Posted by: Gregory | December 22, 2010

How Far Left Do I SAFELY Ride?

Liz Springford brings us this post:

From questions of safe public transport, what about safe cycling? Just how far to the left should cyclists safely ride? NZTA already has the answer. Cyclists should keep a safety gap of at least one metre from parked cars. In other words, stay out of that door zone of death! If there are no parked cars, then keep to the left, but not in the gutter nor on the footpath ­– a cyclist has a right to be on the road but no right to ride on the footpath.

From a drivers’ perspective, the NZ Road Code recommends drivers passing cyclists with at least 1.5 metres to spare. To quote Good magazine: ‘It is not simply rude to pass within inches of a cyclist while driving at 60kph, it’s as reckless as threatening them with a loaded gun.’ (The RideStrong community is campaigning to make 1.5 metres legally enforceable – add your support at

Okay, so that’s safe cycling sorted… or is it? Casual observation of Wellington traffic reveals cyclists on narrow streets risking their safety daily by cycling in the door zone, and drivers in turn risking cyclists’ safety by passing too close. There’s clearly an educational need amongst all road users, including picking the quietest route to cycle, but are there infrastructure issues too?

National guidelines suggest traffic lane widths of 3.2-­3.5 metres. That’s 11 metres from kerb to kerb for a two lane road with parking on both sides. Not a common feature of Wellington’s suburbs, where lanes can be closer to 2.5 metres, even on key routes. Safe cycling then putsa cyclist clearly in the middle of the lane – regardless of speed.

But many of us can’t achieve ‘normal traffic’ speeds, even in 40kph zones or downhill. Cyclists aren’t all lycra­-clad muscle­-men, and Wellington streets seem to have a lot of uphill where speeds may be closer to 5kph than 50. Wellington streets place cyclists, particularly those going uphill and unable to maintain a high speed, in a difficult position. Do we get off and walk up the footpath, or hold up the traffic?

Or is it time to talk about where private cars can be stored in Wellington? Does it make sense to use 2 metres on each side of the street to store vehicles, when drivers and increasing numbers of cyclists at varying speeds are forced to share the road? In some streets, even car travel becomes turn-­taking on a single lane as parked cars clog both sides of the street.

The pressure to share the road is set to grow as more Wellingtonians of all ages choose cycling as transport, not sport. And there are so many good reasons to cycle ­ some individual gains and many community gains. From saving money to saving emissions, from reducing fossil-­fuel dependence to increasing independence, and as NZTA’s own research recognises, significant health gains from cycling which helps us all.

Cycling Advocate Network’s Patrick Morgan said ‘The only thing worse than cycling is not cycling’, in response to the latest Regional Land Transport Strategy annual monitoring report revealing that Wellingtonians on cycles are twelve times more likely to be injured in a road crash than when in a vehicle. Despite this dramatically unleveled travelling field, the health and environmental benefits of cycling outweigh the risks.

So as another year draws to a close and we turn to customary New Year resolutions to save money and get fitter, please do share your ideas on safe cycling infrastructure in our Wellington streets. City Hop in the suburbs may be the key to unlocking household travel budgets from so much individual private car ownership – but that’s another blog…

Merry Christmas!

We would like your opinion. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

  • How ready do you think Wellingtonians are to share the road on cycles and in cars?
  • With February as BikeWise month, what are your ideas on how to share safe practice as we drive and cycle into 2011?
  • What’s more important to you and why – car storage or car travel speed?
  • Which Wellington streets could be priority for swapping car storage for cycle lanes?


  1. My current cycling bugaboo is actually how to traverse the CBD on a bike along the east-west axis.

    It has always been hard to do this safely, legally, and without large detours, but the recent changes have made it even harder.

    For example, I work on Willis St and want to and from the bottom of Courtenay Place (ie West -> East). There is no route on the road that doesn’t involve both a long detour North-South and crossing multiple lanes of traffic.

    Cyclists on the footpath create a lot of bad feeling among pedestrians as well as breaking the law, but honestly it’s extremely tempting for all but sticklers. And the council seems to be making it worse, not better. The confusion about which bus lanes are actually bus only doesn’t help either. This is why Manners St is filled with cyclists illegally on the footpath.

    Directly on topic, I’d single out Adelaide Road as having long scary narrow stretches with fast car and bus traffic.

  2. For cycling, lanes should either be wide enough for vehicles to pass safely (greater than 4m) or narrow (about 3m) so that it’s clear that a vehicle can’t pass without changing lane. An issue with Wellington is that a lot of our streets are at the dangerous intermediate lane width. Removing parking is attractive, but we have to careful that this doesn’t lead to an increase in overall speed.

    I think it’s a bit of an illusion that cyclists “hold up” traffic. If a car is held up for a few seconds behind a car, there are three causes: the cyclist, the parked cars (as you observe) and the oncoming traffic. Two of these three causes are car related. I notice that when a car passes me, I generally catch up with it at the next set of lights, where the car has been held up by (wait for it!) a queue of other cars. Also, cyclists are normally car owners who have chosen to not to use their car, so a car driver can be happy that they won’t be competing with the cyclist for a parking spot at their destination.

    I’m far more often slowed down by queues of cars when I’m cycling, than I’m held up behind cyclists when I’m driving my car.

    So I don’t think cyclists should be diffident about taking their space in the lane: we should ride predictably and visibly, and remember that it’s the responsibility of the overtaking driver to pass safely. My experience is that most motorists respect this, and wait for a suitable place to pass.

  3. Unfortunatly the Golden Mile Improvements not only went ahead without considaration to Cyclist and Pedestrians (WCC 2008 Walking and Cycling Policies) but more car parks in the CBD deemed a nessasity where the Golden Mile Budget planned for 5 years of revenue gatehring of yet to be build car parks in the CBD. As a result car parks have mushroomed in the Willis/Taranaki Street Precinct and one would not be surprised if overseas travellers feel cheated by the Lonely Planet recommendation Wellington is the coolest little Capital in the World only to find it caters to vehicular traffic.

    For a Capital with a Green Mayor and judging by the car friendly Council where pedestrians are disadvantaged by long waiting times at pedestrian crossings jaywalking is in fact a Wellington design. Jaywalking is legal 20 meters away from any legal pedestrian crossing.

  4. Stephen – the simple answer on whether cyclists can use lanes is to read what the lanes are –

    Bus Only Lanes (Lambton Quay Sthbound, Willis, Manners) – are bus only
    Bus Lanes (the rest) allow for cyclists, motorcyclists, in service taxis, and emergency vehicles.

    The reason for the distinction is basically as Alastair points out – lane width and the ability to safely pass without going into the oncoming traffic lane. (very likely to happen when buses will need to stop to pick up / set down)

    With a fair bit of nagging I’ve persuaded officers to sign at least suburban bus lanes to show what vehicles can use them. I know as a cyclist that there are bus drivers who don’t (didn’t ?) know that cyclists are legitimately allowed in bus lanes -and thought cutting cyclists off/forcing them into the kerb was fair enough).

    We are making progress on cycling. Despite Government and the previous Council being pretty lukewarm (at best), since 2007 we have the city’s first ever Cycling and Walking Policies (2008), With Celia’s support I got the cycling budget up from $70,000 per annum to $700,000 in 2009 (9-6 vote). Thorndon Quay Clearway and better signage on Hutt Road (both only starters on this critical route) went in this year, the Tawa – Porirua Stream walkway/cycleway is now underway having secured NZTA support and access across Kiwi Rail land, and small but important little gains like Balaena Bay, the shared route from the Met Office to the Cable Car, and Birdwood St have also been delivered. There is progress on Waterloo Quay too. CAN and CAW are consistent supporters of ongoing speed limit reductions. So while much more remains to be done we are definitely making progress. Key opportunities include – Great Harbour Way, Middleton Road, Johnsonville Triangle, Hutt Road (tied to Nguaranga to Aotea SH1 work), and ongoing work on cycle parking, grates, speed limits etc.

    All the very best for the holiday break – and if you are out on the road – especially on two wheels – go safe.

    Warmest regards

    Cr Andy Foster
    Transport Leader
    Wellington City Council

    All the best for the summer break.

  5. Should roads be used for private property storage? Do car owners have a right to a car parking space if they pay for the construction and maintenance of roads through rates or taxes? Do those that pay for a residents permit have more of a right? There is no doubt that reclaiming that space currently taken up by car parking would make Wellington and other cities immediately easier to walk, cycle and drive. I feel that if residents in the fringe suburbs don’t have off street parking there should be acceptance they are unable to keep a car. Their expection is to be provided with car parking on public land and the transport infrastructure and the councils provide it. Do councils want to provide through obligation, status quo or revenue?

  6. […] Liz  points out in her blog in Sustainable Wellington Transport: […]

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