An Open Letter to Hamilton City Council and the Minister of Transport

Hamilton City Council, Private Bag 3010,
Hamilton, 3240, New Zealand

Hon Phil Twyford
MP for Te Atatu
Minister of Transport

3 March 2018

Dear Councillors and Minister,

Minister, I realise most of these issues fall within Hamilton City Council’s domain, but in light of the prospect of new initiatives akin to the recent central government Urban Cycleways Fund, I think it’s important to bring them to your attention too.

Hamilton is often portrayed as a bicycle-friendly city. The topography is flat, the climate mild, the urban sprawl still somewhat manageable. Hamilton City Council regularly touts its 150 km of painted on-road cycle lanes, which are surely of some benefit, even with them having many short missing links and often being illegally used as car parks by some.

Why is Hamilton’s CBD so difficult to access by active transport?

So, those niggles aside, yes, overall Hamilton’s not a bad place to walk or use a bicycle to get around, but we really need to talk about the CBD, particularly access to it from surrounding areas. As I’m sure you’re aware, in the near future there’s going to be a large influx of workers as the Waikato District Health Board and Regional Council relocate to the CBD. If we can provide safe cycling routes for them early on, before their transport habits become too ingrained, we could see significant mode shift.

And let’s establish one thing from the start: while some of these interventions might seem costly, Hamilton is without a doubt home to large numbers of people who would consider making journeys by bike if particular sections of their journeys weren’t so dangerous. There is potential for massive improvements to congestion and the quality of the city environment in unlocking some of this potential via a few targeted interventions.

Infographic from the Automobile Association's Autumn 2013 issue

Infographic from the Automobile Association’s Autumn 2013 issue

Victoria Street North

Starting at the top, then, with a route that is the most direct route for people coming from many northern areas. Even as a dedicated and confident cyclist, I am always nervous cycling the section of Hamilton’s main street between Claudelands St and the southern end of Ulster St. For most of this stretch we have 4 dedicated traffic lanes, along with 2 dedicated lanes for car parking. Provision for safe cycling? Nil, not even painted cycle lanes in the ‘door zone’ adjacent to the parked cars. No bus lanes either. Over the years I’ve pondered this often and asked myself what could be done about it.

Victoria St (North) - current layout

Victoria St (North) – current layout


One possibility could be to make the parking lane on one side of the street a clearway during peak hours, thereby maintaining 4 traffic lanes at all times, which I’m going to generously assume is absolutely necessary. Doing so would free up enough space for a permanent, dedicated, separated cycle lane in each direction – whether one each side (outside the car parking/clearway lanes), or a bidirectional lane on one side. Yes, there would be a few complications at intersections where presently there are dedicated turning lanes, but nothing insurmountable.

Victoria St (North) - proposed layout

Victoria St (North) – proposed layout


An alternative might be to have dedicated shared bicycle/bus lanes. Or perhaps the quickest and least invasive intervention that might be expected to improve safety would be sharrows, indicating to people on bikes where they should ride to avoid getting doored, while letting people in cars know that cyclists are entitled to use the lane safely. On the other hand, perhaps the council simply doesn’t want to encourage more people to cycle this section of road (and in light of Vision Zero, maybe moreso), on account of how dangerous it is, in which case the clearway/dedicated cycle lanes might be the only acceptable solution.

Boundary Road Bridge

Proceeding clockwise, we come to the Boundary Rd bridge across the mighty Waikato River. When constructed, a single traffic lane and bike path in each direction, but some time ago the bike lanes were deleted and reallocated to provide a second traffic lane in the eastbound direction. In spite of the cycle detector and warning light for westbound traffic, the prospect of crossing this bridge on a bicycle is not for the faint of heart, whether riding in the traffic lane or on the pavement! The footpath is narrow enough that it’s difficult to pass pedestrians, has no barrier to prevent falling into the traffic lane, and further, has a sharp drop-off to the traffic lane.

As our city moves beyond ‘peak car’, at some point one of the traffic lanes should be reallocated to provide a footpath and dedicated cycle lane on each side – the only practical alternative would be a clip-on lane, which leads us to the next bridge…

Claudelands Road Bridge

This is another bridge that most people on bikes will tend to avoid. While there are cycle lanes either side of the bridge (the westbound side east of the river regularly obstructed by overhanging foliage), they taper away to nothing right at the bridge itself. A clip-on has been considered as a solution for making this bridge more bike friendly, and it’s probably the only realistic option to improve safety.

Memorial Bridge/ANZAC Parade

This is probably the safest of the CBD bridges over the Waikato, but that’s not saying much. There is a stormwater grill westbound on the eastern side, right before the bridge. A few metres further along, foliage from trees below the bridge often overhangs the cycle lane, increasing the danger. And as with Boundary Rd bridge, the footpath is on one side only, has no barrier and has a higher than normal kerb. It’s hard to know what to do about this one, short of losing the pavement and making the whole bridge a shared space (which I imagine would meet pretty stiff resistance). I see no reason why we can’t do something about the stormwater drain and the overhanging trees though.

Anglesea Roundabout

And now we meet the first of Hamilton’s delightful 2-lane roundabouts, at the nexus of several busy roads. Yes, it’s another scary barrier to accessing the CBD on foot or by bicycle, this one for those coming from the southwest, including those commuting from the hospital area and locations south who have used Palmerston St to approach the CBD.

Tristram Street Roundabouts

Tristram St boasts 3 roundabouts in a row, at its intersections with Cobham Dr, Pembroke St, and Collingwood St. The Pembroke St roundabout, arguably the most hair-raising in the vicinity of the CBD, has already seen the tragic death of a person riding a bike in 2015. These roundabouts are a deterrent for journeys incoming from several other vectors from the southwest of the CBD.

In the case of some of these roundabouts there might just be enough space to give them some variation of the “Dutch treatment”, as per the below proposal for a roundabout in Glen Innes, Auckland:

Roundabout - Dutch Treatment

Roundabout – Dutch Treatment

Anglesea and Tristram Streets

Anglesea St’s layout is comparable to the northern portion of Victoria St, with some variation along its length, particularly below the WinTec cutting, and around intersections. A proposal for the addition of cycle lanes when the pavements south of Caro St were resurfaced several years ago was dismissed by the council.

Tristram St is a principal access route for WinTec, Hamilton Girls’ High School, Seddon Park, Rugby Park, the K-Mart shopping centre/what will be the Waikato Regional Council HQ, and the transport centre. It’s also the beginning of the new Hamilton Western Rail Trail, which perhaps marks one of the first encroachments of more people-friendly access to the city, and in contrast to many of the other approaches to the CBD is a safe and delightful way for people to access the city without motor vehicles.


So plotting all of that on a map, we see what people wanting to access the CBD by bicycle are up against. And note that with the exception of the Waikato river path and the Western Rail Trail, all of the approaches to the Hamilton CBD have other, perhaps less significant but still important safety issues. The massive roundabout northwest of Seddon Park (though thankfully not 2-laned) and the East-West connector a.k.a. Mill St being a couple of other examples.

Hamilton CBD access: danger points

Hamilton CBD access: danger points

Council, Minister, tear down these walls!

So let’s really open up the CBD again as it begins to embrace the river, welcomes new inner city residents and workers, and continues its progression towards sustainability and a more people-friendly environment. Who knows, we might even find some of the AA’s ‘interested but concerned’ 92% develop a changed perception of the safety and convenience of accessing the CBD by bike. Less traffic, less fumes, less parking contention – everybody wins!

I’m not a transport engineer, so my diagnoses and prescriptions are intended mostly to restart the conversation about how we fix all of these pain points, but I do know that none of these problems is insoluble and it’s time we fixed them.

Yours sincerely,

Ashley Hooper
Hamilton Urban Blog

Category: CBD, Cycling, News, Planning, Projects | Tags:

12 comments on “An Open Letter to Hamilton City Council and the Minister of Transport

  1. An excellent post, and has my complete support for improved cycling in the CBD

  2. Thanks for a great post.

    The time is right for change as the Hamilton City Council 10 year plan submission process opens on the 29th March, and also with the relaunch of the more active transport focused GPS (e.g our Government transport spending mandate) at the end this month.

  3. Great post. I recently left a message for the Council to maintain the foliage entering on to the Anzac parade bridge. I am a confident cyclist who has been knocked off my bike and injured going onto this bridge so to hear it is “the safest” scares me!!!

  4. This is great – I endorse it wholeheartedly.

  5. Great summation and whilst I hold very little hope for this council or the minister interfering, there’s always a chance.

  6. With regular congestion in the CBD, it’s time to cut the amount of traffic entering it. The $940m bypass should get rid of some traffic, opening the opportunity for bus and bike lanes on all the bridges and main streets. If that means limiting these bridges to a single traffic lane in one direction, then so be it. The roundabouts should all be reduced to single lane, or preferably replaced by give way junctions.

    • Thanks John. I totally agree, and hope that the bypass can reduce Hamilton’s traffic burden without said reduction just inducing more driving.

  7. Typo: “less sparking issues.Roundabouts are often a problem because there’s cars in the background and motorists aren’t looking for something as small as a bicycle. But I’ve also found that they seem to be an area where a lot of motorists are quite aggressive to each other, let alone to cyclists. Maybe it’s one of those “push in or you’re stuck for ages things, but even a 900 Lumen head torch in the eyes doesn”t stop some of them. I tried that because there”s one roundabout I use where I can be stuck until a motorist comes up next to me and pushes in. So I thought “if they have to shade their eyes to see it means they’ve seen me and yeah, nah. See me, pull out anyway. {eyeroll}. That said, I had one guy apologise to me when I pulled up next to him at the lights, after I had to stop when he went through the roundabout without even slowing down despite me having the right of way (and both constant and flashing headlights chosen because they’re visible over 180 degrees or more (I have a dyno headlight over the front wheel for seeing with why yes, I am fricking paranoid about being seen, why do you ask?)).

  8. Thanks for this well thought out and articulated article Ashlee. As a cyclist myself I hear ya! I sit on the Access Hamilton taskforce and can advise that there are more cycle friendly people on council than ever before and this is reflected in the unprecedented dollars we’ve put in the proposed 10 year plan for cycling initiatives – connectivity projects and the CBD.. I know it’s never enough, but I’m really keen to talk with you about how we can progress your ideas. From the signals we’re hearing from Minister Genter et al, the tide is turning. Let’s catch up soon please!
    Cr Mark Bunting

    • Thanks for that positive news, Mark. Will look forward to catching up with you soon!

  9. With the intensification and development happening around the University, Hamilton East and in the city center (including new apartments appearing north of London St), it’s time the council looked at improving the pedestrian experience with traffic calming, raised crossing tables, more frequent and longer pedestrian phases at lights controlled intersections and renewal of footpaths. This is the sort of basic service that past councils seem to struggle to get right

  10. I couldn’t agree more! With all the talk lately of how to solve Hamilton city’s parking woes I’ve often thought that projects encouraging commuters to cycle would help things. Good luck getting these across the line!

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