Sunday 16 February 2014

Christchurch New Zealand Cycle Design Guidelines

Christchurch in New Zealand published a Cycle Design Guide last year. My attention was drawn to it because of a bad design which I discovered came from this design guide. I've read most of the design guide now and sadly it's at least as deserving of criticism as Ontario's lacklustre design guide or the NACTO guidelines.

This will not be a full point by point critique. I can provide one if Christchurch wants it.

"Dutch Junction"
Christchurch's ideas for a "Dutch
Junction" prompted me to write this
piece. They appear to have based this
design upon a sketch which was part
of a criticism of someone elses poor
design standard
I was drawn to this section of the document because of the flawed illustration of this type of junction which had appeared across several New Zealand blogs. I found the image in a blog post on the Cycle Action Auckland site, but it originated in Christchurch's design guide.

Christchurch's design guide calls this junction a "Dutch Junction". The section about this type of junction starts on page 32 of the document where there are two photos of what the authors think a "Dutch junction" looks like. However, neither of these photos are actually they think they are. The upper photo is actually of a simultaneous green junction while the lower photo doesn't look like the Netherlands.

The Christchurch design misses many key details. The geometry of it is also completely wrong.

Cyclists are shown as stopping at the same stop line as drivers so there is no head start over drivers. That is not according to Dutch practice. In the picture there appear to be no cycle traffic lights. The description only says that separate lights are required "ideally". What's more, they don't seem to have understood how cyclists are protected in the Netherlands from drivers turning left across their path. The Christchurch document merely says that this type of junction "can incorporate advanced cycle starts", which is not the way in which cyclists are usually kept safe in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands current practice would require that drivers turning left do not receive a green light to proceed at the same time as cyclists have a green light to go straight on. There also appears to be no expectation that cyclists will benefit from being able to make a left turn when the traffic lights are red. That's normal in the Netherlands and helps to offset any additional delays that cyclists might have on occasions when they are turning right.

With this design you would also expect to see multiple lanes on road (Mark's sketch, which seemingly inspired this, includes such on one arm). What's more, there's no way for a cyclist who has crossed one arm of Christchurch "Dutch" junction and wants then to turn right to actually see his traffic light as it will be behind him. To end, the angles at the junction are wrong. Cyclists travel through graceful curves, they cannot make on the spot 45 degree turns.

A mish-mash
Christchurch's design guide features a mish-mash of different ideas from all across the world with no apparent overall concept of which is the proper way to go. There are some relatively good ideas, though even these are compromised in the way they are presented, but they're given equal billing with types of infrastructure which happily no longer exist here in Assen (advanced stop boxescycle-lanes in the middle of the road) and other things which we never had in Assen and would never want to see (sharrowstwo stage "hook" turns).

The design guide also offers an interesting insight into how the designers view cycling. For instance, page 16 discusses one type of "major cycleway". This lacks specifics such as how wide a cycle-path should be but they clearly expect cyclists to make slow progress ("approximately 15 km/hr for expected users" of one type of "major cycleway") and they want to micro-manage how cyclists cycle (messages stencilled onto paths "move off path when stopped", "warn when approaching"). This would appear to be a tacit admission that the planned width is rather narrow, such that these low speeds and warnings might be required for safety. Good cycling infrastructure never requires cyclists to travel at an artificially low speed.

Where widths are mentioned, they vary. On page 20 it is said that "a desirable width of 2.4m on
both sides of the road" is required in order that cyclists can pass each other while by page 24 that has reduced to "approximately 1.8m to 2m on both sides of the road"

Christchurch's design guide is not a coherent piece of work but more of a summary of things that the authors have read about, and in some cases misunderstood.

Unfortunately, it appears to lean heavily on photos and opinions swept up from across the internet, some perhaps used without credit and some of them used without the concept being well understood by the authors. That may seem harsh, but I can say for certain that it's true in at least one case:

Cycle Barnes Dance
Is it not a bit rude to take credit for
someone else's work ? The original
photo is from one of my blog posts.
Someone working for Christchurch copied a photo from my blog of a simultaneous green junction here in Assen (find it here), edited it to remove my URL, and reproduced in black and white on page 34 of Christchurch's document. It is labelled "Cycle Barnes Dance". Perhaps after all that work they thought I'd never find it. While a small number of people are credited as photographers on page two of the document, my name does not appear and I certainly wasn't asked for permission to use this photo. I wonder who took credit for this photo ?

More seriously, we have to ask why did they use photos that were swept up off the internet rather than their own. Presumably the answer is that they didn't have any of their own. The probable reason for a lack of photos is that the authors of Christchurch's design guide have never actually seen and used this type of infrastructure. Their take on what a "cycle barnes dance" should look like is as follows:

Christchurch's take on a simultaneous green junction. They've missed key details of the design. This photo is taken from Christchurch's document. I certainly do not claim credit for it.
Unfortunately, the authors of the document have clearly misunderstood how simultaneous green junctions work. They have unhelpfully provided extra paint on the ground seemingly to guide cyclists to ride across diagonally rather than using the curved paths that are normally taken and which are essential to avoid collusions. They've also again forgotten about the opportunity turn right against a red light at junctions like this. That's normal in the Netherlands.

The text accompanying this is also interesting to read. Again, the document refers to separate traffic lights for cyclists being required at such a junction only "ideally", suggesting that you could allow cyclists to cross like this at the same time as drivers were in motion. I'd expect that to cause carnage. It never happens in the Netherlands. There are always separate traffic lights for cyclists at simultaneous green junctions. This is not optional. The document also refers to a possibility of combining the pedestrian and cycle phases, which again does not happen in the Netherlands because this would cause conflict and probably injury.

More bad practice lies below
The further I read through the document, the more examples of lacklustre design glare out at me. On page 38 there's a photo of a really dreadful and actually pointlessly badly designed "cycle bypass" (compare with the same concept done properly). On page 41 there's a relatively decent bus stop bypass design followed by a design which is almost impossibly bad on page 43. By page 57 it's back to discussing how to "encourage slower cycle speeds" (this should never happen) on shared paths on a page which also features a narrow "berm separated" cycle path which has an enormous drain in it.

Christchurch uses the term "hook turn" to refer to what is known elsewhere as a two stage turn. In most parts of the world, the word hook is used in this context to refer to the type of crash that it common to this type of infrastructure.

In general, there's far too much emphasis on on-road cycle-lanes. These are relatively uncommon in the Netherlands and just as in other countries, they're not entirely safe here either. The picture on page 61 especially horrifying. It combines those on-road lanes with several other examples of bad practice, several examples of how cyclists can be put into danger, in one image:
Let's count the problems:
  1. Cyclists turning left have a potential left hook problem due to there being positioned on the left of left turning motor vehicles.
  2. Even though there's a separate lane for cyclists turning left, no thought has been given to how cyclists could have been allowed to turn left on red without conflicting with anyone.
  3. Cyclists going straight on experience added potential for danger due to having to try to stay in the middle of the road cycle lane. Drivers on their right but who want to turn left will turn across this lane.
  4. Advanced stop lines have never really provided any benefit to cyclists.
  5. Cyclists turning right are expected to go straight on, then slam on the brakes in front of other cyclists, turn left a bit and wait in the small green box. However, they won't know when the traffic light for their direction has gone green because it's behind them. If there's a separate left turn phase then drivers wanting to turn left who come from behind the cyclists waiting in the box won't be able to get past those cyclists.
  6. Cyclists need to be able to make efficient journeys so many won't want to make their right turns in this inefficient way. That does not only apply to "fast" cyclists, but to everyone. If a child is late for school, they won't want to use this box either. They will have to cross two lanes of traffic on the approach in order to be in the right turn lane. Drivers will resent this because the cyclist is not using the provided cycle facility.
  7. Cyclists coming in the opposite direction are forced into a left hook situation with drivers who wish to turn left.
This junction design is a recipe for disaster

I have to also mention that treatment of roundabouts is lacking. On page 64, they're talking about "taking the lane" on roundabouts. That's a very long way from best Dutch practice.

It goes on and on. There are very few gems in there (the bus stop bypass design isn't bad). Very few. Please, Christchurch, if it's not too late, do not adopt these guidelines.

You need coherence in design, not a mixture of ideas picked up from different places and with a wide range of different qualities. Copy from the best, not from everything that you've seen.

Don't guess. Know !
Christchurch could have found out a lot more in advance. For a start, they could have asked us specific questions about how these junctions work. They could have asked about what is actually built and how well it works but also specifics such as measurements of different parts of the junctions, radii. Instead of guessing and writing down those guesses as design guidance, they could have found out in advance and adopted best practice. Christchurch could even have employed us to write about things that we do know about rather than employing someone else to write about what they don't know about.

Christchurch: Don't just "borrow" my photos
uncredited, send a party of people on the
study tour to learn about real Dutch cycling
infrastructure. They'll then be able to take
their own photos in the same locations,
having seen with their eyes and used this
infrastructure and hopefully also
understood what they're looking at.
Ironically, the URL which someone in Christchurch removed from my photo was for the cycling infrastructure Study Tour on which they could have sent participants to learn about real Dutch cycling infrastructure so they can't have been ignorant of what they did. The photo was taken during a study tour and two previous participants are shown. One of them is cut in half by Christchurch's edit.

It seems to me to be very strange to start by writing standards and only find out later on what it is that you should have been doing. Surely it would be beneficial for Christchurch to send people to see infrastructure like this first hand before making an expensive and dangerous mistake by copying it incorrectly.

That my photo has been taken without permission and without credit and used in the Christchurch design guide should not in any way be thought to represent my endorsement of their guide. Overall, this is a poor guide to cycle infrastructure design.


megan said...

As a Christchurch cyclist I was horrified to read how wrong they have got it. Many of the examples of issues that you cite already exist in the current cycle lane infrastructure, such as:
Cycle lanes that go between left turn and straight ahead lanes - these are really common, and yes they do get cars cutting over them, and usually, stopping over them.
The dreaded left hook cycle lane - these are everywhere, you have to be very careful as the cycle lanes do go up the inside of left/straight combined lanes.
Also, Christchurch traffic planners for some reason have an aversion to installing right turn arrows even though the city is laid out in a grid pattern with many light controlled intersections, so I don't see them adopting separate cycle lights, although we do have them in a few places. The lack of right turn arrows also results in drivers running the red to complete a right turn almost the norm here.
At present it's not pleasant to cycle in the city, with road works everywhere channelling all traffic including cyclists into one narrow lane with no bike lane - I tend to (illegally) use the footpath in these cases, as you take your life into your hands if you attempt to take the lane.

Thanks for this post, I will try to get it some more exposure here.
Chch, NZ

David Hembrow said...

Hi Megan,

Thanks for your comment. There's no good reason why Christchurch can't have excellent conditions for cyclists, but infrastructure such as that in their design guide won't get you there.

As for your problem with road works, this too should never happen.

Any time that I've had to ride on the road because of road works in the Netherlands, the road (or at least a lane of the road) was closed to motor vehicles so that I had exclusive use of it.

Please look at this list of blog posts and videos which demonstrate how cyclists are taken care of during road works in the Netherlands. Note that this is the case in urban or rural locations, and that these are not exceptions, but the norm.

JD said...

Hi David-
Thanks for you insightful article. I cycle 30 kms everyday in chch and I think that we have the best natural conditions for cycling- flat ground and little rain. However, like megan said, the current conditions aren't ideal.
I had read the guidelines previously and what struck me the most was the prevalence of on-road cycle paths. This is not what I had pictured when I heard that the city council was investing millions in cycle paths! I had no idea that many of the other suggested guidelines were flawed too.

David said...

Hi David

I think your blog is great, I am so jealous of the cycle infrastructure in the NL. I live in Norwich where the councils idea of cycle provision separated from cars is shared use pavements of which I despise! These rubbish designs for Christchurch look just like the rubbish now been put in in Southampton ""
There is however something I would like to correct you on, you say "However, they won't know when the traffic light for their direction has gone green because it's behind them". I have been to New Zealand and I am pretty sure that the lights are repeated over the other side of the junction like in the UK so this wouldn't be the case. Maybe I have misunderstood?


David Hembrow said...

Hi David,

I think the rubbish you're referring to is a junction n Southampton which I wrote about last August. Yes, it's utter garbage. A dangerous design, similar to those which kill in Denmark

I lived in NZ for nearly 9 years... but that was more than 30 yeas ago. You may well be right about traffic signals n NZ. It's still a terrible design, though.

Felix said...

Hi David, It sounds as though this may be a case of "Cargo Cult Design"

Which is surely sad and doomed to fail.

Thanks for your input it will no doubt be useful to the campaigners!

David Hembrow said...

I think you're absolutely right, Felix.

Anyway, I hope you can use this to get better designs in NZ.

Glen said...

Hello David, thank you for your considered comments about the Chch Cycle Design Guidelines. However, as someone who had a little bit to do with the Guidelines (stakeholder group) and more to do with the implementation of the actual new cycleways, I feel I have to rebut some of your stated concerns. There's a fair bit there, so I think I will post something in detail on my Cycling in Chch website, but for now let me state two broad points for starters:

(1) It's important to realise that this is a conceptual design guideline, not detailed design. Hence many of the images are what I'd consider "artist's impressions" (and I've seen many of these over the years that wouldn't stand up to technical scrutiny). They present a vision but without all the little nuances. You'll note that there are very few dimensions given (you seem to have picked up on the few that are there) - I would have liked to have not even seen this many in there. It was deliberate to leave them off the drawings so that someone wouldn't just take a design concept from here and try and insert it somewhere without consideration for context. The current task is now to convert these generic images into actual detailed designs for the first cycleways being planned. Rest assured, a lot of consideration is being given to provide a very good level of service for people using them.

(2) This is not a Dutch cycle design guideline. It is a guideline for a city on the far side of the world that has an existing cycle infrastructure (and an existing road user culture) and a desire to step this up. That doesn't happen overnight and it will be based on a number of useful techniques that we have seen around the world - the Netherlands is not the only game in town! I have certainly seen other nice examples from around Europe, North America, and so on that I believe can work effectively here (and in many cases attract new people to biking as well). No doubt, as we learn from our experiences, there'll be a "version 2" of the Guidelines (with a certain photo hopefully suitably credited!).

As I say, I'll get to a more detailed response as soon as I can (the current workload is a bit nuts), because I know that this post is generating a bit of interest around here.

P.S: I had been looking into doing one of your study tours one day (to add to my all-too-brief previous time in the Netherlands). So maybe one day if I get there we can have a chat over a beer about all this!

David Hembrow said...

Glen: Thanks for your reply. It's interesting to hear from someone who has been involved in creating this document.

The problem with publishing even conceptual ideas of what infrastructure should look like is that these often become fixed in peoples' minds as what the infrastructure really should look like. That's precisely what has happened with the design for a "Dutch" traffic junction.

As for the comment about the Netherlands not being "the only game in town", I think this is something you really need to think carefully about.

It's your city and it's your country. You are welcome to choose to take your inspiration from anywhere you like.

But keep in mind that we are talking about cycling here. The Netherlands is by far the most successful nation in encouraging people to cycle. The infrastructure here is the most refined and leads to Dutch cyclists being the safest on the planet.

Second place in the world is taken by Denmark, where a twenty year long decline in cycling has resulted in their cycling modal share now being barely higher than half that of the Netherlands. It's taken a while, but Denmark has now woken up to the need to copy the Netherlands.

Nowhere else provides an example even as good as Denmark.

There is nowhere in North America with a two digit modal share. The rest of Europe also lags very far behind the Netherlands.

It is therefore a mystery to me why you would put "other nice examples" from places which often are good at publicizing what they do, but which simply do not have proven results, on the same level as the Dutch example which does have proven effectiveness.

Note that it's also the case that nowhere is more successful at attracting new people to biking than here. Immigrants from non cycling nations who move to the Netherlands take up cycling extremely willingly. They cycle as much as the 2nd and 3rd place cycling nations.

I wish you all the success in the world with improving the cycling infrastructure of Christchurch and with improving the cycling modal share. But I have to urge a need to aim high. There is no point in building second best as this simply won't have the effect that you want to see. You don't get to change things often so make sure that you do the best job you possibly can. Don't compromise on quality before you've even got to the negotiating table.

Architectonic said...

"The design of shared paths needs to encourage slower cycle speeds so the cyclist slows closer to the pace of a pedestrian."

Now I know why the paths in Australia and New Zealand suck so bad!

It's because they're designed to "encourage slower cycle speeds".

Seriously, why is it considered acceptable that people with no experience whatsoever with best practise design are allowed to write guidelines like this?

I don't believe the hype about the idea that we need to re-invent for local conditions, therefore we should not hire any overseas experts.

I'm becoming more cynical and suspecting that cycling advocates need not only ask for 'Dutch style' infrastructure, but specifically ask for experienced Dutchmen to actually design it!

Glen said...

Thanks David for your response. I've now had a chance to think through the various concerns and put together my response - see I hope this is helpful; certainly your feedback has helped me to think through some issues that we have to grapple with in our future cycleways.

Unknown said...

FYI a hook turn for motor vehicles has existed at certain intersections in central Melbourne for many years. This is so right turning vehicles don't hold up trams.

The related sign -
- is a minor cultural icon that you can find on coffee cups and tea towels.

Strong and brave cyclists take their place in the queue of turning vehicles.