corner area where current plans would have them battling with pedestrians from various directions in a confined space – arguably not a win over St Asaph St.

      3. I note that the Woolston Park Transport Plan has 1.6m width cycle lanes. Many other plans from Council offer 1.8m width lanes. 2.2m width lanes are rare, even 2m width lanes are not all that common.

      4. To clarify, painted on-road cycle lanes are typically 1.5-1.8m wide (depending on adjacent parking or not) because a faster cyclist can always use the adjacent traffic lane to go past. It is separated cycleways that are being generally designed to be wider, because you are typically physically constrained on both sides by kerbing, etc.

  3. Seems that I fit into the “these cycleways are not for you” group. I’m disappointed with them as they have increased my travel time while decreasing my safety and enjoyment. However other than commenting on this website I’m not making any public statements in newspapers or on www as I think overall they’re good for the city. In time they’ll be seen by majority of people as good, but for now it’s the minority that see them as good. Give them time.

  4. As a retired person who cycles to keep fit, to save the planet and money, and for the joy of it, I find the cycleways a pain for all of the above reasons. I’m confident in traffic and prefer to go with the flow. I have an airhorn which is easily heard by motorists and others with buds in their ears, so I can warn people who maybe are not aware of my presence or speed.

  5. I am a relatively new cyclist, recently retired and enjoying the freedom. The new lanes are wonderful as far as I am concerned but then I am not in a hurry to get anywhere (that’s why I retired). I have explored parts of the city that I knew nothing about, even after living here for 30 years! I find the new lanes safe, as long as I take my time and keep to the rules. Yes, I’ve had a few near misses whilst the car drivers get accustomed to the new layouts but generally have met with courtesy on most routes.

  6. Good article. I think there’s an element of status quo basis at work when existing cyclists complain that new cycleways don’t work for them. Cycleways need to work for as many people as possible so its stands to reason that those of us who have become used to cycling on the road might perceive them as a reduction in the level of service (at least in some ways, such as speed). However, I’m more than happy to live with that for the greater good.

    I don’t see it as being any different from the numerous ways we expect drivers to moderate their behaviour for the greater good. For example, not driving across that football field simply because it is a shorter distance. Not driving the wrong way up a one-way street just because it is a more direct route. Stopping at traffic lights even when there are no other cars coming. And just because I believe I can safely drive 70kph through a 50 kph zone doesn’t justify me doing so. Cyclists really aren’t being asked to do anything more than what we expect of other road users, which is to moderate our own behaviour for the benefit (and safety) of as many people as possible.

    1. The example shown from Ilam Road is the sort of one sided design that aggravates these issues. To narrow the width needed for pedestrians to cross the road a floating island is provided in the roadway. But only bicycles are sent through the horizontal deflection while the motor vehicle lanes are run straight through. The same (or better) outcomes could have been achieved for pedestrians with a central floating island, with cyclists and motorists both deflected and challenges of motorists cutting the corners are solvable with kerbs if needed.

      There is no one size fits all cycling infrastructure, what a family desires for a recreational ride chatting away is a world apart from commuters and they need different infrastructure for their uses. Similar examples from the world of motoring are scenic routes through the country maintained when highways are built, or motor sport facilities. Throughout Australia we see cities with networks of both high speed on road facilities and also recreational path networks away from motor traffic.

      Even in the cycling utopia of The Netherlands there is a hierarchy of bicycle paths and routes, just as they do with roads so that local slow speed traffic (and cycling) is separated from faster travelling vehicles on long distance routes. You move from your local street (which has limited or no permeability) to a urban distributor then out onto a highway, and the same thing happens with cycling progressing onto faster and faster infrastructure as distances increase. But that sort of network requires extensive planning and long term support. Just adding compromised cycling infrastructure for the sake of it is not going deliver a functional network that will grow.

  7. I call myself a confident and experienced rider /commuter and think they are great!!! Personally I am quite happy to cruise at 20 kmph and not having to watch cars and trucks all the time. But the reason I am even more stoked with them is that for the first time people with less experience and confidence are able to able cycle safely (which was kind of the point I guess) . I can see that the new lanes do not cater for everyone and if I compare the lanes to the dutch design ones (long straight wide cycle lanes with few bends as possible) I can see that road bikers, fast commuters etc will not always be happy with these designs. But compared to the old style Christchurch bike lane where the lane disappears when you need it most, the new cycle ways will hopefully inspire confidence for people who have been wanting to cycle but have not felt safe doing so until now…

  8. It would be nice if there was space to pass on these paths with kerbs either side. If the kerbs were low and mountable it would be easier to pass slower cyclists that tend to sit right in the middle of the lane making it impossible to pass, they are probably afraid of hitting the large kerb either side and falling off. I don’t like being stuck behind other traffic and having to restrict my speed, this is part of the reason why I prefer the bike over the car for the commute. Also if you ride slowly you don’t get the benefit of exercise. Lower kerbs are easy to integrate as there are already being placed there it is just a different style of kerb, more importantly it also gives you an escape route should things turn pear shaped when a car pulls in front of you!

  9. Hi,
    I tried to email this so you could repost, hopefully some will pick this opportunity and comment.

    I was fortunate enough to be one of the 63 people involved in the NZTA cycling Levels survey recently undertaken in CHC, Welly & Auckland.

    It involved riding along various different cycleways on an instrument laden bike (mine was called Bart) and then completing a survey on my thoughts on the different types.

    The study is now looking for feedback from as many people as possible, here is the link:

    Survey closes 30 November.
    Now I have to confess I’m regular commuter cyclist and that the only problems I had during the survey was on the separated cycleways – being blocked by a vehicle who pulled out to see the road and then having the cycleway blocked by bins. (I also intensely dislike St Asaph st to the point of finding an alternate route west so I no longer have to use it. Also my wife who is one of those “timid” cyclists that CCC is trying to encourage no longer rides into the city thanks to a bad experience on St Asaph St). So you may wish to encourage others to also have their say. 🙂

    Anyway, Hopefully you can promote this to get a wide range of opinions – Survey closes on 30 November and further information can be obtained from Chris Bowie ( Opus are carrying this work out for NZTA.

  10. I have to be honest here – I didn’t even notice the red cyclist light on Tuam street for the first month and was going on Green.

    It took a close encounter with a truck before noticing.

    The cycling traffic lights are the same physical size, with the same lamp in behind as a regular car light, but the masq in front limits the light output to somewhere between a quarter and a third of the available light. So its really hard to see, more so given the proximity to the larger signal lights for cars.

    Maybe a design thing – the lights on Moorhouse/Colombo don’t show the same disparity in effective brightness.

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