Cycle underpasses: the good and the bad

My new home of the past year means that I have some slightly different ways that I can get to work now. The most direct route takes me in a straight line via the railway underpass in Waltham between Thackeray and Falsgrave Streets, near the old Lancaster Park. While that makes it a very handy shortcut, it’s an… interesting experience to say the least, and possibly not for the faint-hearted…

Waltham railway underpass: well I guess it has some lights that kind of work…

The 190m long tunnel does technically feature overhead lighting – except that half of the lights don’t work and virtually all of the lighting covers have been spray-painted in dark green (?!). Meanwhile, the surface has some regular puddles where water ponds – in fact, at one point there was 30cm deep water in it for about a week. All up, it makes for a rather dark and damp experience (the occasional broken glass at one end or stray rubbish doesn’t help either…). So far, a SnapSendSolve request a year ago has failed to elicit any improvement as well…

The roads around the Sthn Motorway underpass near Halswell Junction Rd have changed a bit since this was built 10 years ago, but this is still a good structure

Riding through the Waltham tunnel regularly has got me thinking about the other cycle tunnels around Christchurch (let’s not even get started about the lack of cycling through Lyttelton Tunnel…). Other than the Waltham tunnel, by my calcs there are now nine other fully enclosed underpasses or tunnels around the city (not counting bridge abutment underpasses):

This railway underpass at Papanui is a bit pokey and the bollards don’t do you any favours either…
  • Harewood/Johns/Russley roundabout, Harewood
  • Northern Motorway Belfast Rd off-ramp, Belfast
  • Northern Motorway at Winters Rd, Northcote
  • Southern Motorway at Annex Rd, Middleton
  • Southern Motorway at Halswell Junction Rd off-ramp, Halswell
  • QEII Drive at Grimseys Rd, Northcote
  • QEII Drive at Hills Rd, Mairehau
  • Kyle Park railway underpass, Hornby
  • Northern Line railway underpass at Bellvue Ave, Papanui

(have I missed any?)

Underpass at the Northern Motorway Belfast Rd off-ramp – a good open design

Due to the wide variety in when they were constructed, from many decades ago to only two years ago, there is similarly a wide variety in their features and relative quality. So what makes a good cycling tunnel in my books?

This underpass on QEII Drive at Hills Rd has been around for a while – still a bit narrow and dark
  • Good width for multiple parties to get past each other…
When the Sthn Motorway was duplicated, the new underpass section at Annex Rd was given a good width – unfortunately they didn’t change the old underpass width…
  • Good lighting internally or via other sources such as daylighting gaps…
The cycleway under the Harewood/Johns roundabout makes clever use of lighting and natural daylight vents
  • Good drainage so that water doesn’t pool in them…
A bit damp today at the Waltham railway underpass – would you ride through this?
  • Preferably good sightlines through the tunnel and also at the approaches at either end…
I don’t know what they were thinking with those white bollards at Grimseys Rd (now removed) but at least the sightlines are reasonable
  • No horrible sharp corners or other constrictions at either end…
It might have good sightlines, but the crossing treatment at the western of Winters Rd underpass is a safety challenge

Underpasses can provide some great safety improvements instead of crossing roads or railways “at grade”. However they can also provide some operational and safety issues if they’re not well designed – and unlike surface features like paths, it’s not easy to fix them if you don’t get it right the first time…

A very nice underpass at Harewood roundabout – now it just needs to connect to some useful cycle routes…

What are you experiences of underpasses around Christchurch?

6 thoughts on “Cycle underpasses: the good and the bad”

  1. Never knew the Waltham Rail Underpass existed. I must explore it!

    By Northern Motorway, are you referring to the Christchurch Northern Corridor?

    There’s also the stream-side underpass of the CNC at the Kaputone Creek, near Fords road.

    1. I know what it’s officially called, but it’s still technically a motorway…

      As mentioned, I have ignored any bridge abutment underpasses where one side is open (there are quite a few along both motorway corridors). They certainly also vary in relative quality, although most of the newer ones aren’t too bad.

  2. This is a great post, thanks.

    The Waltham Underpass could be promoted as a unique urban tunnel experience for those who are contemplating riding some of our National Cycle Trails and wish to gain confidence in riding through tunnels. Safety tips – a strong light helps. Be aware that wearing photochromic lens may quickly impair your vision. Be prepared to dismount when entering or leaving the southern end; the hump is significant. The Wednesday Wheelies Bike Group ride through here on occasion; to date there have been no issues of note and there hasn’t been a rider yet who hasn’t left the area with a smile on their face and a story to share.

  3. Ah, the Waltham underpass…

    I remember a surprise car tyre lying in wait one night. It had been deliberately left in the dark between two light fittings. Thankfully I had my lights on but barely saw it in time.

    I’ve heard a story that someone riding through once came across an indie movie being recorded and thought it was real. Not sure if that was true.

  4. I was scheduled to take a Wednesday Wheelies ride through the Waltham tunnel several weeks ago. When I checked the route out a few days before, it was pretty deep in water. I kept my momentum up and didn’t hit any submerged obstructions, but my feet were wet. I decided I wasn’t going to take a group through that. maybe next time.

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