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Better for cyclists and drivers – in support of a Brooklyn Hill bike lane

brooklyn hill 1 [1]
Trucks ascending Brooklyn Rd creating pinch points with pedestrian build-outs and parked cars – photo Sam Donald, May 2020.

by Nick Mouat, James Burgess, Sam Bridgman & Sam Donald
A2B (Active to Brooklyn), a local group seeking to support safe, healthy ways to move about in and around Brooklyn, has sent a submission to the Wellington City Council on the plan for a pop-up uphill bike lane on the Brooklyn Road – a very topical subject in the community. We strongly support this proposal.

It is in line with the aims of more people using active transport to get to and from Brooklyn. For people who already cycle the route, it will make the ride up Brooklyn Road much safer and more inviting. For people who aren’t yet comfortable riding up Brooklyn Road, it will remove one of the major barriers [2].

This is especially relevant for those who have rediscovered (or discovered) cycling during the lockdown and who wish to cycle instead of using public transport – but who are feeling vulnerable now that traffic levels are increasing again. A bicycle is an affordable alternative to bus trips, unlike the upfront costs (e.g. parking and fuel) and hidden costs of commuting by car.

We also believe that this bike lane will provide more comfort for drivers on the hill as there will be less chance of an accidental close pass or accident involving a driver and a person on a bike.

We encourage the Council to get this cycle lane operational as soon as possible to make a safe route for cycling, as an attractive option in Wellington’s transition from lockdown towards a ‘new normal’.

● We agree with the route chosen. All alternatives (e.g Central Park, Ohiro Road, Nairn Street, Thompson Street etc.) score much worse for one or more of directness, gradient, road width, proximity to parked cars, route clarity, and personal security.

● Allowing cyclists to avoid the existing pinch points from kerb build-outs and pedestrian refuges on Brooklyn Road and the risks associated with passing parked cars will make a big improvement. Many of these situations are unpleasant and very unsafe, even for experienced cyclists, forcing cyclists into traffic, and are probably a major barrier to people starting to cycle the route (we are aware of life threatening near misses caused by pinch points and ebikes attempting to overtake regular cyclists while moving past parked cars).

● Bypassing the bus stops where possible, as is planned, is a sensible approach and will reduce conflict with buses, bus passengers and help bus drivers too.

● At least one of the pedestrian refuges immediately west of the Washington Avenue intersection must be retained to allow safe crossing for pedestrians between Washington Avenue, Jefferson Street and Central Park/CBD. The wide path area at the corner of Washington Avenue and Brooklyn Road could allow people on bikes to bypass the pinch point formed by the refuge, waiting for buses or passengers as needed. Repositioning of the bus stop and/or adjustments to the road lane markings and position of the pedestrian refuges should be considered to avoid the requirement for buses to stop in the line of traffic (which would likely cause dangerous behaviour with vehicles attempting to overtake a stationary bus).

● We understand the temporary approach [3] constrains some aspects of the design. We think it would be helpful to explain how a permanent cycle path here could be different – e.g. extra possibilities opened up when more of the road markings or kerbs etc could be changed as the road is resurfaced. At least to provide an approximate timeline (3, 6, 12 months?) for evaluation and feedback of the pop-up lane in use.

● We would love to see the project scope extended north to the intersection of Victoria and Webb Streets, e.g. by making the left lane between the Karo Drive traffic lights and after the Willis St traffic lights into a bus and cycle lane (vehicles turning left off Victoria St into Webb St are a safety hazard for cycling at present, as is getting to the advance stop box at the Willis St and also navigating the tight corner and the bus stop).

● For safety of all traffic in both directions, we would like to see the Brooklyn 30km/h limit extended past the intersection with Brooklyn Terrace and Ohiro Road. This would improve cycling comfort and safety at this high-crash-rate intersection and,reduce conflict and near-misses between through traffic and turning traffic and allow safer pedestrian crossing between Brooklyn and the Central Park routes into the CBD.

brooklyn hill 2 [4]
Cyclist passing parked vehicle ascending Brooklyn Road, creating a pinch-point with overtaking eBikes, cars, buses and trucks – photo Sam Donald, May 2020.

In addition we would like to make the following comments:

Benefits of removing the passing lane or creating a slow-vehicle pullover area:

While we understand the preference of some to retain the passing lane between Nairn Street and past Bidwell Street, there are also benefits to its removal.

Firstly it will slow down the uphill traffic which currently more often than not drives faster than the 50km/hr limit. Sample data from WCC traffic monitoring in 2019 showed over half the traffic was breaking the speed limit on the two-lane uphill section, with some of those reaching speeds of 70km/h or more.

Secondly, the likelihood of lower speeds and one less lane will make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross Brooklyn Road to/from Bidwill Street. This is a route well used by students heading to the three secondary schools and Massey University in Mount Cook. We believe there is an opportunity to use some of the available road width South of Bidwill St to create a pedestrian route that enables much safer crossing than would otherwise be the case.

However we would also like the designers to consider whether a short slow-vehicle pullover area could be incorporated at some point on the ascent of Brooklyn Road (most likely just before the Bidwill Street bus stop) to mitigate the likelihood of dangerous passing maneuvers being undertaken through driver frustration when heavily-laden trucks or other very slow vehicles might on rare occasions be travelling extremely slowly. This would address one of the major points of opposition to this cycle lane and minimise the risk of strong opposition if and when the cycle lane becomes operational.

Approach to Tactical Urbanism

We believe that the trial will be an excellent opportunity to understand the benefits of the cycle lane and make minor adjustments as required. It is a preferred approach [5] ahead of building expensive fixed infrastructure with its associated large costs which are therefore problematic to amend.

We encourage the Council to fully engage with the community and implement best practice collaboration (as is intended with the Innovating Streets programme). This might for example include an independently facilitated co-design process to harness the community’s detailed knowledge and explore opportunities for the project together, leading towards a constructive feedback process which could aid the design and development of permanent infrastructure in the future.

“Today, people-focused streets are a proven global best practice and the first-line response for transportation and transit agencies during the COVID-19 crisis, from Berlin to Brussels to Bogotá and from Minneapolis to Mexico City to Milan.” – Janette Sadik-Khan, Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery [6]

Overall, as regular users of the road (by car, bus, bike and on foot) we would welcome the opportunity to discuss detailed feedback with the Council and to participate and learn from the evaluation after a period of use to enable the Council to deliver the best temporary project it can from the outset, greatly improving cycling and walking and minimising the impacts on other road users.

Background on A2B

The Active to Brooklyn group sprang out of a 2015 morning coffee catchup organised at The Bresolin (south end of Willis Street) with the purpose of discussing improvements that could make active transport in the Brooklyn/Kingston and CBD linkages safer and more attractive. An open invitation was put on social media and over 30 people were in attendance including invited Council transport staff.

Following this initial gathering, a group of around half a dozen locals have been meeting to identify opportunities to achieve the goal of more active transport and active recreation for the Brooklyn area.

The overarching goals of the A2B group are:
● Creating a vibrant, healthy and safe community.
● Making the most of the Brooklyn area’s proximity to the CBD and recreational opportunities for walking and cycling.

As part of the 2016 Annual Plan process, A2B made a submission proposing nine projects that would help with active transport options, have wide community benefits, deliver low-carbon outcomes and align with WCC policies. The projects linked back to the Kaka Project (a community visioning exercise led by locals working in partnership with WCC) and feedback gathered in 2014/15 was incorporated into the A2B Annual Plan submission in 2015.

One of the tangible outcomes of that submission has been the Tawatawa-Vogelmorn Bikes in Schools track at Vogelmorn Park, a project led by our group in partnership with Ridgway School and its community. A2B led the design, secured funding of over $100k and managed the construction of the new track, new bikes & helmets for the school, all in collaboration with the WCC, Ridgway School and the Bike On Trust. This facility will shortly have further improvements with bike skills features and a Pump track constructed, adding to an increasingly popular community facility (that was especially popular with people of all ages and abilities riding bikes during the Level 4 and Level 3 lockdowns where at times 2m physical distancing was difficult to achieve due to the popularity of cycling).

In our 2016 Annual Plan submission, an up-hill cycle lane on the west/downhill side of Brooklyn Road was one of the 9 projects. The proposal did not go into detail as to whether this was two-way for cycling, demarcated from the pedestrian space etc. and the thinking at the time was that this was would primarily be for new or less confident cyclists with others continuing to ride on the road on what would one day be a dedicated, protected uphill cycle lane as has long been envisaged for this modest gradient arterial route.