Newtown state of mind

We’ve been reading up on the Newtown Connections project. Feedback is open until 11 December; please take a moment to have your say today.

There’s heaps of information online, from technical and background info to good ideas in comments from people who have already made a submission. Here’s what we think.

Our preference: Package C+ (the Healthy Streets Option)

To succeed, the network must be:

  • Connected – go where people want to go
  • Convenient – easy to use (avoid hills and indirect routes)
  • Comfortable – for all ages and abilities.

We don’t have a preferred option out of the three packages proposed. BUT with a little change, we support a combination of Package C routes (best balance of ‘connection’ and ‘convenience’) with Package A ‘2x 1-way’ paths (best for ‘comfort’ and safety) where possible.

Rintoul Street’s a must-do route, as the least steep route south of Newtown. It serves SWIS directly. There’s less parking impact as it runs beside Village at the Park, and Wakefield Hospital. And it provides the best connection to Newtown shops. The steep section on Adelaide Road north of Luxford Street, and the steepness of the western off-road option through MacAlister Park, rule them both out as ‘all ages and abilities’ routes.

Our preference more or less matches ‘Package C+’ identified by Regan for Island Bay Healthy Streets (love the new name!), and we think of it as the Healthy Streets Option as it best fits the objectives of that approach.

We want to stress that at this stage in the design process, our preference for a specific package is less strong than our desire to see a good outcome overall. We recognise that the viability of some combinations of route and path type depends on more detailed design to be done later.

We’ve highlighted some particular preferences:

  • Prioritise protected bike lanes
  • Yes to off-road routes, but only in addition to more direct routes
  • Avoid two-way cycleways in most cases
  • Include the flattest option
  • Mitigate reductions in parking
  • Think of the scooters!

We also have some ideas for making the most of the detailed design stage, and an overall plea: be bold!

Prioritise protected bike lanes

Wellington will see the greatest health, economic and efficiency benefits if the network both keeps people safe and also makes them feel safe. You can do this best with protected lanes. Avoid ‘on road’ cycle lanes or areas where people on bikes mix with traffic on busy main roads — this type of treatment becomes the weak link in the chain that puts more vulnerable people off giving cycling a try. Even a few metres of danger (such as through an intersection, or through a shopping area) are enough to undermine the benefit of good bike paths either side. Despite best intentions, 30km shared zones don’t work well on main arterial roads with lots of trucks and buses, such as through Berhampore shops or Newtown shops.

Good protected lanes don’t depend on good driving behaviour as much as shared zones or paint-only bike lanes. Businesses need to load goods, and in practice delivery drivers will often stop wherever is easiest. To work with this, protect bike lanes from parking and provide loading zones that are more convenient to use.

Protected intersections can help maintain comfort for cyclists and other road users. Tight spots can make physically protected bike lanes difficult to fit in. At these pinch points, and at junctions, separate cyclists from conflict with other traffic using time instead of space, with dedicated stages in the traffic light sequence.

Yes to off-road routes, but only in addition to more direct routes

Off-road routes are great, but must be in addition to (not instead of) paths that follow the most direct routes. Off-road routes are typically not the most direct, flattest, or most connected to destinations. Providing a variety of routes is important because connectivity is important! The more connections the network provides, the better the uptake will be.

If you can pave and light the off-road routes, so they become viable options all year round, at any time of day, do it! Motion sensors could allow the lighting to respond to the presence of people, saving energy when the paths aren’t in use and adding a ‘wow’ factor when they are.

Avoid two-way cycleways in most cases

We absolutely understand the desire to use two-way cycle lanes to mitigate effects on parking, but we can’t endorse this approach if it results in greater risk for people riding bikes.

Two-way cycleways don’t work well on roads with lots of intersections or driveways — the risk of being sideswiped by a driver who didn’t look both ways before crossing the cycleway is high. Two-way cycleways are also risky on steep hills, because of the speed differential between uphill and downhill cyclists. Taking both of these things into consideration, we don’t think two-way cycleways are appropriate for many of the places you’ve proposed them, such as on Rintoul Street and Adelaide Road in Package C.

Let’s not end up with stories like this on Stuff:
City of Ottawa chooses less safe option for O’Connor bikeway to make room for cars 

That said, a two-way cycleway may be appropriate for Riddiford Street, in the low-speed shopping area, as long as intersections and transitions are handled very carefully. Drivers are already used to slowing and looking both ways for pedestrians when turning into most of the side roads through Newtown, which lowers the risk for people on bikes. Lowering the speed limit to 30km/h through there would also help.

Include the flattest option

Whichever route or mix of routes you choose, include a less steep route to attract the most people. Not everyone wants to climb the Adelaide Road hill.

Mitigate reductions in parking

  • Prioritise resident parking over commuter parking — consider introducing residents-only zones, with no fee for the first while to help residents see the value before they have to start paying?
  • Create more parking spaces on council land — for example, at the top of MacAlister Park?
  • Make the hospital own its parking problem, which currently has a major impact across Newtown and beyond. Unlike most workplaces, there really is a case for the hospital taking responsibility for providing parking for staff and visitors. Hospital support for carpooling, public transport and other behaviour change (for the staff who can) could reduce demand too. Direct bike lanes are part of the solution too.

Think of the scooters!

Innovations like Onzo bike-share and electric scooters show how rapidly transport can change. Build paths that work for a variety of users, with specifications that make them resilient to change — whether that’s the next new transport idea, or an increase in mobility scooters, or simply a large uptake in biking. For example, you could provide bike parking along the route that would be convenient for finding or leaving a dockless share bike without blocking the footpath.

 

So… to finish, two overall points:

Make the most of the detailed design stage

Pay particular attention to intersections, and to the transitions between protected lanes and other types of treatments. For example, use things like hook turns and dedicated traffic signals to avoid vulnerable people having to mix with buses, filter through lanes of traffic, or wait to turn on green spots in between lanes of moving traffic.

Be bold!

Removing parking is really hard, and we have sympathy for businesses and residents who will have parking removed near their properties. But Wellington cannot become a truly resilient 21st century city without making it possible for more people to cycle and leave the car at home. Our population will continue to grow, and we have finite space — we can’t endlessly accommodate more and more cars.  

Go and have your say — it matters!

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