Time to move forward on cycling

Cycling is an essential part of modern, successful cities. The government and councils are responding to strong public demand, and are investing in safe and attractive cycling all over New Zealand. The discussion has moved on from “why”, to “where and how”.

The Stuff film reviewer is entitled to his opinion on how best to provide for cycling, but that’s no basis to make decisions that affect the whole community. In our democratic system we elect councillors to weigh up expert advice, council policy, best-practice guidance and community views before making decisions.

For a decade Wellington people have been consistent in voting for mayors and councillors who are committed to improving cycling. It’s time to move forward.

AAA streets

Who is the council designing cycleways for? It has always been clear that it’s not only to cater better to existing cyclists, but to make cycling an easy and attractive option for the many people who would like to ride.

Cycling Action Network agrees that cities need to build streets for all ages and abilities. We call this AAA cycling. The evidence is clear that when cities build convenient, connected and comfortable cycleways, people love them.

A network effect multiplies the benefits once routes are connected up. Since protected cycleways were built in Auckland three years ago there’s been a 62 per cent increase in cycle trips in the city centre. Likewise, cycling grew by an impressive 600 percent in Toronto when a cycling network was completed.

Build it, and they will come.

Better streets

Perhaps the biggest misconception about cycleways is that they are just for people who ride bikes. The benefits are much broader, however you choose to get around. Drivers and people on buses face less congestion. Parents can ditch the school run. Parking is easier. Pedestrians don’t have to compete for space on paths. Local businesses have more customers.

A British study of 250,000 people called cycling a miracle pill for its benefits in reducing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Everyone wins when people are healthier and our air is cleaner. That’s why successive Governments have invested in cycling. Life is better when more people ride bikes, more often.

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Improving Island Bay

Regarding the Island Bay cycleway, there’s never been a project subject to such extensive community engagement. Everyone who wants to has had a say. The important thing is that valid concerns are addressed and we get on with it.

In Island Bay that means building kerbs to make parking easier, extending buffer zones to reduce risk from parked vehicles, and continuing the cycleway through the shopping area. The road surface would benefit from a reseal to erase ghost markings. The temporary construction period will result in a street we can all be proud of.

Connecting eastern suburbs

Much of Miramar, Strathmore, Rongotai and Kilbirnie are flat: perfect terrain for easy cycling. It makes sense to build high-quality cycleways to connect these suburbs. This reduces our reliance on cars, expands the reach of public transport, and enables people of all ages and abilities to get around.

Overcoming barriers

Hills or wind? Not a problem, thanks to gears, muscle and e-bikes. Rain? Wear a coat. Groceries? Use a bag and carrier. No bike? Borrow or rent one.

Sooner or later the sceptics will run out of excuses, and embrace cycling.

Bike to the Future

With cycleway construction now underway on Cobham Drive, along Hutt Road and much more to come, I predict the future is bike.

Patrick Morgan is a project manager at Cycling Action Network.

This article originally appeared on Stuff

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How well do Advance Stop Boxes work?

An observational cycling experiment in Wellington.

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An Advance Stop Box (ASB) at the intersection of Dixon (one-way) and Victoria Streets in Wellington – blocked by motorists in both lanes.

In my experience – not very well. Just how bad is it out there? Am I imagining it’s as bad as often as it seems? Surely there’s only a few inconsiderate motorists making my ride in the city more dangerous than it needs to be…

It turns out my safety is at least partially compromised by motorists at a majority of stops involving advance stop boxes (ASBs) when riding my bicycle.

There are some ASBs at intersections throughout central Wellington. When I say ‘some’, I mean I joked once that I wondered if we had the highest number of ASBs per capita in the world, there are so many.

Maybe there aren’t actually all that great a number in reality, but when there is so few other forms of bicycle facility provided in a city, it’s hard to not notice them. Very few Wellington ASBs have any form of bike lane to feed people riding bikes to them safely for instance.

The dominance of ASBs throughout Wellington’s central business district (CBD) are only recently challenged for bicycle ‘paintfrastructure’ supremacy by the addition of numerous sharrows – another example of bicycle facility that means well, and wants to be seen to be achieving, but really isn’t.

I wanted to know how often things were good, challenging, or impossible.

I commute by bike. Every day. Every type of weather. I cycle roughly 6km into the CBD from Island Bay (Island Bay Cycleway RULZ!), through Berhampore, Newtown, around The Basin, Kent and Cambridge, and through the city to Boulcott Street.

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A typical route I may cycle for my morning commute into Wellington CBD. Pic. via Strava

There are plenty of times I stop at an intersection and have some difficulty with the ASB being blocked in some way. In my experience I am lucky if I don’t have some difficulty with several ASBs on a journey. So I decided to start counting what went wrong and what went right.

I wanted to know how often things were good, challenging, or impossible. I wanted to be able to show that, while there are some positive sides to ASBs, they are under-performing – usually because of consistent infringement by some motorists. This is probably no surprise to anybody, but I hope it helps to understand more about just how bad it is as a cyclist out there and if there are any patterns to these infringements. If there is anything that can be done to improve safety that would be great. This article does not provide any suggestions about how we might go about that.

For more about how Wellington cyclists view the effectiveness of our impressive ASB density check out this great post by Alastair.

My methodology

The experiment I ran is just me, my rides, routes, and riding ability. I tried to use a little scientific method to gather observational data to provide a little insight into how effective, or not, ASBs are. It would be interesting to source data from more riders, at different times of day, different bike types, and more routes than I take. Obviously more data would enable more reliable conclusions to be made.

I recorded observations on my bike journeys (mostly commuting) over 26 days during March and April 2017.

Along each journey I evaluated the conditions at each intersection or pedestrian crossing I stopped at. I did not include any times I stopped on fully separated areas like footpaths, shared paths, or cycleways etc.

I evaluated only times that I stopped in the road and in traffic, where I would have made use of an ASB if I could reasonably expect to get to it. I did not count the rare occasions I was held up in particularly dense congestion mid-block. For each evaluation, I counted a number against one of four criteria, which were:

Good

  • No obstruction by any motorists.
  • Able to comfortably access and wait in the ASB

Partially Blocked

  • Able to access and wait in the ASB
  • Motorist/s encroaching into or over the ASB – even a bonnet overhanging
  • Motorist/s may have encroached into the ASB in any of multiple lanes
  • Motorcycles / motor scooters included but not eBikes

Blocked

  • Completely obstructed by motorist/s
  • Unable to access the ASB
  • Forced to stop before or past the ASB
  • The particular lane I needed to use was completely obstructed

No ASB

  • There was no ASB marked at the stop

The results

I made evaluations of ASB used on 56 journeys over two calendar months – March and April this year.

Totals

During those 56 trips there were:

  • a total of 484 stop evaluations made, an average of 8.64 per journey
  • 136 stops with comfortable and safe access to an ASB
  • 182 stops had no ASB facility
  • 120 times I was partially blocked
  • 166 instances where I was partially or completely blocked
  • 46 times I was completely blocked, an average of 0.82 per journey.
    Or in other words: I experience an ASB as completely inaccessible, on average, once every 4 out of 5 journeys.

Stop evaluations with ASBs

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When not including stops where there was no ASB marked, over half (55%) of evaluated ASB stops were partially or fully blocked by motorists.

Including stop evaluations with no ASBs

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Chart 2- The good, the bad, the ugly, and the non-existent

There are fewer intersections with ASBs outside of the Wellington CBD but it is still worthwhile to show as having nothing is generally worse than anything when it comes to space for cycling. So showing the proportion of stops with no ASB shows that even with the overdose in the CBD, there are large parts of Wellington without even this low hanging fruit.

Morning vs evening

Let’s have a look at the breakdown of the stops of morning vs the evening rides. I’m going to exclude the no ASB numbers to better focus on how stops with them were performing.

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Chart 3 – Morning ride stop evaluations with ASBs
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Chart 4 – Evening ride stop evaluations with ASBs

ASBs were completely blocked by motorists nearly twice as often on my evening journeys.

This could be the result of the particular design of the ASBs used by the routes I take, or the mental state of motorists in the morning vs the evening, or the degraded marking of many of them (they’re not being maintained to an acceptable standard in general). Who knows?! Whatever the cause, it is bound to be a combination of factors.

Curiously, the increase in fully blocked ASBs seems to be at a roughly even expense of both good and partially blocked stops. It is interesting that partial blocks has not shown a similar rise like fully blocked.

I interpret (at least part of) this as a greater proportion of motorists completely disregarding ASBs in the evening, whereas a majority are keeping to their usual habits – whether good or inconsiderate. What do you think it might be?

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ASB on Dixon Street at the intersection with Willis Street. In a pretty poor state. Not surprising some motorists will ignore infrastructure that is not maintained.

Other observations

Encouragingly, there are new ASBs being installed in Newtown which is welcome. I intend to run this experiment again around the same time next year to see if the data changes.

I think it is fair to say that there is some habitual abuse by some drivers consistently ignoring or encroachment on the ASBs. I have also observed a growing number of drivers distracted by digital devices. This problem is especially problematic at city intersections as these are the most dangerous places on our roads and demand a driver’s undivided attention. I did not gather any data on distraction. Maybe that will warrant separate experiment.

Regardless of the cause, I think the higher rate of infraction by motorists in the evening is of great concern as it points to potentially greater dangers to vulnerable road users at that time. If my observations through this limited experiment on one form of bicycle paintfrastructure are suggesting this, I wonder what other heightened dangers cyclists and pedestrians face from generally reduced compliance of motorists on our roads at various times of the day?

I also wonder how often enforcement of encroaching on ASBs by the New Zealand Police is encouraging Wellington motorists to adhere to the law. Apparently you may be fined $60 for encroaching into the cycling paintfrastructure. Who knew?

Bike share: Uber for bikes?

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Mtshare bike

Bike share is a key way to get more people on bikes. Starting in Lyon, France in 2005, there are now hundreds of schemes around the world. Bikes are left at locations around a city, and users can register to get a code to release a bike and drop it off at another location. In Aotearoa, NextBike has pioneered bike share in Auckland and Christchurch, and NZTA is getting involved.

What about Wellington? With a flat, compact CBD, Wellington seems ideal for bike share, but so far it hasn’t happened. That is until July, when a private startup Mtshare, inspired by bike share schemes in Shanghai, began leaving bikes around the CBD. A smartphone app (for android or iOS) lets you register and get a code for the combination lock on a bike.

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Mtshare app, showing available bikes

Mtshare is a “dockless” bike share scheme – bikes can be left anywhere, not just at a purpose built docking station. This has the advantage that you don’t need to find a free space on a docking station to return a bike, but the disadvantage that bikes can end up in non public places, or in some cases create obstructive heaps of bikes at popular destinations.

How does it work in practice? I fired up the app outside the central library. The map showed the locations of available bikes – none at the central library, but three close by in Cuba St. However two of these were not on the street. A closer look at the map showed that the bikes appeared to be located in apartment buildings – Mtshare say they’re working with customers to persuade them not to appropriate bikes for personal use. The third bike was conveniently parked on a bike rack, but unfortunately the app gave me the wrong code to unlock the bike.

The app showed more bikes down at the railway station – a convenient location, so I headed there and this time the bikes were accessible, and I was able to get the correct code for a lock. The bikes have a small frame and 507mm (24″) wheels, and the seat height is fixed. Most adults would find them uncomfortable to ride for any distance, but at 1.7m I found it OK for a ride along the waterfront, and indeed it felt a bit like rediscovering BMX as a kid. Mtshare has plans for larger bikes, with adjustable seats.

The helmet attached to the bike was a bit small for me. Some people don’t like the idea of using a helmet that other people have used, but to me it seems no different from using the headrests of airplane seats.

The bikes have stands, which means that they can be left anywhere, even if there isn’t a fixed bike stand. There is a bell but no lights. The next batch of bikes will have baskets.

At the moment, there is no charge for using the bikes, and Mtshare would like to continue this, instead supporting the service through advertising. Similar schemes have also been mined for location data.

With more bikes, and better sizing, Mtshare could be a good way for bike-less people to experience the convenience of biking. And with good management we can hopefully avoid the downsides that have appeared in some other places.


see also…

Eastern cycle routes – it’s not about you

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Is this what you’d like to see on Evans Bay Parade?

WCC is consulting on a raft of proposed cycle routes in the eastern suburbs. There’s not much time left to give feedback about these. If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re pretty comfortable about biking. But the proposed routes are not about you: they’re about attracting new cyclists who may be intimidated by  a stream of cars and buses behind them as they pedal up Crawford Road to get from Kilbirnie to Newtown, for example. If the new routes get people doing more trips by bike, we reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and improve our health, benefiting everyone.

There are 25 different routes proposed, each with a couple of options for implementing them, arrived at by community consultation. While this seems a lot to sift through, there are clear images of the different options, and it’s easy to give online feedback. If you’re time challenged, just give feedback on the routes that are important to you. I’m not going to tell you which options to choose (though in general option A will be a reasonable outcome), but here’s some things to think about as you give feedback.

  • Will the option encourage more trips by bike? There’s no point in implementing the route otherwise.
  • Is it an 8-80 route – in other words, will people from 8 years old to 80 years old be comfortable biking the route? Obviously some proposals (for example Crawford Rd) may not pass this test, but will still be worth doing because overall more people will be encouraged to bike.
  • Protected bike lanes are more likely to encourage new users than bike lanes next to traffic, or sharrows. However on “quiet routes” such as Wilson St in Newtown, and Yule St in Kilbirnie, a high level of protection may not be necessary.
  • In general, one way cycle lanes on each side of the road are preferable since bikes will always be travelling on the correct side of the road. However in some cases, such as Evans Bay, a two way cycle lane on one side of the road will work because the cycle lane crosses few entrances or intersections.
  • Where a bike lane runs by parked cars, is there an adequate buffer zone so people can alight from a car without intruding on the cycle lane? Hint: 0.3m (the length of a shoe) is not enough.
  • Are the driving lane widths safe? In general driving lanes should be about 3m, or over 4m. Lanes 3-4m wide tempt drivers to speed and overtake bikes even though there’s not enough space to do so safely.
  • Could the route be improved by blocking or discouraging through motor traffic? This might be a possibility for Wilson St for example. This could also benefit residents bothered by rat-running commuters.
  • Parking is naturally a concern. However the important thing is that people can find a place to park when they need it. Even if the number of car parks decreases, tools such as time limits, residents parking zones, etc can ensure that parks will always be available to those who need them.
  • It’s preferable that pedestrians aren’t disadvantaged by narrower footpaths.
  • Will the growing numbers of people using eBikes affect the uptake of the route? For example the Crawford Rd route is a bit steep but is a breeze on an eBike.

So have a look at the proposed routes, and give your feedback. Now is a good time, but definitely by 17 September (2 October for Miramar Avenue (Shelly Bay Road to Tauhinu Road). All going well, this time next year we’ll have a bunch of new people biking in the east!

CAW September meeting

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Evans Bay – can we do better than this?

While some of us have headed off to warmer cycling environments, there’ll be a keen group to discuss Wellington cycling issues.

  • CBD-Oriental Parade-Evans Bay-Miramar routes – consultation opens Monday 4 Sept
  • Newtown improvements
  • Hutt Road
  • Island Bay Cycleway – not much news until consultation results etc are made available
  • Cycling issues in the national election
  • Thumbs up/ Thumbs down

Tuesday 5 September 6-7:30pm, Sustainability Trust, Forrester Lane (off Tory St).

Does “taking the lane” hold up cars?

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Taking the lane at an intersection

Should you “take the lane” – ride in the centre of the road lane – or ride on the left hand side of the lane? The Road Code says “you should keep left, but not to the extent that it compromises your safety” for example by riding in the door zone of parked cars. The Code says you should take the lane when approaching a roundabout or intersection, and that it’s acceptable to take the lane when the road is narrow, there are parked cars, or if you’re turning left at an intersection (to avoid being cut off by another vehicle turning left).  But we’re sometimes reluctant to take the lane, because we feel we’re holding up following vehicles.

In fact, taking the lane often doesn’t make any difference. I recently came across a good diagram (from the UK, which is why there’s the odd mixture of metric distances and imperial speeds) that explains why.

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Overtaking Bikes [@lstwhl]
To pass safely, the Road Code says a car needs to be 1.5m to the right of a bike, which is about 0.7m wide. Most cars are about 1.8m wide. So overtaking requires at least 0.7+1.5+1.8=4m of road space. But most urban lanes are less than 4m, so a passing vehicle almost always needs to go into the next lane over, meaning that it doesn’t matter if the bike is at the edge of the road, or taking the lane.

The diagram also makes the point that riding single file doesn’t necessarily make it easier for vehicles to pass a group. But if you are riding in a group, it is polite to be considerate of following drivers.

Taking the lane is a powerful way of ensuring your visibility and safety. As a rule of thumb, if you’re being passed too close, you should take the lane next time you’re on that piece of road.

Does taking the lane hold up cars? Yes, but generally no more than if you rode on the left hand edge, and the delay is usually less than that caused by the queue at the next intersection. And if bikes taking the lane is causing problems for traffic, there’s often a simple solution – put in a cycle lane.

How contrary is contraflow?

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Proposed contraflow lane in Cuba St

When WCC unveiled plans for bike lanes going the opposite way on one-way streets (“contraflow lanes“), there was a collective intake of breath. The first one way street was designated in 1617, but so shocked the London citizenry that it wasn’t until 1800 that the next one was established.  However now we’re so used to one way streets that going the wrong way on a one way street seems unnatural, even for the nimble velocipede.

One way streets are a hassle for bikes. In a car there’s a reasonable payoff for having to go around three sides of a square, but on a bike one way streets add significantly to travel time and reduce safety by increasing the number of intersections to be negotiated. Many cities have used contraflow lanes to increase the permeability of the city for bikes, and encourage bike use. Auckland and Christchurch have introduced contraflow, and I’ve ridden contraflow in cities as different as Cape Town and Tokyo. In France and Belgium, one way streets are by default contraflow for bikes.

There’ll need to be a bit of adjustment – pedestrians stepping out into the street will need to be reminded to look both ways, but the green “bike lane” treatment and arrows should do this.  The contraflow lane in Cuba is next to parked cars, but bike riders and car drivers will be facing each other so the risk will be low.

Ideally contraflow will be introduced on a number of streets at once, so people get used to the concept. As well as Cuba St between Ghuznee and Vivian, contraflow is being planned for Lower Cuba Street between Manners and Wakefield, Bunny Street West, and Willeston Street between Willis and Victoria. It would be good to see contraflow on more one way streets, for example Jessie St, Dixon St, Waring Taylor St and Stout St.

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Possible contraflow lanes in the CBD

Contraflow isn’t a silver bullet by any means – it will help confident cyclists rather than attract novices, and the proposed contraflow lanes are “quick wins” rather than part of a city wide network. But the changes will help people on bikes to traverse the CBD more efficiently and make biking more attractive. If you’d like to see this happen (along with some other quick wins) give WCC your feedback by 11 August. Contraflow is enabled by TR77, TR78, TR80 and TR82; other bike friendly measures are in TR79 (Grey St bike parking), TR81 (Rugby St bike lane) and TR106 (Wakely Rd shared path).

Project Glow Wear hits the runway

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One way to avoid the biker’s blight of SMIDSY (Sorry mate, I didn’t see you) is to wear high visibility or reflective clothing. However some people don’t like to look like road workers when they pedal around town. Project Glow Wear provides stylish options for being visible on a bike.

The Project Glow Wear design competition shows how creative you can be with reflective gear and really stand out from the crowd. Get your tickets to the Runway Show in Wellington (Sat 12 August) as this is the place to be seen!

It’s in the underground area beneath Frank Kitts Park, and kicks off at 7:30pm.

CAW August meeting report

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Island Bay Option C – submissions due 13 August

Lots in the pipeline, and if you want to make it happen, there are plenty of things you can give feedback to Council on.

Ron reported back on the regular meeting he and Linda had with WCC Cycling Team. There will be quite a few projects to submit on, as the UCP projects gather pace. Eleanor doing a register of submissions. There are proposals for a shared footpath route to connect Kent Terrace to the Waterfront. This would have to be done without inconveniencing pedestrians. Hutt Rd shared path issues were discussed, including the illegal car parks (Sarah Free and Chris Calvi-Freeman are following up on this), lack of safety measures at business exits, and the narrow gap between posts on the shared path. Options for access to Bunny St West are being investigated. Traffic lights at Brooklyn Rd/Ohiro Rd may improve safety for cyclists at this intersection. Western routes, e.g. to Karori, may be in the next tranche of cycling projects.

Newtown cycling projects: engagement has started on possible cycling connections through Newtown/Berhampore. The Bike Newtown group has been promoting to cycle commuters with Pit Stops at Basin Reserve and John/Adelaide intersection. At this stage it may be better for CAW to promote awareness, rather specific solutions.

Bike Sydney has been in touch – their advice is to talk about space, not design. Relevant to Thorndon Quay, where it’s important to create a space that will be attractive to traffic and people patronising businesses.

We discussed the Island Bay consultation. Councillor Diane Calvert (responsible for Community Planning and Engagement) and WCC staff helped explain the four options, which all include making the cycleway more direct, and extending it through the business area. The decision is about quality of feedback, not quantity, and shouldn’t be construed as a “vote”. Other options are not being considered, since the four options are the result of a thorough engagement process which all stakeholders could participate in. The aim should be an “8-80” cycleway, that can be used confidently by people between 8 and 80 years of age. Please read the Council’s material, including the FAQ. James has provided the 30 second summary on the CAW website. Please submit by 13 August.

CBD “quick win” improvements. We discussed these small projects, which will make it easier to get around the CBD by bike. The proposals include contraflow lanes, which are common in other cities, and have been used in Christchurch and Auckland. Risk analysis may show that contraflow lanes improve safety – for example in Cuba St, drivers of parking cars will be facing towards people on bikes. Submit feedback by 11 August.

Shelly Bay development. We discussed the cycling implications of this development, which over a 13 year period will see a four fold increase in motor traffic on one of Wellington’s best recreational cycling routes. The Miramar Ciclovia has attracted thousands to the peninsula. Have your say by 14 August.

Asia-Pacific Cycling Conference is being held in Christchurch 17-20 October.

Love the Bay: Which option is best for the Island Bay Cycleway?

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We’re into the consultation on the options for improving the Island Bay Cycleway. The consultation period is short, closing on Sunday 13 August. Luckily filling in the consultation form is quick and easy. Please do!

Here’s the 30-second version on what we like:

  • Option C is our favourite (with some design detail to ensure it doesn’t feel like a shared path)
  • Options B and D are OK (but both compromise cycling or walking)
  • Option A is rubbish.

We’ll be ranking C, B, D as our favourites in order. You should pick the option you like best, and give a few clear reasons with your feedback. Say why you like your favourite, and why you don’t like any options that you particularly dislike.

For some great in-depth analysis head along to Regan’s blog post on the options at Island Bay Cycle Way. Here are a few notes of our own.

Option A would be worse for cycling than today. It takes away the protection from moving vehicles – with narrow traffic lanes, trucks and buses would be right at your shoulder and unable to give you extra space. It doesn’t pass the ‘8-80’ test of being suitable for all ages and abilities. The engineering report says the whole Parade would need a lower speed limit for this option to meet NZTA guidelines, and that would likely cause motorists to ‘rat-run’ through quiet back streets.

Option B is most similar to today’s cycleway. As with all the options, Option B improves intersection safety and continues the cycleway through the shopping area. Riding between kerbs could feel like you are trapped in a narrow channel though, and will make it difficult for people to pass each other. If someone steps into the cycleway right in front of a cyclist without looking, there’ll be nowhere for the cyclist to go.

Option C raises cyclists slightly above road level, good for seeing and being seen. And you won’t feel trapped in a channel – there’ll be more room to pass, or to avoid any obstacles. It needs a tweak to keep walkers and cyclists separate though. A slight height difference with ‘friendly’ mountable angled kerbs, or a smooth drainage channel, would do this well.

Option D trades off footpath space to make room for a median (in the residential area) and more parking in the shopping area. Footpaths will be narrow. Counterintuitively, retaining angle parking could hurt some businesses – for example, there’ll be no space for outside tables outside Bluebell café. And reversing out of the angle parks into the 3m-wide traffic lane won’t be much fun.

Still here? Go and make your submission. Add in any thoughts you have – the Council are looking for useful comments as well as your preference.