Land St tunnel duplication

The LNP went to the 2016 Brisbane City Council election with a $6 million (minimum) duplication of the Land Street tunnel as one of their marquee cycling projects as part of their $100 million, 4 year Better Bikeways for Brisbane plan. From the outset, we were skeptical about the need and priority for this project.

However, having been elected, the council administration has this week released its preliminary designs for this project, and we will evaluate it based on what’s proposed.

20171130-land-street-underpass-project-plan_0-1

The key features of this proposal as we see them are:

  1. New cyclist-only tunnel under Coronation Drive connecting to the Bicentennial Bikeway
  2. New dedicated cycleway between the new tunnel and Patrick Lane
  3. Tunnel entry/exit to the Bicentennial Bikeway that is on an angle that favours cyclist flow between Sylvan Road and the CBD, with less favourable angle for those wanting to go between Sylvan Road and the University of Queensland
  4. Shared path between Land Street and the roundabout at Patrick Lane/Dixon Street/Wesley Hospital carpark entrance
  5. Advanced stop line/bicycle storage box on Land Street outbound at the intersection with Patrick Lane, in the left lane only
  6. Removal of the existing Land Street crossing point after exiting the tunnel and a new crossing point further toward Patrick Lane
  7. Kerb build outs and ramps at Patrick Lane to divert cyclists toward the new cycleway

We will examine each of these features as part of this review.

Why is this project prioritized?

The biggest question we have had since this was announced in the 2016 election campaign is why? We have had no reports of issues in the tunnel to date, and people who use the tunnel twice a day almost every day have not reported any risky behaviour or actual conflicts.

The only report we have seen is a pedestrian who was hit by a bicycle on the Bicentennial Bikeway itself, and even he says that a duplicate tunnel is an unnecessary waste. So why is Council doing this?

According to their project page this project is needed “as the current underpass is not wide enough to accommodate future growth expected at this location, increasing the risk of pedestrian and cyclist conflicts. The new underpass will improve safety by separating pedestrians and cyclists, minimising the risk of conflicts and injury, and enhancing capacity to meet future demand”.

So the justification is an anticipation of increased cycling and pedestrian numbers, which is very positive! However:

  1. That increase in numbers is going to lead to higher demand on Sylvan Road, which is grossly lacking in facilities, and the peak hour bike lanes that are now in place are not a long term solution that will cope with the level of future growth that would predicate a duplicate tunnel at Land Street.
  2. Similar projects, such as the Kangaroo Point Bikeway also currently under construction, with even higher anticipated growth thanks to the V1 Veloway and Woolloongabba Bikeway construction, provides minimal separation between cyclists and pedestrians.
  3. The design fails to address the real conflict risk, and that’s between cyclists or pedestrians and motor vehicles.

New Tunnel

The new tunnel is designed to approach on an angle effectively maintaining a straight line from Land Street, and then a “merge” angle onto the Bicentennial Bikeway.

LandStTunnel

You can see from the line markings it’s been designed very much from a road/motor vehicle perspective. From Land Street there’s a dotted line with a right turn lane, and from the Bicentennial Bikeway there’s a “slip lane” heading towards Land Street, and a right turn “lane” from the CBD. There’s even a painted traffic island to give the full vehicular feel.

It’s designed for fast movements, just as council designs its road intersections.

In short, it’s completely over engineered, and based on the fast, fearless, sporty cyclist that dominates the Brisbane cycling scene. Approaching this from an “8 to 80” perspective, this is going to cause more confusion than anything, and potentially lead to more conflicts as some cyclists approach it the way they drive.

The current tunnel entrance, shown in blue, currently requires all cyclists to slow down a bit on approach, and anticipate a slower, more cautious turn in all directions. This is actually a positive feature. The new design will encourage riders to take the “priority” movements at whatever pace they like, and this will increase danger.

Dedicated cycleway Patrick Lane to tunnel

A dedicated bidirectional cycleway between Patrick Lane and the new tunnel is a nice feature. However, it’s the weak links you need to look at, and in this case, it’s an intersection between a new shared path to Moorlands Park, the new cycleway, the pedestrian path, the CityCycle station and the crossing point at Land Street.

LandSt2

There are several movements that this “intersection” will be expected to handle:

 

  1. Outbound cyclists turning left, across the pedestrian path and across Land Street to the outbound bike lane
  2. CityCycle customers accessing the Bicentennial Bikeway
  3. CityCycle customers exiting the bikeway and crossing onto the shared/pedestrian path to access the CityCycle docking station
  4. Pedestrians, including a lot of joggers, crossing to or from Moorlands Park shared path going across the cycleway.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than designing more conflict than currently exists. The current situation has the shared path (blue) and outbound cyclists typically cross Land Street at the crossing point shown to the right of the above picture.

The intention here is clearly to encourage bike riders to continue along the cycleway towards Patrick Lane. However, that is likely not to be the reality due to the problems introduced at Patrick Lane itself.

Patrick Lane Intersection

 

patrickLane

The logic behind this is hard to fathom.

Let’s start by looking at the inbound direction, cyclists coming along the bike lane from the bottom of picture, and wanting to access the cycleway. Currently cyclists proceed on the green light through the intersection and then exit onto the existing shared path (blue), or continue along the bike lane on Land Street and enter via a kerb ramp near the CityCycle station.

With this new design, the kerb build out prevents the bike lane proceeding through the intersection, with the intent to force bike riders off the road, across the footpath on the maroon section, and queue waiting to cross at the cycle crossing.

Aside from introducing a new pedestrian vs cyclist conflict point, the big concern here is introducing conflict with left turning vehicles from Land Street into Patrick Lane. In morning peak, this is a lot of traffic, mostly Wesley Hospital employees, and Auchenflower Station commuters.

Knowing how Brisbane City Council typically approaches side street crossings, there is likely to be a short cyclist/pedestrian phase, and then all priority given to vehicles turning. If you are not at the lights at the start of the phase, then you are going to have to wait several minutes.

What will happen? Bike riders will cross on flashing red/solid red, or, take the traffic lane on Land Street, go around the kerb build out, then proceed up Land Street in the bike lane and exit near the CityCycle station and cross at the intersection mentioned in the previous section.

If this is going to be the approach, then the cycle and pedestrian crossing MUST be prioritized for pedestrians and bike riders, with an elevation/wombat style hump, forcing left turning vehicles to slow down and give way, similar to the approach taken to the North Brisbane Bikeway.

LandStOutbound

The outbound movement will be even more problematic.

The intention will be for bike riders to stop and press a “beg button” to cross Land Street after a long wait for traffic on Land Street to be stopped. Once proceeding, bike riders will be expected to stop on the other side, presumably even utilizing the Bike Box on Land Street, and then proceed when Land Street traffic gets a green light.

The result will be predictable. Bike riders will:

  1. Cross Land Street and then proceed along Land Street, simply watching for any traffic proceeding straight through from Patrick Lane; or
  2. Cross the troublesome intersection mentioned earlier, and getting on to Land Street back there and proceeding along the bike lane as is the case now.

LandStRoute

The common sense approach here would be to continue the bidirectional cycleway along Land Street and on to Sylvan Road past the Rugby Club.

But failing that, an L-shaped cyclist-only crossing across Land Street would be the better solution here, with enough time to enable the volume of outbound cyclists expected due to “Future growth” to proceed with minimal wait time. This could be achieved by preventing straight-travel across Land Street from Patrick Lane, instead only allowing left/right access into Patrick Lane on the southern side. And likewise, restricting left turns from Patrick Lane into Land Street with a red arrow.

Given the anticipation of future growth in cycling numbers, it seems the priority should be made to cycling movements across Patrick Lane at Land Street, rather than facilitating vehicle movements that are a combination of rat runners, hospital staff parking and rail commuters.

Conclusion

This project is every bit as ill-conceived as we thought when it was announced in the election campaign. It seems little more than a thought bubble, and without clear plans to build an adjoining bidirectional cycleway along Land Street and Sylvan Road, it’s actually going to make things worse, not better.

More worrying is the design process that seems to apply a driver-centric mindset to cycleway design. It’s all about fast movements, and prioritizing vehicle movement where the cycleway crosses the road.

Far from reducing conflict, this increases the risk of conflicts between bicycles, walkers/joggers and motorists.

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