Posted by: Gregory | May 22, 2015

Should cyclists be forced onto cycle lanes?

The question arises from a comment received on a cycling framework post.

For the purpose of safety and to clarify on NZTA’s advertising concept ‘See the person, Share the Road’ an e-petition channelling the overseas experience was made live today. http://wellington.govt.nz/have-your-say/epetitions/petitions/current/2015-05-a-bylaw-to-enforce-cyclists-use-cycle-lanes-where-provided-at-all-times

The petition proposes a bylaw change to restrict cyclists to cycle lanes when they are available.

The overseas experience shows cyclist are required to use cycle lanes where provided and is embedded in their Road Code.

In discussions with interest groups regarding separated cycle lanes in Island Bay it was suggested the commuter cyclist would not use them based on a theory the speed of cyclists on the purpose built lanes would slow them down.

As much as I like having rules and enforcement, my preference is to use design to encourage behaviour instead of legislation, but I think there’s a reasonable discussion that could happen. Reading through comments on various social media, the issue of cycleways not being used by all cyclists comes up regularly.

How would a bylaw like this fare in terms of consistency?

  • Buses are not required to use bus lanes. Drivers of Route 32 often stay out of the bus lane along Kent Terrace because the cost of merging at the Basin Reserve is higher than the benefit of bypassing traffic in the other lanes.
  • Cars are not required to stay on arterial routes and avoid local roads.
  • Pedestrians are meant to stay on footpaths when available, but legality of crossing is only specified within 20m of a signal or pedestrian crossing.

If the bylaw were in place, how likely would it be adhered to and how likely would it be enforced? There’s no point in creating an ineffective law. We already struggle with all sorts of traffic problems, such as parking on footpaths or running red lights, where personal convenience is driving the bad behaviour and enforcement is either difficult or institutionally ignored.

The bylaw would have to presume that a given cycleway is fit for purpose. A cyclists shouldn’t be forced into an unsafe path. Would the bylaw then be limited to separated cycleways or would green-stripes through the door zone be included? Given the level of vulnerability to injury, cyclists are often having to choose between paths, balancing risks. For the bylaw to be effective, all cycleways would need to be designed to accommodate the needs of all cyclists. Which brings me back to my statement of preference above: if we can design a cycleway to be universally attractive, it would be more effective that a bylaw.

My opinion is certainly not the only one out there. Use the comment section below and let me know what you think about this. Would there be benefits of a bylaw beyond those of building good cycleways?

Posted by: Gregory | May 19, 2015

Patronage on privatised bus routes

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of fluctuations in patronage on my bus route. School holidays are very apparent, but there are longer term cycles that I see but don’t understand. The problem I have is that I can’t look at the patronage data. The routes out to Eastbourne have been registered as fully commercial, so that information is commercially sensitive.

wpid-img_20150518_080345.jpgWithin around a week, we’ve had three trips for my particular route with people standing while we were on the motorway. It’s the final running of the northbound 84 during the morning peak. After this bus, there is a mix of 83s (via Queensgate) and 81s (direct to Eastbourne) that do something similar to the 84, unless you actually need to get to Gracefield, which will require a bit of a walk.

A good portion of the passengers get off on Jackson Street, presumably for Weltec, but there’s around half a bus of people continuing around to the east. This suggests that there may be sufficient demand to run another 84 after 8am, although I couldn’t give you more evidence than sparse observations and anecdotal conversations.

Under the new Public Transport Operating Model, all the Wellington bus routes except the Airport Flyer should be run as part of the contracted units, which means that there should be more data flowing back to Greater Wellington and be visible to the public after the new bus contracts are expected to roll out in 2016/17. It’s unknown whether GWRC has any interest in tweaking the Eastbourne services before contracting the unit. Somehow, these buses weren’t considered within scope of the recent Hutt Valley Public Transport Review (PDF). Since the incumbent operator of commercial services get a like-for-like contract with a 12-year duration, it would seem sensible to do the analysis before issuing the contract.

Posted by: Gregory | May 19, 2015

Relighting Cuba Mall

WCC put out a press release around some current work going on in Cuba Mall.

Wellington’s famous Bucket Fountain will soon look almost as colourful by night as it does by day thanks to a street light upgrade that will make Cuba Mall much lighter and brighter.

The fountain has been removed for maintenance and while it’s gone, new poles and LED street lights are being installed that will have multiple benefits.

The soft white light – similar to the light from a full moon – will make walking through the mall at night a much more pleasant experience.  It will be easier on the eye, and mean colours stand out and look more natural.

The new lights will save energy too, lowering electricity consumption by about 80 percent and roughly halving power costs for the area.

The area around the fountain has been blocked off by hoarding, so there’s not much to see at the moment. While I was out with the dog this morning, I decide to snap a few photos of the surrounding area, to look at the lighting at the moment.

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The overhead lights were off, so the vast majority of the light is spill from the buildings and verandahs. Currently, the scene is pretty high contrast and details are hard to pick out.

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The lights above Bucket Fountain are still on, with the distinct yellow glow of your average street light. Contrast is a bit lower and spill goes half way up the first storey. It’s pretty easy to see what’s in front of you, but details don’t carry far.

wpid-img_20150519_054446.jpgLooking north from Dixon Street, you can see the difference in colour between the overhead lights.

For comparison, I took another two on the way back.

wpid-img_20150519_054654.jpg

The nearby lights appear to be the old type and off in the distance, you can see the newer lights along Courtenay Place. I got sidetracked along Egmont Street, so I missed out on an actual comparison with Courtenay.

wpid-img_20150519_060304.jpg

Instead, I popped by Pukeahu on my way home for an example of newer lighting. It features a much more even light coverage of the footpaths and grassy areas, especially compared to lighting on normal streets, which is often useless from a pedestrian point of view.

“With the improved colour clarity, it will be easier to see and recognise people, the plants will be green and the Bucket Fountain will look great.

It’s nice to see green grass showing as green, lit like this. It makes the space feel much more natural and welcoming, even when the sun is down.

The issue of urban lighting has been on my mind for the last week or so. I’m starting to look into lighting around paths and places to see if we’re doing things to support the types of activities that we want, especially in the winter months where daylight is scarce. Expect more on this shortly.

Posted by: Gregory | May 14, 2015

Kids these days

While walking home through Pukeahu last week, there were a bunch of people with skateboards doing exactly what you’d expect in the park. I thought it was great. People are making the space useful on their own terms. This is what happens in urban spaces. Not long after, I saw this tweet:

It’s disappointing, really.

The article that Councillor Young cited was referring specifically to the Cenotaph, but there’s a similar article in the Wellingtonian regarding skateboards at Pukeahu. I’m not sure if it’s because the spaces are both newly unveiled or because they’re memorials, or both. When I asked Councillor Young, she didn’t answer that. She’d gotten as far as telling me that kids belong in playgrounds:

Again, disappointing.

I’m not sure if she actually meant playgrounds or meant skate parks and just misspoke. WCC has a list of skate parks in the city, and it’s not a long list:

There are Council skate parks throughout the city offering local and visiting skaters a range of fun, accessible spaces.

  • Waitangi Park – opposite Chaffers Street on the waterfront. The park has a wide variety of skate equipment and ramps for beginners and experienced skaters. It also has street skating equipment and concrete bowls.
  • Ian Galloway Park – Curtis Street, Northland. This park has a new wooden ramp that’s higher and wider than the previous ramp.
  • Island Bay Skate Park – Adelaide Road, Island Bay, opposite Wakefield Park. This park’s wooden mini-ramp was repaired and has a range of gradients.
  • Newlands – behind Newlands Fire Station on Newlands Road. Has an open concrete space and ramps. A recent extension has added more concrete space, ramps and street skating equipment.
  • Tawa – Davies Street, Tawa, behind Tawa Pool – has open concrete space, a ramp and street skate equipment.
  • Nairnville Park – corner Cockayne Road / Lucknow Terrace, Khandallah. This park has a concrete ramp.
  • Plantation Reserve – off Tirangi Road, Rongotai. This park has open concrete space and ramps with some rails.

For inner city locations, it’s just Waitangi Park, which gets quite a bit of utilisation as it is. If you were to try to fit all the inner-city skateboarding population in Waitangi Park at once, everyone is going to be worse off for it.

There are some by-laws in place for skateboarding:

15. Skateboards and skates

15.1 Use of a skateboard, roller-skates or inline-skates in a public place is allowed, except in areas with signs stating otherwise.

15.2 Every one who uses a skateboard, roller-skates or in-line skates shall ensure no damage is caused to Council property and shall show reasonable consideration for other persons using the public place.

My skating background is on ice and inline skates, but there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn across to any of the balance sports. Getting good at anything takes time and practice. Learning a skill isn’t as simple as watching someone else doing it and trying it a few times. The skill needs to be burned into memory through repetition. As these people learn to handle kerbs, steps and falls, they’re making themselves safer for the times that they’re on the footpath or on the streets, which they have every right to be.

The council has tools to curb damaging behaviour, should they need to, but maybe they should look at providing more options for people skating.

Skateboards are transport and portable entertainment. It’s easy to look with old eyes at the kids and think that they’re being disrespectful, but I don’t see it that way. There’s this quote from the article in the Wellingtonian:

Max Sceats, 16, said he understood their actions could be disrespectful.

“But we are using it better than the vast majority of people,” he said.

As for the damage, everything is going to weather over time. The benches will have a shorter life because of the skaters, which is possibly justification for invoking the bylaw, but it also reminds me of speaking with a security guard before Pukeahu was officially opened. This particular bench was already damaged by a taxi driver.

wpid-wp-1429308478514.jpgMeanwhile, I can’t help but agree with this sentiment:

Posted by: Gregory | May 11, 2015

Metlink’s Android widget

Just before the lunch break, I saw this tweet from Metlink.

It’s an Android widget that sits on the screen instead of an app that needs to be opened. I gave it a quick try during my lunch break and decided to post a quick review.

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-11-13-07-24.pngAfter placing the widget, the configuration screen opens up. The user can select up to two stations to monitor. While this might seem limiting, most people are likely to have a stop close to home and a stop close to work. It’s not really going to drag people out of the mindset that public transit is for commuting, but lots of people will find value in this design.

For each stop, there are 3 text areas, stop code, stop name and a filter. Setting the stop code automatically sets the stop name, but the reverse isn’t true. You’re going to have to find your own stop code.

wpid-wp-1431305839527.png

Unfortunately, setting the stop code is probably a bit too simplistic. If you don’t know the code, the widget isn’t going to give you any help. Your best bet is jumping into a map that shows the bus stops and get the information from there. Ideally, the software company would have provided a map screen that could populate the stop code automatically. Maybe the next revision.

wpid-wp-1431306330957.pngFiltering is a nice touch, given the proportion of passengers who work near the CBD but live remotely. Most people will have a small number of routes that will serve their needs. Since the widget is fixed at 4 lines of RTI display, judicious filtering will save screen resources for what’s interesting.

My overall impression is that it does a simple job reasonably well. It keeps the display simple enough that users aren’t left hunting for information. I’m a bit disappointed that the widget isn’t allowed to scale to larger or smaller sizes. It’s assumed that 4 lines is correct, but people have a way of surprising you and assumptions have a way of being wrong.

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-11-12-53-58.png

Posted by: Gregory | May 9, 2015

Those pesky roads

There was a story run in the DomPost last week about cyclists coming off their bikes in Pukeahu National War Memorial Park because of poor visibility of the kerbs. It’s a bit of a design flaw that’s only coming to light now that real people are interacting with the park. I’m sure we’ll find more issues as we go.

“It’s supposed to be a cycling and walking-friendly place, so you don’t expect to come across something like that,” group committee member Alastair Smith said.

He first noticed the low kerbs when he crashed off his bike last November, before the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park was finished. He was riding on the north side of the road through thepark, and had to move around a parked car.

He did not see the kerb, clipped it with his wheel and came off, injuring only his pride.

The problems stemmed from the kerbs being only 50 millimetres high, and being hard to distinguish from the road and cobbles, especially after rain.

As I was walking through the park today, I was drawn to the fact that the roads have been given an inconsistent treatment. Cobbles are featured on Buckle Street up to the memorial access and smooth asphalt on the connector between Tory and Tasman.

I happen to have a serious issue with the traffic speeds that can be obtained on the through road, and it’s part of the same problem as the kerbs. With only 50mm kerbs, the raised table isn’t enough of a feature to force fast traffic to slow. The narrow road is meant to encourage lower speeds, but I’ve seen a few vehicles cutting though in the range of 50km/h.

Photo credit: Memorial Park Alliance

Photo credit: Memorial Park Alliance

The roads highlights in red are normal asphalt, yellow are raised tables and blue are cobblestones. I’ve marked up the photo from memory, so I may have gotten some details wrong. The cobblestones do a good job of reminding motorists that they are in a low speed place. With the 50mm kerbs, the raised table on the link road is pretty useless. This is contrary to the plan put forward by NZTA (PDF):

NZTA Memorial Park Local Road Performance

What should have happened was for the Tory/Tasman link to be cobblestone. I’d expect that the current raised table may need to be left as-is to allow for people with disabilities requiring a smooth pedestrian surface to cross safely.

Returning to the issue of kerb visibility, the DomPost article had indicated that even with cobblestones, the kerb wasn’t clear. While this is quite true, the implications of the surface texture can be quickly learned. I doubt many people would make the same mistake twice.wpid-wp-1431163731890.jpg

In the above photo, there’s no difference in surface texture between the footpath and the road. A cyclist would very easily miss the visual cue and not notice the 50mm drop.

wpid-wp-1431163739753.jpg

This photo shows a clear delineation between footpath and road. It would be hard to not notice the boundary between the two.

Interestingly, the west end of Buckle St is paved in asphalt instead of cobblestone. Along that section, which I failed to photograph, they’ve added a physical barrier between the footpath and the road as a trial measure. I’m willing to bet that if the roads were consistently paved, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Alliance manager Duncan Kenderdine said the small kerb enhanced the open feel of the park, but accepted that problems had been raised about it.

The alliance was aware the white line solution was not sufficient. “We are now reviewing the options around physical changes to reduce people meandering across the kerb, or ways of levelling the kerb by cambering or adjusting levels beside it.”

There were plans to talk to those who had been affected about what the best solution might be, he said.

I wouldn’t suggest that putting cobblestones along the roads in a consistent fashion would solve all the problems with the park, but it should provide necessary visual cues while slowing traffic.

That just leaves us with things like this:

wpid-wp-1431164704248.jpg

Posted by: Gregory | May 6, 2015

Verandahs, overhead pedestrian infrastructure

We tend to take infrastructure for granted. Not many people really care about where the three waters go, only that they do. Landfills are necessary, but most people don’t want to live next door to one. Roads are reasonably high-profile and cycle lanes are getting all sorts of attention at the moment, but have you stopped to think about infrastructure for pedestrians? Footpaths are the obvious one, getting a bit more attention at the moment as extra car parking space, but there’s more to it than that.

Pedestrians are generally exposed to all elements. Umbrellas used elsewhere fall apart at the slightest Wellington wind.

Ending the relationship

Aside from any waterproof layers worn, it’s the street design that keeps people dry. It’s the combination of buildings and verandahs that redirect the wind and keep the rain off the footpaths. Knowing the city well includes knowing where to find shelter from both northerly and southerly rains.

Wellington City Council District Plan includes a network of verandah requirements in the CBD, allowing for nearly continuous rain cover along the inner-city footpath network.

District Plan Verandah Network

Recently, an audit of verandah conditions highlighted a subset that required some form of repair (PDF report).

Of the 900 (approx.) verandahs across the city, 225 require some form of repair with 15-20% of those verandahs requiring immediate action to restore to a reasonable and safe standard. The majority of defective verandahs are within the CBD, which poses a particular risk to inner city residents and to members of the public due to the density of people within the area.

Defective verandah counts

As such, WCC is about to consult on a bylaw change allowing for council to enforce an adequate state of repair, instead of only having the ability to act after a dangerous situation has already been created.

The DomPost recently ran an article on the upcoming consultation.

Building portfolio leader Iona Pannett said it was important to talk to building owners about the proposal because it would be a cost to them.

“We have had a few owners approach us about the cost. It’s a big undertaking. We don’t want to be putting undue pressure on building owners.”

After the Canterbury earthquake, a royal commission recommended immediate strengthening of thousands of verandas or awnings throughout the country, as they were believed to be particularly vulnerable to collapse.

The February 2011 Canterbury earthquake, which killed 185 people, caused verandas to fall, including one that trapped store manager Jane Taylor at Cashel Mall. Several also collapsed in the magnitude-6.7 quake in Gisborne in 2007.

The bulk of the draft bylaw is shown below. It’s pretty straightforward in that it can notify owners and then authorise action if the owners fail to comply by the date required.

Verandah Bylaw S2.2

According to the timeline, the bylaw is expected to come into force on 1 September 2015, allowing for consultation time, amendment and passage by full council.

Posted by: Gregory | May 6, 2015

Cycling Framework Consultation

Wellington City Council was quick off the blocks to get the draft cycling framework out for consultation, which opened on 4 May – quite likely to very many Star Wars puns – and runs until 5pm, 29 May.

The framework document should be identical to that included in the agenda for the 30 April full council meeting, but the rendering of the document is much, much better. Finally, we’re able to make out some of the finer markings on the page:

WCF protected lanes

I’m expecting some tussling to and fro over tiny details, which we saw come up with Councillor Eagle’s amendment 2a over parking thresholds.

There’s plenty of room to argue over details, but on the whole, the document looks quite reasonable. I’m looking forward to hearing feedback over the next few weeks. For example:

Posted by: Gregory | May 4, 2015

Switched on Bikes for Wellington

WCC has a news article on supporting Switched on Bikes through the Smart Energy Challenge programme. They are running a crowd-funding campaign that is set to expire in 3 days with a goal of bringing electric bike hire to Wellington. At the moment, they’re approaching $5000 of their $7000 target on 96 pledges.

While it’s filed under tourism, building up this sort of bike hire scheme will have flow-on effects for residents as well. As I was told by Councillor Sarah Free, electric bikes chew through hills, which makes them perfectly suited for Wellington’s suburbs.

https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/3446-switched-on-bikes-electric-bike-hire-and-guided-tours-of-wellington/

Posted by: Gregory | May 4, 2015

Photos: Parking failures

Parking failures seem to be occupying my mind at the moment. Since I spend so much time on foot, I see all sorts of things on my way. The first photo is a bit older, but the other three were all from yesterday. This is quite common behaviour and I think the lack of enforcement is responsible for much of the shoddy attitude.

wpid-img_20150307_082612.jpg

I don’t know if the damage to the back end was related to the attempt at parking. Either way, it’s illegal to stop or park in an intersection and it’s also illegal to stop or park on a broken yellow line.

wpid-img_20150503_092239.jpg

I see this a lot. Cars often overhang into the footpath. In this case, it’s a pretty small car. In my mind, this is implicitly extending private space into public space without any compensation to the public.

wpid-img_20150503_152848.jpg

Imagine a blind person getting to the tactile surface and proceeding to cross the street. This is basically a lack of respect for other people and also illegal.

wpid-img_20150503_161118.jpgEncroaching on the footpath is incredibly common in Wellington and it’s not going to change unless we push back against it. This is not a narrow street and traffic speeds up on the way down the hill when the parked cars leave an extra gap. That’s not the outcome that we want.

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