The land of the rising eBike: cycling in Japan

bikes, Yoyogi Park
Sakura cycling in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

I recently spent three weeks in Japan, chasing cherry blossom (Sakura) on a Japan Rail Pass. But I also tried out cycling; renting and borrowing bikes in several towns and cities. What did I find out, and are there lessons for cycling in Wellington?

eBikes

As in other parts of the world, electric assist bikes (eBikes) are ubiquitous in Japan. eBikes comprise 53% of Japan’s bicycle production, although there are indications that the growth is flattening. Most have a Panasonic motor system, that I haven’t seen in NZ: crank drive, with a relatively compact battery.

Standard family transport is an electric assist cargo bike, with child carriers front and rear. At a suburban rail station, I saw a family roll up: Dad pedaling, Mum perched behind, and child in a seat. Dad jumped off and ran for the train, while Mum took over pedaling to drop the kid off at daycare.

mother and child on eBike
Family transport

I’m still not sure how Japanese eBike users charge their bikes. Many bikes are left on the streets overnight, but they seem to be left with batteries on, and not connected to a charger. Maybe they have two batteries and rotate them around.

Footpath cycling

bike/pedestrian sharing
Separated cycle path, Tokyo
Mall cycling, Takamatsu
Cycling in a shopping mall, Takamatsu
No footpath cycling sign
But you can’t ride your bike everywhere

Whenever footpath cycling is mentioned, it’s stated “that’s what they do in Japan”. Well, yes and no. Footpath cycling is illegal in Japan unless signs specifically allow it. However in the 1970’s oil crisis, it seems that police made a policy decision not to prosecute footpath cycling. In 2011 the Police said they would encourage people between 13 and 70 to ride on the road rather than the footpath, but it still seems that people of all ages cycle on the footpath, including the police themselves.

Police biking on crossing
These police have just cycled down the footpath in the background

According to a paper presented at VeloCity 2014, Japanese authorities are concerned about the risks of footpath cycling, particularly to the increasing numbers of elderly pedestrians. So they are creating more cycle paths and designated shared paths, and encouraging cyclists to use them. I saw signs of this investment. One example was Yamaguchi, a provincial capital about the same size as Wellington, where major intersections had underpasses for cyclists and pedestrians – just what Wellington needs on Cobham Drive.

Yamaguchi
Underpass entrance, Yamaguchi
Underpass, Takamatsu
Underpass in Takamatsu

Does the Japanese footpath cycling regime work? As an (elderly!) pedestrian I had a couple of times that a cyclist whooshed past in a way that startled me, but I didn’t see any crashes. When I did cycle, it was often very useful to use footpaths as an alternative the busy multilane city streets.

bike lane, Tokyo
Tokyo style sharrows
Kanazawa
Two way cycle path, Kanazawa

However, Japanese cycling style is very different from NZ. Very few footpath cyclists look like they’re training for the Tour de France – typically they’re Lycra-free leisurely commuters. Although Japanese will ignore laws, such as the one that prohibits riding with an umbrella, there’s a very strong ethos of obeying custom. Japanese pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will never go through a red light, even if there are no other vehicles around. And traffic light sequences are long – while you’ve got a lot of time to amble across a pedestrian crossing, you might have to wait several minutes for your phase to come up. Another reason footpath cycling works is that Japanese streets generally don’t have a lot of vehicle entrances, unlike NZ where every house has a driveway and the risk of a motor vehicle crossing the footpath.

We need to be careful about translating the Japanese experience of footpath cycling to the NZ environment.

Bike parking

Whenever we used bikes, we were warned to be careful where we parked them. Areas around businesses often have signs prohibiting bike parking. Bikes are frequently removed, and there’s a substantial cost to recover them. At the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto the only legal bike parking cost $3 and was half a kilometer from the temple.

Naoshima
Art project bike parking, Naoshima

Railway stations had huge bike parks – I suspect a hazard is failing to find your bike when you return!

Bikes on public transport

Given the ubiquity of both public transport and cycling, I was surprised that there doesn’t seem to be more use of bikes on public transport. At the weekend, we saw a number of recreational cyclists at Tokyo station with touring bikes packed in bags, heading off for a ride – an hours ride on a Shinkansen high speed train can put you hundreds of kilometers from the metropolis.

Nara - how to pack (rinko) your bike for train
Rinko instructions, Nara Station

It seems you can take a bike on a train if it is “Rinko”ed – bagged with wheels removed. You can also get pedals that pop off, making the Rinko process easier. Mini Velos, bikes with small wheels but standard frames, are common in Japan, I think because they’re easier to store and transport.

Yamaguchi
Mini Velo in Yamaguchi

Public bike hire

Many places have some sort of public bike hire, and they seemed to be well used. There’s generally some instructions in English.

Kanazawa
Working out Kanazawa’s bike system

We used one in Kanazawa that worked well (after a bit of geographic confusion that had us riding north from the railway station rather than south). After registering at the automatic machine we punched in a code to unlock our bikes, which we dropped at a rack close to the Castle. After walking around we picked up bikes from another rack, and rode back to the station.

Kenroku-en gardens, Kanazawa
Riding back from the castle, Kanazawa

Takamatsu had a slightly bureaucratic system where we needed our passports, and the requirement to give an address was a bit awkward as our accommodation that night was on Japan’s one remaining train sleeper service. But once we’d got our registration cards a helpful attendant set up our bikes and guided us to a natty bike escalator that took us up to street level.

Bike escalator, Takamatsu
Bike escalator, Takamatsu

It’s also fairly easy to rent bikes, generally near railway stations. There are outfits running bike tours – we did a half day with Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour which took us around alleyways and gardens in central Tokyo, avoiding the worst of the multilane highways. Kyoto Cycle Touring Project rented us bikes and sold us a map that helped navigate the city, using the cycle path along the Kamogawa River, and the sakura lined Philosopher’s Path. Our hotel in Yamaguchi had a fleet of complimentary bikes in the foyer for guests.

Tokyo Miracle bike tour
On the Tokyo Miracle Bike Tour
KCTPmap
Part of the useful Kyoto Cycle Touring Project map

What can we learn from Japan about cycling?

Japan shows us that you can have a very high mode share of cycling (20% in Tokyo), with everyday cycling dominating over lycra. It also shows that eBikes and public bike schemes have the capacity to be successful. But we also saw the results of the pressure – the need for large scale bike parking, and a bit less freedom to park where you want. Footpath cycling is a mixed blessing – even the well behaved Japanese cycling population includes the odd larrikin. However the sensible Japanese response seems to be to build more cycle paths, rather than force bikes onto the road. Perhaps that should be our priority rather than worrying too much about footpath cycling.

Wellington’s annual plan: tackle climate change through transport choice

Annual Plan

WCC is consulting on its 2017/2018 Annual Plan.

We say:

  • Reduce fossil fuel emissions by increasing cycling mode share
  • Reduce car trips by not subsidising on street parking
  • Don’t over consult on cycling projects
  • Move rapidly to a cycle friendly city through trial projects
  • Gather data about the use and impact of cycle facilities
  • Reduce traffic speeds
  • New housing developments should provide for active and public transport

You can read our full submission here

Cobham Drive – have your say on Wellington’s eastern gateway

Cobham-Drive-separated-paths
A proposed layout from WCC’s project page

Is there a project that could definitively say that cycling has arrived in Wellington? Wellington City Council has opened consultation on the Cobham Drive project, and this could be a chance for a cycling and walking facility that creates a positive image for active transport, in the same way that Auckland’s Lightpath/Te Ara-i-Whiti and Taranaki’s Te Rewarewa Bridge have done.

Light path at night
Te Ara-i-Whiti
Te Rewa Rewa bridge on coastal walkway
Te Rewarewa Bridge

Why is Cobham Drive an important cycling project? First, it’s a key link between the eastern suburbs and the city. Secondly, it’s a project that requires few compromises with parking and businesses. But it’s also an opportunity to do more than just create cycling and walking paths. It’s in a stunning geographic location, with a view up Evans Bay to Mount Victoria and the northern ranges. It’s what many people travel along from the Airport on their first visit to Wellington. It’ll be visible from Mt Victoria, where most first time visitors to the city are taken. We’ve got the opportunity here to create a statement: Wellington is an active place.

Wellington Sculpture trust have already enhanced this stretch with the Meridian Energy Wind Sculpture Walk, so many people associate Wellington with the iconic Zephyrometer that they see bending low over SH1 after their charmingly energetic airport landing into a slight northerly breeze (known outside Wellington as a “gale”).

The big gap in the current plan is the lack of a safe crossing of Cobham Drive, for example to the Sports Centre.  We should be challenging WCC to include this in the project.

Apart from that the proposals are good but not perfect, and some of the detail needs to be clarified.

  • The cycling and walking paths need to be physically and visually different, to discourage people from using the wrong path for their mode. Auckland learned this lesson on Beach Rd, where a section that looked like a footpath was used by pedestrians despite “no cycling” signs. The sections that look like roadway don’t have this problem.
Beach Road cycle path
Beach Road, Auckland – it’s clear that it’s a cycleway, and people don’t walk on it
  • The connections at the ends need work – it’s not clear how people biking the Mount Victoria Tunnel will connect to the cycleway, and the path comes to an abrupt halt at Miramar Cutting (although the connections to Miramar are the subject of a separate project). There’s no detail on the proposed signalised crossing of Evans Bay Parade for people biking north to the CBD.
  • The proposed 3m width for the cycle path should be a minimum. Where possible it should be 4m or more, to provide for comfortable passing without conflict with oncoming cyclists.
  • It would be good to have some features that break the wind, which (very occasionally) crosses the path.
  • The current plans include some parking east of the Troy St roundabout. This is unnecessary: people can watch planes from a parking place on Calibar Rd, and Evans Bay Marina is better for launching boats. If this parking is retained, the cycle path should be on the seaward side of it, to avoid conflict with vehicles entering the park.
  • There should be parking provision at Evans Bay Marina for, for example, wheelchair users, and families that want to bike the route but aren’t able to bike to it.
  • The shoreline is currently made up of concrete debris from a power station that was demolished in 1941. It’s time to clean this up, and make the shoreline attractive. Indeed the design of the path should draw users attention to the seascape, rather than to the busy SH1 that runs on the southern side.
  • It needs a good name. It’s part of Great Harbour Way/ Te Aranui o Pōneke of course, but it should have a specific name. The name “seaway” has been proposed, but there are a lot of paths beside the sea. Perhaps a name like “Te Ara Ūnga”, the path of the landing place, would (with permission of the relevant iwi) reference the idea of a gateway, and the proximity to Wellington airport.

Above all it needs a “wow” factor – that will attract the attention of people coming from Weta Workshops and the Airport, or looking across from Mt Victoria, and have people saying “I want to bike that”.

Here’s your chance to get a good outcome, by making a submission by 4 April. You can “have your say” online, or make a paper based submission.

 

Kruising Te Ara Kapiti

cyclists and expressway
Te Ara Kapiti, aka “Kapiti Cycle Route”

On 24 February the Wellington region’s newest cycling path opened, at a cost of around $600 million, twice the UCP budget. Well, that cost includes the accompanying expressway, but it’s still quite a nice cycle route.

First step was to find it. We got the train to Paekakariki, and rode north on the rolling Te Ara Whareroa through QE 2 Park. I didn’t see any signage directing us to the next stage north, but fortunately we’d had local advice, and knew to go east on Poplar Ave to the start of the Kapiti Cycle Route, the cycling (and walking and horse riding) route alongside the expressway. This seems an odd name – there’s already a well established Kapiti Coastal Cycling Route, so why not go for something easily distinguishable? For the rest of this post I’ll refer to the route beside the expressway as “Te Ara Kapiti”.

Once you’re on Te Ara Kapiti, there’s generally good signage. The southern part to Waikanae is sealed, although there is some loose chip to watch out for, and bits which need touching up. North of Waikanae, the surface is reasonably smooth gravel. The path is generally 2.5-3m wide.

Rongomau bridge
Rongomau cycling/walking overbridge

The Rongomau overbridge crosses the expressway to the old SH1 and the Paraparaumu shopping centre, but we headed north. You pass through nicely landscaped wetlands, almost expecting to see some rice paddies and Vietnamese farmers. There are concrete and wooden seats every so often, some with the concrete surroundings only just drying.

wetland
Wetlands

Although the cycle route is nice for cruising, I expect dedicated roadies will want to keep to the expressway, which is of course legal. At the overbridge across Kapiti Road, cyclists are advised to exit on the off ramp, presumably on the reasoning that it’s safer to do this cross the off ramp exit. However this involves crossing Kapiti Road at the lights, conflicting with left turning traffic, then climbing back onto the expressway on the on ramp. Personally, I’d stick to the expressway.

Kapiti Rd intersection
Signage on the expressway directs roadies down the shoulder, and into potential conflict with traffic turning left onto Kapiti Rd

There’s a bit of a climb up to the turnoff to the Makarini St footbridge in Paraparaumu, I gather because there wasn’t enough room for a level bypass route.

nice view of expressway from seat
Strategically placed seats provide an opportunity to admire the expressway

North of the Waikanae River there’s a short deviation to avoid Wahi Tapu, then the route rejoins the expressway at an imposing concrete bluff.

abandoned Tandem
The riders of this tandem were looking for a cycle friendly Kapiti route around 1986, but gave up waiting…

Although the route signs are to Otaki, the cycle route comes to an abrupt end at Pekapeka, fortunately within easy reach of the cafe at Harrison’s garden centre. However there’s still work going on here, and it’s not yet clear how a cyclist heading north would get back onto SH1, and there doesn’t seem to be any signage directing a southbound cyclist onto the Te Ara Kapiti.

signage to Otaki
Signs rather hopefully direct you to Otaki, but there isn’t yet a good cycle route beyond Pekapeka

Similarly, at the southern end the work to connect cyclists heading south on SH1 onto Poplar ave and Te Ara Whareroa doesn’t seem to have been completed.

Raumati end
The connection to the old SH1 at Raumati is still to come

Interestingly, the expressway project has created two cycle routes, Te Ara Kapiti, and also a high quality road with minimal traffic: the old SH1, which will be a good cycling option between Pekapeka and Raumati. There’s still significant traffic on it, but I suspect that will decrease as drivers adopt new habits, and have their GPS’s updated (at the time of writing, Google Maps did not show the expressway).

SH1
“Now, THAT’s what I call a cycle path” – old SH1 north of Waikanae

Overall, it’s great that NZTA have included a cycling and walking route in a major roading project. However the real question for Wellingtonians is: why is it so difficult to get an equivalent route from, for example, the Hutt Valley to the Wellington CBD?  Watch this space…

Stop Press: Cycle Action Kapiti are holding a ride  on Saturday 18 March to press for action on the Pekapeka-Otaki cycle route. It’ll be a good chance to sample the northern bit of Te Ara Kapiti, and the weather forecast is good!

An omnibus in the bike lane: new blocking rule

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was good news for people who bike when new bike lanes were added to Victoria St. However at busy times, the lanes approaching Ghuznee St and Vivian St are often blocked by vehicles attempting to reach the left turn lane, but not quite making it. The same situation also occurs at the Featherston St/Bunny St intersection.

Here’s where the Omnibus comes to the rescue – not a real people mover, but the Land Transport Rule: Omnibus Amendment 2016This put together a number of changes (the “omnibus”) to the Land Transport rules that govern our roads. The amendments include one relating to blocking cycle lanes: “a driver (other than a cyclist) approaching an intersection or an area controlled by traffic signals must not enter a cycle lane if the driver’s intended passage or exit from that cycle lane is blocked by stationary traffic.” (Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 4.5(3), to be technical)

Why is this rule important?  It’s not just because vehicles blocking the cycle lane hold bikes up, but because the bike lane gives people a space where they can feel safe on bikes. Having vehicles intrude into this space makes it feel less safe, and makes biking less attractive. Less biking means more congestion, to the detriment of people who need to drive cars.

The new rule came into force on 1 December. How should people driving motor vehicles and riding bikes adapt to the new rule?

If you’re driving a motor vehicle, and need to turn left across a bike lane to get to the left turning lane:

  • Indicate that you wish to turn
  • Check there is space for your vehicle in the left turning lane
  • Check that there isn’t a bike approaching in the bike lane
  • If there is a bike approaching, wait till it is safe to cross the bike lane. Don’t worry that other vehicles may be held up behind you. Straight ahead vehicles have the option of using one of the other lanes, and in any case it’s better to hold up other vehicles for a few seconds than to endanger yourself or people on bikes. Bikes need the bike lane to access the advance stop boxes at the intersection, which helps them to move off safely without holding up other traffic.
  • When it’s safe to move into the left turn lane without blocking the bike lane, do so.
  • When you make the left turn, avoid swinging into the bike lane.
  • If you are caught blocking the cycle lane, you could pay $150 towards improving road safety (aka a “fine”).

If you’re riding a bike on the bike lane  between a left turning lane and a straight through lane:

  • Be tolerant – a vehicle may be blocking the lane because of an unexpected change in traffic flow
  • Give a cheery wave to drivers who wait for you to come through on the bike lane.
  • Avoid remonstrating with drivers, or banging bodywork, even though this is tempting. This reinforces the image of the “aggressive cyclist”, and could put you in danger if the driver reacts badly. Worse still, the driver could be your next door neighbor 🙂
  • If the bike lane is blocked, signal right and move cautiously to filter around the blockage. If the lights change and the traffic starts moving, hold your lane and move with the traffic until it’s safe to return to the bike lane.

Incidentally there are other rule changes that affect biking: making it clearer how bikes and cycle lanes should pass through intersections, allowing vehicles to pass bikes using a flush median (the hashed painted areas in the centre of some roads, e.g. Greta Point), formally recognising sharrows, allowing (actual) buses to use cycle lanes when dropping off and picking up passengers, and extending the time during which bike lights should be used. These relatively small changes will make it safer and more attractive to travel by bike. Other changes are in the pipeline.

Does Santa have Cobham Drive in her sack for active commuters?

miramarupgrade
Cobham Drive cycling and walking route (illustrative example)

Two Christmases have passed since the Urban Cycleways Programme (UCP) was launched, promising generous funding of urban cycling projects. In Auckland this resulted in the award winning Light Path/ Te Ara I Whiti, and the Quay Street cycleway that has already overloaded its installed cycle counter. But Wellington is a different story. So far there has been little progress, although we’re due to see pole removal and improved entrance crossings on the Hutt Road Cycleway.

However we do have an opportunity to catch up with Auckland. Cobham Drive is one of the main ways in which people from the eastern suburbs bike, walk and run to the CBD. This is a key section of the Great Harbour Way/ Te Ara o Pōneke, the cycling and walking route around the great harbour of Tara. But the shared path on the northern side of SH1 is unattractive, despite the best efforts of the Wellington Sculpture Trust. Cycling or walking along the route, you’re dodging other people on bikes coming at you on the narrow path. You’re conscious of the stream of polluting vehicles heading for the airport, rather than the nearby beach with the occasional pod of dolphins rounding up a feed of harbour fish.

Wind sculptures, Cobham drive
Cobham Drive – not just about the bikes

One of the UCP proposals is upgrade this shared path to separated cycling and walking paths. $4 million has been allocated to this. Making it more attractive will encourage more active commuting from Miramar and Seatoun.  With good design, it could create a positive vibe about cycling, and could be a destination in itself, in the way that Te Ara I Whiti has become in Auckland, or the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge in Taranaki. There are no politically awkward conflicts with businesses and parking.

Cobham drive wind sculptures
Lots of potential for improvement

So what’s stopping Cobham Drive from being an early Christmas present to people who bike and walk in Wellington? There are some issues. The council’s concept diagram appears to have removed the on road shoulder, which won’t please roadies or fast commuters. There may be resource issues in developing the walking path close to the shore. The cycling path should be visually different from the walking path, looking like a road so that walkers aren’t tempted to stray. But these are standard cycleway design issues, and have been solved in countless locations around the world. What matters is that we get on with it, before the Government decides that the UCP funding is better utilised north of the Bombay Hills.

If you’d like well designed cycling and walking paths along Cobham Drive, send a message to Santa, in this case Sarah Free (Councillor and Portfolio leader for Public Transport, Cycling and Walking, sarah.free@wcc.govt.nz) and the WCC Cycling Team (transport@wcc.govt.nz). And offer them the season’s greetings too – they deserve it!

Cycle paths: quake proofing our transport network

Te Ara Tawa - Porirua trail
Ara Tawa between Kenepuru and Porirua

With all the fuss about Island Bay, you may not be aware of Wellington and Porirua Councils’ success in creating a 20km cycle route leading north out of the City, which, as well as providing for commuting and recreation, could be a vital part of our post earthquake transport network.

What is this lifesaving route? It starts at Takapu Rd Station as Ara Tawa (which surprisingly doesn’t rate a description on WCC’s website), heading north beside the railway line, past Tawa College and on to join Porirua’s Ara Harakeke past the city centre to Pukerua Bay.

When the “big one” arrives, this cycle route could be vital for people making their way home from Wellington CBD. Although there have been practices for people to find out whether they can walk home, biking will be a lot more efficient and quicker. In fact it’s an argument for biking to work, or at least having a bike at work; and it’s likely that central city bike shops will sell out quickly, as London bike shops did after the 2005 Tube bombings. A Kaikoura university student used a bike down shattered SH1 to catch a plane back to Canterbury Uni – interestingly beating the rest of his family who waited for a helicopter.

Why did Ara Tawa go ahead relatively painlessly, while Island Bay floundered? It’s complicated, but some key points might be:

  • Ara Tawa arose out of a community initiative to provide a cycling and walking track through the valley
  • There was adequate stream and rail reserve to put the trail on without encroaching on roads and parking
  • From the start, it connected logical destinations, particularly providing a “safe schools” route for students

Of course there is still the problem of getting to Ara Tawa’s southern end – Hutt Road, Ngauranga Gorge, the Johnsonville Triangle, and Middleton Rd are not yet bike friendly, and there is a need to build on the success of Ara Tawa by improving these linkages, and securing a resilient route for bikes from the Wellington CBD to the northern suburbs.

Even if you don’t live in the northern suburbs (and there isn’t an earthquake), it’s worth a ride on Ara Tawa/Ara Harakeke to see what has been achieved. You can use “bike the train” to get to and from the route, for example getting the train to Pukerua Bay, then riding “mainly downhill” to Takapu Rd, or reversing the direction if a southerly will give you wind assistance.

Dear Sarah (and Chris)…An open letter from a person who bikes

Get on with it Rally
Back in 2015 people who bike demanded that WCC “lift its act” – will the new Council up its game?

An open letter to Sarah Free (WCC councillor, Public Transport, Cycling and Walking) and (Chris Calvi-Freeman (WCC councillor, Transport strategy and operations) from a person who bikes.


Dear Sarah and Chris

Congratulations on your new roles. Here’s three things to think about as we work to make Wellington a livable city: transport strategy criteria, parking, and trial projects.

Three criteria for Transport strategy

We need to recognise the elephant on the roadway: the imminent threat of climate change. 56% of Wellington’s carbon emissions are from transport. While Wellington has a policy of becoming a “low carbon capital” we seem to have trouble in translating this into transport strategy. The UN is appealing for countries to “invest at least 20 per cent of their transport budgets in walking and cycling infrastructure to save lives, reverse pollution and reduce carbon emissions”

Other important pachyderms on the transport network include congestion (we’ve reached the limit of cars that can comfortably accommodated in the CBD), and healthy lifestyles (the obesity epidemic is partly due to reduced use of active and public transport).

When evaluating transport projects, three key criteria should be

  • will this reduce carbon emissions?
  • will this reduce overall congestion in the city?
  • will this promote healthy lifestyles?
0c5ebb4d-75c0-469d-857d-bd30afbd90bf_l
Basin reserve congestion, 1910

In the past, we’ve tended to think about “transport” as moving cars, not people. An example is that the Basin Reserve “problem”, which seems to affect any transport planning in central Wellington, is often framed in terms of getting cars through, when the issue is really “How do we get people from the eastern and southern suburbs to and from the CBD, while reducing carbon emissions, congestion, and encouraging healthy lifestyles”. Framed like that, the answer is clearly frequent and efficient public transport, and making active transport, particularly biking, attractive. We don’t need tunnels and flyovers. We just need good bus lanes (eventually light rail) and cycle lanes through the Basin Reserve. Certainly there will continue to be a need for trips through the Basin Reserve to be made by motor vehicle, but what passes for “congestion” there would easily be solved by replacing even 30% of car trips by public and active transport.

Recognise the high cost of free parking

We need to recognise that provision of on-street parking comes at a high cost. Donald Shoup’s influential book The High Cost of Free Parking points out that like free lunches, there is no such thing as free parking. Apart from the cost of maintaining the road space used by on-street parking, from a cycling point of view free or cheap on-street parking uses space that could be used for bike lanes – there’s a high opportunity cost in providing on-street parking.

Retailers worry that removal of parking will hurt business, but in practice this doesn’t happen. A study of shoppers on Tory St found that only 6% used parking on the street.

IMG_5867-300x242
People on bikes “holding up traffic”, Aro Street

Many Wellington streets are on hills, where people in cars perceive “cyclists holding up traffic” as they go slowly uphill. However in this picture:

  • The bike riders are reducing overall congestion by choosing to leave their cars at home.
  • If the uphill side of the road wasn’t occupied by parked cars, there would be room for a bike lane, making biking more attractive, and reducing the frustration of car drivers.
  • While residents may object to removal of parking, 70% of households on this stretch of road have off-street parking, meaning that resident parking could be accommodated by allowing parking on the downhill side where bikes can “take the lane” without impeding traffic.

In many cases, provision of free on-street parking encourages the purchase of second or third cars, or the use of garages for storage of possessions other than cars (a survey of one Wellington area showed that 80% of garages did not have cars in them).

Provision of free on-street parking on arterial routes fails our transport strategy criteria, encouraging the use of fossil fueled cars, congestion, and reducing exercise.

Wellington should phase out on-street parking on the uphill side of arterial routes, replacing it with bike lanes. To help people decide whether they really require this parking, we could introduce “arterial parking permits”, which if priced correctly would reduce parking demand to a level where parking would only be required on the downhill side.

Trial bicycle projects on a temporary basis

New York city has achieved a major shift in converting car dominated road space into a pedestrian and bike friendly environment. Janette Sadik-Khan, the responsible Transport Commissioner, describes how this was achieved in Street Fight: handbook for an urban revolution. One of the key tools was to put in facilities such as bike lanes on a temporary basis, using relatively cheap materials, and removing or modifying them if they didn’t work. The advantages are:

  • People can see what is proposed, rather than having to find out about and visualise from consultation documents.
  • A concept can be tested before attitudes have hardened, as has happened with the Island Bay cycleway (which incidentally was favoured by 60% of residents submissions in the initial consultation).

An example of a trial project might be a cycle lane on Jervois and Waterloo Quays to provide an alternative to the waterfront for fast bike commuters. Waterloo Quay has lost a lane temporarily as part of the construction of the PWC building at Kumutoto, without major disruption. So a trial cycle lane between Whitmore and Taranaki streets should be practical.

Quay Street cycleway
Auckland’s Quay St Cycleway – implemented quickly with relatively cheap planter boxes etc. A few hours after opening the counter read 336, 3 months later it had passed 50 000.

I look forward to your responses. Proposals that Wellington could be the Copenhagen of the South Pacific tend to be met with skepticism, but maybe we could emulate Almetyevsk, a city of a similar size to Wellington, which has built 50km of protected cycle routes in the first year of their bike programme.

Regards

Alastair Smith


Cycling in Wellington posts reflect the views of the author, unless otherwise stated.

WCC opens spaces to (some) eBikes

WCC eBike ban photo, Polhill Gully
WCC plan to open trails to some eBikes, but not all

When is an eBike not an eBike? When it’s in Wellington’s Open Spaces, and not speed limited to 25km/hr, according to the definition of an eBike in WCC’s draft Open Space Access Plan.

Overall, the Open Space Access Plan has much to recommend it. Wellington is fortunate in having reserves close to the CBD and easily accessible from all parts of the City. From my Aro Valley home I’m minutes from the CBD, but only a hundred metres from a track network that extends from the south coast to Johnsonville. The Plan’s vision of making the The Open Space Network accessible to all is a good one.

Up till now, WCC has regarded eBikes as motorised vehicles, and banned them from reserves, such as the popular Polhill Gully tracks. As part of opening up the Network, the plan will allow eBikes to be used on selected tracks where sightlines, width of path, etc mean that environmental impact and user conflict will be minimised. This is good news – many Wellingtonians are finding that eBikes are the answer to hills, wind, and failing joints. The proposed eBike routes provide a good mix of commuter and recreational riding – for example the Hataitai to City route will enable eBike commuters to go over the low saddle between Mt Victoria and Mt Alfred connecting Hataitai to Majoribanks St and the CBD.

The catch is that an “eBike” is defined as “a bicycle primarily pedal powered by human energy and may be assisted by a maximum continuous rated power of up to 300 watts of battery power, as well as limited to 25km/h”. Most eBikes on sale and in use comply with the NZTA definition “a power assisted cycle has an auxiliary electric motor with a maximum power not exceeding 300W and is designed to be primarily propelled by the muscular energy of the rider”. They aren’t mechanically limited to 25km/hr.

Some higher end eBikes (e.g. with the Bosch motor system) comply with the EU Pedelec standard EN 15194: limited to 250w of power, and speed limited to 25km/hr. So the proposed definition will limit access to those who can afford $4000-5000 for an eBike, rather than the more common $2000-3000 eBikes that comply with the NZTA definition.

Limiting speed on Open Space tracks seems like a good idea. However it’s unlikely that eBikes will reach 25km/hr under power on the Open Space Network. The tracks would not feel comfortable to most people at that speed. Most sections of the suggested tracks have significant gradients. Going uphill, it would be hard to reach 25km/hr with electric assist. Although it might be possible to reach 25km/hr going downhill, this would be through gravity rather than electric assist.

EBikes in general don’t go faster than a standard bike with a fit rider. An informal survey of bike speeds on Wellington shared paths found that on average eBikes were only 2.6km/hr faster than standard bikes, and the fastest bikes were standard bikes. If speed is found to be a problem, this is best addressed through education and track design.

When DOC faced this issue on the Otago Rail Trail, they decided to allow access to all eBikes complying with the NZTA definition, without requiring a mechanical speed limit.

If you’d like to see selected tracks open to eBikes, submit on the plan, saying (use your own words, of course) that you agree with the proposals, but that all eBikes complying with the NZTA definition should be allowed on the tracks, and that mechanically limiting the speed should not be required.Submissions close 13 July.

Island Bay Cycleway gets the green light

AlbertStMelbourne
Albert St, Melbourne – physical separation of parking, as suggested by the Safety Audit

WCC have released the Safety Audit (which includes a peer review) of the Island Bay Cycleway. Cycle Aware welcomes the report. There are no serious concerns with the design of the cycleway, and the suggested improvements should help to allay residents’ concerns about the change to their roading environment.

So what issues were raised?

  • The most important issue was the “ghost markings”. The contractors had left some old road markings visible, which could lead to confusion at night. WCC is fixing this issue, which is about the implementation, rather than the design of the cycleway.
  • Parking obscuring the view of cyclists when entering or leaving driveways. In order to keep as much on street parking as possible, the design allowed parking to within 1m of entrances. WCC will consult with residents to keep 3-8m clear at entrances. In effect, residents will have a choice between visibility, and on street parking.
  • Parking too close to the cycleway. Safehit posts have been suggested to ensure that cars are parked correctly, so opening doors don’t intrude on the cycleway. WCC is likely to go for enforcement, rather than physical barriers. In practice, the few poorly parked cars seem an irritant to cyclists rather than a serious safety issue. It’s rare to come across a car that is both poorly parked, AND has passenger doors open. But a physical barrier would provide a greater sense of security on the cycleway.
  • Bus stop bypasses. Advertising on the walls of the bus shelters obscured the view for cyclists and pedestrians. However the peer review argued that this was a good thing, making people more careful.
  • Some inconsistency in use of green surfacing and cycle symbols. WCC will make these more consistent.
  • Directional guidance – the audit suggested that directional arrows could encourage people to bike in the correct direction. However this is not generally recommended on cycleways.
  • Cycle friendly sump grates. At one intersection there is a pair of sump grates that could trap bike wheels. WCC will replace these.
  • Pedestrian crossings. Some pedestrian crossings require remedial work after the installation of the cycleway. WCC is doing this.
  • Lower speeds. The  peer review suggested that since actual speeds in the area had reduced, the 30km/hr speed limit in the Village could be extended to the whole area. This sounds like a good idea.