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Wind and Hills: Have Traffic Engineers Noticed?

By March 26, 20109 Comments

There’s a lot of information on the design of cycle lanes about – basic principles that most roads in Wellington contravine.  Examples include that they should be continuous, 1.5m wide, conspicuous at road crossing and not abandoned when roads get narrow.  I’ve borrowed these words from Cycling England, but other guidelines exist, such as the Nottinghamshire Cycling Design Guide – here’s the link to Chapter 4 on cycle lanes.  There’s even a what-not-to-do site from Croydon on Crap Cycle Lanes (Sadly our NZTA (Waka Kotahi) seems to be extremely poor at providing such resources).

The good ones are well considered guides, they understand the level of detail needed (providing room for drivers opening car doors is one example), but as far as I can see – and admittedly I’ve only started looking into this material in any detail, they appear to imagine cycling as happening on almost flat, windless plains … and that’s I guess where the climate and topography of Wellington steps in – yep – Wind and Hills!

In Wellington, the prevailing wind is apparently from the northwest, and the strongest winds are southerly.  In cars the relationship between car direction and wind is mostly neither here nor there.  For cyclists (speaking from personal experience), this can make the difference between going forward, going nowhere, or even (with a good southerly) cycling backward …  The alignment of many of our roads is, of course, set in asphalt – but new suburbs and new cycle ways need to think about making life appealing for cyclists, and, more importantly, potential cyclists, across the full range of generic and site-specific issues – which include wind and hills.

While some guides do address gradient (e.g.“Cycle tracks should have a maximum gradient of 3% with the absolute maximum 5% for lengths up to 100m. On the approach to priority junctions this should not exceed 3%. Where steeper slopes are unavoidable the limiting gradient is 7% for lengths up to 30m.”) and recommend increased width of cycle lanes up hills (“to account for uphill wobble”), a more intimate understanding (addressing details such as how a cyclist can’t simultaneously brake for an intersection (while going downhill), and signal to turn right, for example), is not apparent.  There are plenty of other issues around wind and hills: the difficulty of stopping and starting for traffic lights mid-way up a very steep incline for the novice cyclist, or the impact of a strong headwind.  Every cyclist will have a list.

We can’t change the wind nor our topography, nor do we want to, but understanding how road users use roads – in particular those driven by their own steam – will begin to really shift our city’s provision for cycling from tokenistic road markings into something more effective and sophisticated.   So council traffic engineers and NZTA please help to encourage new cyclists to get out of their cars and on to their bikes so more people can use their two wheels rather than petrol in order to reduce congestion, save the planet, save the cost of roading, and improve health statistics … a first step might be getting on your bike, so to speak!

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