A project initiated to improve safety at the University of Canterbury eventually saw the implementation of the first uni-directional separated cycleways in Christchurch in 2013.
Project background and desired outcomes
The Ilam Road project was focused on the area between the Maidstone Road/Creyke Road/Ilam Road intersection to the north and the Ilam Road/Kirkwood Avenue intersection to the south.
Map of Ilam Road showing extents of cycle facility (courtesy of Christchurch City Council)
The original project objective set in 2009 was to improve safety for pedestrians including thousands of students who cross Ilam Road, sometimes several times a day.
Ilam Road before any improvements (Photo: Glen Koorey, ViaStrada)
The scheme that was consulted on incorporated gateways to signifying a pedestrian-friendly area, a median island that allowed for informal crossing, priority crossings and a shared path for children travelling to Ilam School.
Submissions received from the community and stakeholders through consultation raised issues related to the safety of shared the paths, the need for, dedicated cycle lanes, plus calls for a lower speed limit. Following public consultation, a decision was made to revise the scheme to
incorporate comments and feedback from the public and other key stakeholders. With the introduction of the Major Cycleways Programme, an opportunity was seen to provide a modern cycleway, particularly with the support of major stakeholders like the University of Canterbury.
The scheme that was implemented included separated cycle facilities, dual crossings, a shared path for Ilam School Children, landscaping and a 40km/h speed zone.
Following revised budgets post-earthquake, the budget limitations for the project meant that the resulting cycling facilities had to be “low-cost” (e.g. minimal kerbing and pavement changes), the existing kerbs were to be retained so everything had to be delivered within the existing carriageway and that there would be no budget for re-sealing the carriageway.
The cycleways were separated from parking and general traffic by a painted buffer and non-continuous concrete kerb separators. This was the first scheme of its kind for Christchurch City Council (CCC).
Challenges and solutions
Designing separated bicycle facilities when there were no local examples.
Due to the limited budget, CCC chose to use a concrete kerb because it was cheaper than readily available rubber type products. The kerb profile was that of the existing standard design for mountable kerbs surrounding traffic islands.
The separator profile was too tall and was non-mountable. Whilst the non-mountable profile helped to discourage encroachment into the cycleways, it resulted in damage to both vehicle and separator when there was a collision.
The separator profile was not strong enough, and even when strengthened with steel reinforcement they struggled to stay on the carriageway. This may have been exacerbated by the significant amount of bus traffic on this section of Ilam Road.
The grey colouring made the kerbs relatively unobtrusive and were therefore prone to being hit by motor vehicles or created a trip hazard for people walking and crossing the road.
Due to the lack of delineation, there were issues at night as road users mounted the kerbs. Initially kerb top markers were retrofitted but these got knocked off when vehicles straddled the because the separators were too high. Red retroreflective raised pavement markers were then installed on the left of the roadway and the issues went away.
Due to the high cost to maintain the concrete separators, the CCC maintenance team began to replace the concrete separators with a rubber wheel stop. However, the initial choice of rubber wheelstop was incorrect and was again creating further issues for maintenance. The main issue was created because contractors unfamiliar with the product installed them incorrectly.
A new ready-made rubber separator product was then selected for implementation following a review of products available to the New Zealand Market.
The new product (made from recycled car tyres) required a specific application process to be followed for good installation.
They performed well and were more forgiving for vehicles that made mistakes. However, the colour of the product fades over time and the adhesive reflectors also wear off over time.
It was difficult to retain vertical posts implemented alongside the new rubber separator product as they were always being removed by students.
Successes and learnings
Ilam Road was possibly the first separated bicycle facility in New Zealand and even with its failings it worked, and the majority of cyclists liked it. There were many reasons why drivers did not support the scheme and that included the lower speed limit and the narrow carriageway that resulted from the implementation of the scheme, which highlighted undisciplined driving, and distraction (driving in one direction while looking in the other). Poor driving resulted in some vehicles hitting, and damaging, the separator kerbs.
Most of the complaints received by the Council were about the separator but would probably have been received about any design because it was the first street design of its type in Christchurch.
Due to the complaints received about the new facility, the new facility may have been removed if it was not for the adamant support of the Head of Transport Operations who had ongoing meetings and conversations with Politicians, the local Community Board, Waka Kotahi and The Press newspaper.
Even with the perfect separator design, Council would have had the same battles just without vehicle damage claims. The innovative street design required a change in behaviour by road users and change takes a period of time for adjustment.
Consider the whole of life cost. Whilst the concrete separator was cheaper and readily available for implementation, having a more robust and higher quality product could have reduced the overall cost of maintaining the separators. However, it was not just the cost of the concrete kerb replacement, the cost of temporary traffic management and equipment to complete the repairs was expensive and unsustainable.
There was general agreement that the initial separators would all be replaced when the Uni-Cycle Major Cycleway was constructed. Some of this has now been completed with just the northern section (part of Nor’West Arc) still to be changed.
Reducing the speed limit helped to reduce the risk of additional damage when drivers were hitting the separators. It also created a safer environment whilst all road users become familiar with the new layout.
The lessons learnt from Ilam Road helped to inform the design, operations and maintenance of the Major Cycleways in Christchurch, so these issues were not repeated on the future high cost and high-profile network development.
The following safety review and audit provide further information into the lessons learnt from designing and implementing this facility.