Pito-one to Melling Cycleway : The NZTA Safe Systems Design Process Output?

Darren Conway made this Official Information request to New Zealand Transport Agency

The request was partially successful.

From: Darren Conway

Dear New Zealand Transport Agency,
Observation of the partially constructed Pito-one to Melling Cycleway (P2M) and the related website indicate the existence of multiple serious design failures. If the observations have been correctly interpreted, the outcome of design decisions will not comply with the Austroad Guide to Road Design Part 6A, Paths for Walking and Cycling, adopted by NZTA. These design decisions will create hazards to cyclists who will be expected to suffer death or serious injuries over the life of the asset, measured in decades. If not rectified, the design failures will ensure the P2M cycle way is dangerous-by-design.

This is the second of a set of 3 requests for information that seek to understand:
1. What processes should have been followed to arrive at a safe design,
2. What was actually done that resulted in design failures
3. What will be done to rectify the design failures

Given that details of the P2M design have not been made available to the public via any known channel, the information available to assess the design is limited. Rather than simply making a request for information under the Official Information Act, some effort has been made to explain the observations and the perceived deficiencies. It is entirely possible that other hazards remain unidentified making the P2M cycleway even more dangerous-by-design.

In order to validate that identified design failures are not simply a matter of opinion, a compliance check was conducted based on the Austroad Guide to Road Design Part 6A, Paths for Walking and Cycling, adopted by NZTA. In addition, an information request has been submitted to identify the quality assurance and quality control processes that should have been applied to the P2M Project to prevent design failures.

All modern vehicle roads include a shoulder that separates road side obstacles from moving traffic. In addition, the shoulder provides a safe haven for any vehicle that needs to stop. The exact same requirement for separation exists for cyclists on cycle paths.
Section 5.52 Bicycle paths states: “A minimum lateral clearance of 1.0m is required between opposing bicycle operating spaces where the path caters for higher speeds e.g. 30kp/h…” The difference between operating speeds in Australia and New Zealand has been explored extensively in NZTA Research Report 621 Regulations and safety for electric bicycles and other low-powered vehicles. In Australia the e-bike motor must not assist pedalling past a speed of 25km/h and Austroad recommends cycle paths be designed for a speed of least 30km/h based on research published in 1994, long before e-bikes were readily available. Under New Zealand regulations, e-bikes can operate with power assist at 45km/h or more. The design speed for NZ cycle ways should be no less than 45kph. The increased design speed will increase safe clearances above those in the Austroad Guidance.

Austroad further states that: “Where the areas beside the path and the path alignment are both relatively flat a lateral clearance of at least 1.0 m” and “on high-speed paths it is most desirable to have a clearance considerably greater than 1.0 m.” The P2M cycleway is expected to be used by commuters and sports cyclists travelling at pace. As above, the higher design speed applicable to NZ cycleways requires even greater clearances than indicated in Austroad.

In addition, Austroad Guidance does not account for separation from cargo bikes which are slower, heavier and wider. They will require greater clearances from obstacles and from faster cyclists overtaking slower cargo bikes. All of this means that simple compliance with Austroad Guidance as written is not sufficient to achieve a safe cycleway. To quote the Safe System audit guidelines July 2022, “…that compliance with standards or other documents does not necessarily result in a safe system”. To reach an equivalence of safety achieved by the application of Austroad Guidance in Australia requires a higher quality of cycling infrastructure in New Zealand.

Of great concern is the location of the chain link fence on the east side of the cycleway. If a cyclist brushes against the fence, the handle bars will hook into the chain link and the rider will be thrown off the bicycle, into the path of any on-coming or following cyclist. This will be a constant danger faced by cyclists for every meter the fence runs alongside the path. The consequences will be serious injury or death. The probability is extreme.
It is clear that when the Austroad guidance for clearances is adjusted (or not) for the higher design speed applicable to NZ cycle paths, the clearances between the light poles, the fence and the edge of the P2M cycle path, as constructed, are completely inadequate. A collision with a pole is expected to cause serious injury or death. The fence is continuous and the probability of striking the fence is significantly higher that colliding with spaced light poles. Any contact with the fence is also expected to cause serious injury or death. Although it is recognised that the width of some parts of the cycleway is constrained, it is also obvious that for most of the path route, there are no physical limits on achieving adequate path width and separations. The close proximity of the poles and the fence to the edge of the P2M cycleway is dangerous by design.

The Austroad Guidance on Horizontal Curvature is contained in section 5.3. The first paragraph states: “Where a path location or alignment is not constrained by topography or other physical features, a generous alignment consisting of straights and large radius curves is desirable. Such an alignment will provide good sight lines that are essential for safety as well as a pleasant riding experience for cyclists.”
For the underpasses that have been constructed as part of the P2M cycle path, there are no constraints defined by topography or other physical features because the ground was excavated to match the design of the underpasses. A design in compliance with Austroad Table 5.6 would have resulted in an underpass with an S-curve for a design speed of 45km/h.

It is observed that pit-lids for underground services are located within the path. Austroad Guidance, section 5.12 includes the following statement: “… it is important to ensure that underground services do adversely influence the design of the path or the future operation of the path. For example, future operation could be significantly impeded if:
• Utility pits are located within the path as maintenance staff and vehicles would be required to work on the path.
• The path is ripped up to access services.
• Maintenance vehicles associated with the utility provider drive or park along the path.”

Although physical width constraints on parts of the P2M cycleway require pits to be installed on the cycle path, it is reasonably practical to locate pits to alongside the cycle path.

It is clear that simple inspection of Austroad Guidance compared to the observed M2P site works reveals non-compliance and multiple design failures. If the Austroad Guidance is adjusted for the higher design speed applicable to NZ, then the degree of non-compliance is ever greater. The effect is to significantly degrade the safety of the P2M cycle path and the consequences will be measurable in terms of the broken bones and spilt blood of cyclists.

The real question here is why a citizen with no transport design training, no access to drawings or the site, can spot major design failures as a passenger on a passing train? Why is the NZTA as the recognised design authority and the agency that sets the standards allowing the construction of a cycle path that is dangerous by design?

Please provide the following information to satisfy this request:
The identities of the key decision makers accountable and responsible for the P2M design including the:
• Project Sponsor,
• Project Manager,
• Client (if different to the above)
• Lead Designer,
• Safety Engineer and,
• Safety Auditor.
The P2M records of any:
• quality control review, design review or peer review,
• judgement of the quality of a project,
• compliance check with standards, guidelines or drawings and specifications (noting that compliance with standards or other documents does not necessarily result in a safe system),
• safety systems audit and
• redesign work as a result of any review or safety audit.

Yours faithfully,

Darren Conway

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