Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Neither fish nor fowl

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  • Paul Campbell,

    Actually having lived with the free left turn on red rule for 20 years I'd disagree - really what it does is turn a red light into a stop sign for those turning left (you're supposed to give way to absolutely everyone else in this situation) - for a start lots of bikes just don't stop, and Californians tend to do that rolling stop thing - often you can't see pedestrians well and when waiting to turn left you tend to be looking right for oncoming traffic with a green light and miss new pedestrians entering the crossing from the left

    My favourite disaster intersection in Berkeley (College and Ashby by the Wells Fargo crossing Ashby for those who know), is one where I've been hit twice by red-turning cars, thrown onto the windscreen once, leaves one waiting for the cross light because of a green-arrow turn signal which means the pedestrian phase starts 30 secs after the turning car's red light - cars wanting to to turn through the red light think people waiting are waiting at the bus stop that's right there because they aren't crossing, and they're looking the other way anyway (and they can't see the lights the pedestrians are waiting for).

    (trying very hard in the paragraph above not to use left or right because of course it's all backwards there)

    The US does have places where "no turn on red" signs are posted (this is one that needs one) and traffic lights need to be very carefully tuned.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2608 posts Report Reply

  • Hugh Wilson,

    The article linked to by Russell was published in the Farifax papers here in Australia last week.

    I don’t have a lot to add to the discussion, but would point out that while there are a lot of similarities to cycling in Auckland, Christchurch, Melbourne and Sydney there are also notable ‘structural’ differences between these cities in terms of spatial layouts, geography and competing road users. These ‘differences’ may help explain some of the reported results, but it is of course difficult to articulate said differences in a short post such as this. My observations (having lived and ridden in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney) are basically:

    (1) Melbourne and Sydney have much more substantive public transport networks (especially rail) which take lots of cars off the streets, particularly around the CBD – in Melbourne cars are effectively discouraged from entering the CBD due to the plethora of one way streets and the car free designation of Swanston st. The upshot of this is that lots of roads around the CDB can be oddly devoid of traffic (even at peak times) which provides less incentive, if you like, to wait for that green when a quick scoot is possible.

    (2) Auckland and Sydney seem to have more heavily trafficked roads in general than Melbourne – this makes riding in those cities relatively more ‘challenging’, as the dominant culture/mindset is that of cars.

    (3) Humans are wired to behaviourally seek out shortcuts, so despite the provisions of road rules cyclists – and motorists – will at times break these, with varying possible consequences. The problem here is that these acts, where committed by cyclists, catalyse ill feelings. For evidence of this have a look at the comments section next time there is a big cycling story in the Age or the SMH. Unfortunately there is little political leadership re: changing attitudes towards cycling, and the media – playing on divisiveness as it does – seem to like nothing more than stoking the fires of ill will towards cyclists. This apathy is, I suspect, common to all major centres in Australia and NZ.

    On the positive side, Melbourne City Council has been reasonably progressive in its approach to cycling in recent years and has made year-on-year budget allocations for cycling infrastructure in the CBD – I think its $5M in the current year, and this is funding the creation of a separated an east-west cycle lane along La Trobe st. Further to this, more and more people are riding bikes into the CBD – the procession of (law abiding) cyclists at city intersections can be rather breathtaking, as in 20 every three minutes sort of thing. To the extent that these cyclists are one’s co-workers or bosses or partners, attitudes towards cyclists will gradually start to change. What seems less likely, however, is the application of a behavioral lens – from a human / cyclists point of view – to the road code in the interests of common sense and harmonious co-existence.

    Melbourne • Since Feb 2013 • 164 posts Report Reply

  • Phil Lyth, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If you are bigger or faster do not allow your size or speed to hurt other people … even if they are doing something “wrong”.

    Maybe with a corollary, Don't assume that on a bike you can get away with stupidity.

    Seen on Thorndon Quay, which has angle parking, a couple of weeks ago - motorist indicating to turn left into dockway of a building. Not one, not two, not three, but four cyclists zoomed past on the motorist's left without a care in the world.

    Oh for the day when the Netherlands model of shared space is adopted here and respected by road users.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 458 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And that’s just stupid riding. I wasn’t joking about eyeballing the traffic coming up that off-ramp. I don’t go unless I’m confident the driver has seen me and is giving way.

    I cross this spot nearly every time I use the cycleway. About one in ten cars doesn't give way. Most people see you cruising up and looking up to them, and they just slow down as if you were a pedestrian. Never had the slightest grumpy look from a driver. The only real danger is the driver who isn't looking - they could be distracted for any number of reasons. These people are every bit as dangerous to pedestrians as riders, which is why pedestrians should follow the same "don't die" rule that cyclists do.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Martin Roberts,

    Has there been an increase recently in cycling through pedestrian light signals around Auckland?

    It feels like there has to me. I frequently do Symonds St down to the University, and the crossing at the end of K-Rd is one where I almost never see a cyclist stop and wait for the traffic, when there's a nice long pedestrian phase just before the green light. I don't wait, myself, because I consider it safer not to wait. Riding down the road with no cars on it, and more to the point, no buses, is way, way less nerve wracking than that horrible conflicted decision of whether to stick to the bus lane, despite no clear markings that bikes can use it, or the center lane, where you stand a good chance of being simultaneously under-and-overtaken by buses on both sides (this has happened to me several times). Fuck that, I will just take the fine if a cop ever decides to bust me for slipping through the pedestrian signal and then bombing the bus lane.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Martin Roberts,

    As a driver of several thousand passes through that exact intersection, I'd say the presence of the pedestrian crossing with no sight line is enough to slow most drivers down. Bikes are actually more visible than pedestrians in that circumstance. I don't think I've ever had a situation where cars didn't stop for me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    Pretty much all crossings over the NW motorway that I can think of (Newton Rd, Motat and Pt Chev) are just complete disasters for all traffic

    What's your gripe with the Newton one? I agree in the other two cases, that the very design means that breaking the technical law is virtually accepted as how it must be done. Do you mean the crossing at the lights, or the entry to the cycleway coming down Newton Rd from Ponsonby (that is for confident cyclists only, I'd agree, indeed I think most cyclists wouldn't even think to use it at all).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    or the entry to the cycleway coming down Newton Rd from Ponsonby (that is for confident cyclists only, I’d agree, indeed I think most cyclists wouldn’t even think to use it at all).

    It's a friggin' nightmare. Much safer to head west along Great North Road and join the "other" cycle path at the bottom of Potatau St.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    Fuck that, I will just take the fine if a cop ever decides to bust me for slipping through the pedestrian signal and then bombing the bus lane.

    Exactly. The law asks cyclists to embrace unacceptable risk at that intersection.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to BenWilson,

    What’s your gripe with the Newton one?

    Just getting straight across to and from either side is a challenge; no bike lanes, kerb a foot high, narrow lanes, turning traffic. So just getting on to the n/w cycleway from the Ponsonby side requires you to either turn right across traffic with no lights or cycling straight across to the Newton side before going across at the lights.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Robertson, in reply to BenWilson,

    Especially because coming off the cycle path (which I use because it's still preferable to sharing the road with drivers who are Very Angry that I'm not on the cycle path) puts you in an awkward position at those lights. I'm never sure the waiting traffic's seen me, so I feel much safer heading through near the end of the pedestrian signal.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Allan MacLachlan, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    I'm not overly familiar with that intersection, but sometimes you've got to go out of your way to keep yourself safe. If that means carrying on a few hundred metres to the Newton side of the bridge, and crossing with the lights to double back, then so be it.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Howard Edwards,

    We live in the country on a popular cycling touring route, and our pet peeve is being woken from weekend slumber by cyclists shouting at one another. We've been told by a cyclist friend that because our property is just past the crest of a long hill climb, cyclists are too oxygen-challenged to talk during the climb and have to let all their conversation out as soon as they can coast downhill. Fair enough, but if it's before 7.30am on a weekend then please do it at a reasonable volume - the whole world doesn't need to know how great you feel after that hill climb!

    Also - does anyone know who to contact when the phasing of a set of traffic lights is clearly sub-optimal? I'm referring to the main entrance to Massey University's Albany campus where those who want to turn right (either in or out) are often left languishing to stare at vast tracts of empty highway ...

    Albany • Since Apr 2013 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    So just getting on to the n/w cycleway from the Ponsonby side requires you to either turn right across traffic with no lights or cycling straight across to the Newton side before going across at the lights.

    OK, so you were talking about coming from Ponsonby. Yes, it’s not pretty. When I say a “confident cyclist” should be the only one to try this, I mean they should do what I do, which is to take the entire turning lane, forcing cars behind to wait, just like a car would if it was waiting to turn onto the on-ramp. This requires a high level of confidence in your basic right to take a lane as the occasion demands. If you don’t, you risk impatient cars behind you trying to turn, and the nightmare scenario that an oncoming vehicle might swerve to avoid such an idiot, straight into you as the softest choice between 1. Into the side of a moving car or truck, 2. Into the hard steel barrier, 3 into a low kerb and a soft and possibly unseen cyclist. In fact, even if they didn’t swerve at all, but simply collided with the idiot, the angle would probably deflect them into you.

    This said, I’ve never been so much as tooted at, because my ability to get across the road is actually slightly higher than a car’s, and I’m veering off immediately. I’m usually faster than a car over the first 5 meters from a standing stop. I wonder if some of this is because of the recent law change on turning vehicles. In the past, cars turning right onto the ramp had right of way over left turning cars. So they would interrupt a flow of left turning cars to get in. No way would I dare to try that on the bike*, even though I’d technically have right of way. Now, this is not an issue. The right turners have to wait. They know they have to wait. So they don’t get bitter on me…I think.

    *ETA In fact, it might even have been technically illegal anyway, since the bike was not turning onto the on-ramp. It would thus have been attempting to turn across traffic that was going straight ahead. ie the bike ramp and the on-ramp could be considered to be 2 different intersections.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Worth noting, btw, that the Newton crossing can be avoided completely by using the underpass. If going into the city, you'd turn hard right at the lights, following the path under the bridge. It adds to the climb, but it does mean you don't have to wait for the lights. If coming out of the city, you turn at the second ramp. Again, the climb is a bit more, but there's no wait. Personally, on the way in, I'd use the lights as a nice rest after the stiff climb up the on-ramp. On the way home, though, it's much less obvious what's better. I'm usually rested from the long downhill just before, and hitting the second ramp at speed means you get a fair way up it before the climb is stiff, and then there's mostly downhill until you get to the bottom of Kingsland.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Exactly. The law asks cyclists to embrace unacceptable risk at that intersection.

    Most of Symonds St is not cycle friendly (unless you break the rules), and the changes needed to make it more friendly are pretty minimal. Simply acknowledging that the bus lanes are also bike lanes would go a long way. Having a bikes-only signal about 5 seconds before the pedestrian crossings would mean that bikes would separate out from other traffic. These changes would simply acknowledge that cyclists already do this stuff anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Gregor Ronald,

    In Christchurch, around half the roads I ride on have restrictions for repairs. In the narrow lanes of cones, I'll dodge onto the footpath to let the cars go past. I have a helmet mirror, which helps me see if I am blocking anyone. Lots of people give a toot or wave, so it's good PR.

    I always use pedestrian lights and crossings at a couple of places where it would be suicide to mix it with the traffic, e.g. Blenheim Rd. I guess the same applies to 6-lane major urban roads anywhere.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Zach Bagnall,

    If anyone's wondering why cycling posts always draw comments from overseas readers with their experiences in other cities, it's because they've seen the future of NZ.

    Colorado • Since Nov 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Jon Briggs,

    I got stopped by a plain clothes police car for running reds on Queen Street earlier this week. It was a fair cop. I was running late for a ferry and went through with the pedestrians faster than I normally would. They were pretty good about it, I felt suitably scolded and happily they didn't fine me. They also and pointed out that if they don't pull me over then they have to deal with noise from the public.

    What I am wondering is a) whether I would have noticed a normal police car and not run the red and b) whether they would have stopped me if I was going my usual slow speed through the intersection.

    Since Dec 2008 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Jon Briggs,

    I wonder if you escaped the fine because you admitted that it was a fair cop.

    I ride a "ladies" bike, not because I am a lady (I'm not), but because I find it easy to get off and on, and to ride it a bit like a scooter (mostly off the bike, bike on my right side, left foot on the pedal, right foot slightly behind and on the ground. 'Though I hardly ever do that. Mostly if I get to a busy intersection where I don't fancy jousting with cars and trucks, I get off and walk my bike over the road. But it's easy enough for me to do that: I have only one very busy intersection to negotiate on my way home.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    The US does have places where "no turn on red" signs are posted (this is one that needs one) and traffic lights need to be very carefully tuned.

    I've really enjoyed the free turn rule since I moved to Massachusetts - it does great things for traffic flow - but we're semi-rural, so there's less pedestrian/driver confusion. Most of my run-ins with cars while biking have had to do with people who clearly know I'm there and clearly think I have no right to be on their road.

    And school buses, because school bus + law saying school buses cannot cross into the other lane, ever + narrow road + cyclist = regular heart attacks for cyclists.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    despite no clear markings that bikes can use it

    Bikes (motor and push) are permitted to use any bus lane on any road where they are otherwise allowed to be, markings or no.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Lucy: as a driver I'm largely in favour of it too .... but as a pedestrian I see that it has its problems - it puts those cars into spaces that traffic lights usually keep them out of (active pedestrian crossings) - with, as I've seen, potentially dangerous results.

    I actually think that US drivers (off the freeway) are largely more polite and careful than those in NZ, they indicate more and they're used to stopping a lot in built up areas - that guy (and it does seem to be guys) who thinks he owns the road when he gets in his car is not going to come to a complete stop when turning on a red, and he's going to be looking for other cars more than he's looking for bikes and pedestrians.

    Mind you I think I'd be willing to trade the California every intersection is a crosswalk and pedestrians have the right of way rule for allowing left turns through a red after a stop

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2608 posts Report Reply

  • anth, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’ve never been so much as tooted at

    I've been yelled at to get off the road by the driver of a car behind me.

    I wonder if some of this is because of the recent law change on turning vehicles. In the past, cars turning right onto the ramp had right of way over left turning cars ... Now, this is not an issue. The right turners have to wait.

    Actually as there are two lanes on the off ramp, with one lane from each direction to feed them, both left and right turning vehicles have right of way to the lane closest to them. This law remains the same with regard to this though has always seemed to be little known so I was on occasion let through.

    In fact, it might even have been technically illegal anyway, since the bike was not turning onto the on-ramp. It would thus have been attempting to turn across traffic that was going straight ahead. ie the bike ramp and the on-ramp could be considered to be 2 different intersections.

    I'd often wondered if that was one intersection or two.

    Since Nov 2006 • 77 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    An interesting question ..... if the a left turning car and a right turning car coming the other way are turning into the same street the right turner gives way .... however as I understand it if there's a traffic island there separating the left turners off a little early then the left turner and right turner meet at a second Y-merge intersection and the give way to the right rule attaches - the person who just turned left must give way to the one who just turned right - remember a bit of paint on the road is just as much a traffic island as a raised bit of pavement .... this even applies if the car on the right has just gone through a give way or stop sign

    (For those in Dunedin: for example this applies to those going up Rattray St outside the Catholic Cathedral - they have to yield to those going through the give way sign and crossing the stream of traffic despite the new road rules)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2608 posts Report Reply

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