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?

asb_dixon_st_02
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?

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