Can cyclists and walkers share? High noon at the TR70-15 corral.

Waterloo Quay shared path
Waterloo Quay shared path boulevard

Should people walking be expected to share space with people on bikes? This question made the front page of the Dominion Post last week, reporting on WCC’s hearing on the Waterloo Quay shared path.

Shared paths (i.e. paths that are legal to use for people biking as well as walking) can be contentious. Actual collisions between cyclists and walkers are rare. A London study showed that only 2% of pedestrian collision injuries on footpaths were due to bikes. But walkers can be unnerved by the “whoosh factor” of being passed too close and too fast by someone on a bike – similar to the feeling you have on a bike if you’re passed too close by a fast motor vehicle. Shared paths are different from footpaths: you can only legally ride a bike on a footpath if your bike has small wheels, or if you’re delivering newspapers.

Cuba/Karo intersection: "shared path"?
Cuba/Karo intersection: “shared path”?

It’s tempting for Councils to create a cycle path by simply declaring a footpath to be a shared path. However often this isn’t satisfactory. An example is where the Karo shared path crosses Cuba St. People on bikes cross the pedestrian route on a narrow footpath with poor visibility, right next to a busy State Highway.

Which brings us to Waterloo Quay. There’s a wide boulevard on the eastern side of the Quay from the Bluebridge Terminal up to the Cruise ship terminal. For some years, people on bikes had been riding it as a shared path, using it to access the buildings in the Centreport complex (including Statistics NZ and the Regional Council), and as a way of getting to Thorndon Quay via the Fran Wilde walkway. However it hadn’t been officially designated as a shared path, so the seemingly innocuous traffic resolution TR70-15 was drafted to formalise this.

Living Streets Aotearoa (which includes some cyclists as members) have rightly been concerned about the proliferation of inappropriate shared paths, and decided that TR70-15 was a place to make a stand. They kindly forwarded their submission to CAW so we could make an opposing submission, leading to the “Walkers vs Cyclists” high noon standoff reported by the Dominion Post.

Bluebridge crossing: the sign says "come on over" but the desire line is unfriendly
Bluebridge crossing: the sign says “come on over” but the desire line is unfriendly

Although CAW submitted in favour of the shared path designation, we actually agreed with much of LSA’s submission. In particular the southern end of the path at the Bluebridge terminal needs a serious redesign. To get to the continuation of the shared path to the waterfront on the eastern side of Shed 21, you have to cross a high speed slip lane. The crossing doesn’t follow the “desire line” to get to the waterfront, and there isn’t a drop kerb to make it easy for bikes to cross.

Crossing the wide BNZ carpark entrance - will these visitors make it before their cruise ship departs?
Crossing the wide BNZ carpark entrance – will these visitors make it before their cruise ship departs?

Another hazard is the very wide BNZ carpark entrance, with a traffic light sequence that is biased against people on the shared path. Apparently this is to become the main motor vehicle entrance for the Centreport complex, but it’s still hard to see why it has to be three lanes wide. The Centreport complex is right next to Wellington’s main public transport hub, so you’d think a City committed to taking action on climate change would be making it easier for people in the complex to get to the public transport hub, rather than encouraging them to use fossil fueled vehicles.

In the end, the Council agreed to the shared path designation. But TR70-15 has some valuable lessons for us. Shared paths aren’t necessarily the best solution – long term we should have protected cycle paths, for example along the quays. Shared paths need to be done properly, with good signage and  transitions to other parts of the network. Cycling and walking advocates need to work together for a city that encourages as many people as possible to cycle and walk. And in the mean time, if you’re biking on a shared path, obey the courtesy code: keep your speed down, politely alert walkers as you approach, and pass with plenty of space.