A couple of years ago, green paint and bicycle symbols started appearing at intersections all over Wellington. These were Advance Stop Boxes (ASBs). The purpose of ASB’s is to give cyclists a place to wait ahead of the main traffic queue, making them more visible, and giving them a head start on other traffic. A 1998 OECD study into vulnerable road users showed that ASB’s significantly reduced accident risks to cyclists – in one Swedish study by 35%. On the other hand cycling experts Axel Wilke and Glen Koorey “regard ASBs as useful in some circumstances, but don’t see them as solving all problems that cyclists may experience at signalised intersections”.
I had to admit to some skepticism when I first saw the profusion of green paint. I felt this was a example of the dangers of outsourcing. Rather than using in-house expertise to identify intersections that would benefit from ASB’s, and doing them properly, it was easier to simply let a contract for laying down green paint everywhere, often in places where the ASB wasn’t particularly useful.
So, two years on, how are ASB’s performing? I decided to ask Wellington cyclists with a brief online survey. To my surprise, ASB’s are clearly both important (145 people responded to the survey) and generally popular – 85% of respondents used ASB’s most times they encountered them.
Why people saw ASB’s as useful was a bit more complicated. Although 35% said that it helped them to cross the intersection more safely, and 10% said that it enabled them to travel faster, the most common (42%) attraction of the ASB’s was simply that they recognized cycling as a legitimate transport mode . There was also a hard core of unbelievers (4%) that didn’t find ASB’s useful at all. “Usually I find it better to claim the lane and stay in line with cars”. There were also a couple of comments to the effect that the ASBs provided a good opportunity to socialise with other cyclists!
When asked what the main problem was that people had with ASBs, the overwhelming issue was “I can’t get through the traffic to reach them” (46%) followed by “Other vehicles are in the box” (30%). This shows that we need more lead in lanes (bike lanes that lead up to the ASB), and better education/enforcement of the need for motor vehicles to keep clear of the ASBs.
I also asked which ASB people found most useful. This got a wide variety of responses, including “All of them” and “I don’t find any particularly useful.” On numbers, the ASB at the junction of Riddiford and Adelaide is most popular (20 mentions) followed by Featherston/Bunny (15 mentions). Both of these are on important commuting routes, but they’re very different. Riddiford/Adelaide lacks lead in lanes, and it’s on a major public transport route, so to get to the ASB you often have to filter past buses. However if you can reach the ASB, you’ve got a head start at a complex intersection, avoiding conflict with traffic turning left into John St, for example. Featherston/Bunny is better designed – there’s an approach lane that keeps cyclists clear of vehicles turning left (although there is sometimes conflict with vehicles turning left across the lead in lane).
In both of these cases the advantage of the ASB is that it avoids conflict with left turning vehicles, and that should be a flag for installing ASBs. For example at Willis/Ghuznee cyclists heading north have to create their own “virtual” lead in lane to avoid conflict with the traffic in the left turn only lane. A lead in lane here would improve the ride for the many cyclists who commute along Willis St, and encourage less confident cyclists.
Finally, I asked how ASB’s could be improved.
Lead in lanes were most demanded (73%), followed by separate bike phases in the traffic light sequence, which would enable cyclists to clear the intersection before other traffic moves (66%). We’ve just seen the introduction of a separate bike light phase at Abel Smith St, as part of the Victoria Street upgrade, so perhaps this be rolled out at other intersections.
Better education (54%) and policing (45%) were also seen as important. WCC and the Police carried out a campaign in 2014, and a poster has been distributed.
To sum up:
- ASB’s are popular with Wellington cyclists, if only because they recognise cycling as a legitimate transport mode.
- Other road users need to keep clear of ASBs.
- ASBs would be more effective if there were more lead in lanes, and bicycle phases in the traffic light sequence.