Bangalow Street – what went wrong?

The concrete is set and the lights are on at TMR’s $2.5m intersection upgrade at Bangalow Street in Bridgeman Downs. Let’s take a detailed look, starting with the context of the intersection from the eastern side.

To get to Bangalow Street from central Aspley, we walk along Albany Creek Road. This is a 70km/h, state controlled road, flanked on both sides by residential estates, townhouse complexes, and aged care facilities. There’s a high level of pedestrian activity along this stretch of road, as people walk to the shops and the bus terminus at the Hypermarket.

While Albany Creek Road is quite green and shady for an urban arterial, the pedestrian facilities leave a lot to be desired. The path is narrow, uneven, and encroached by vegetation. Particularly in these days of increased personal space, it is usually impossible for two people to pass one another without at least one stepping off the path. The difficulty of passing is increased by the frequent presence of elderly pedestrians with mobility devices, and delivery cyclists from the fast food shops on Gympie Road.

When we reach Trouts Road and the North West Transport Corridor, the path unceremoniously ends, and we have the choice of walking along the shoulder of the busy road, or crossing to continue on the other side.

While there is a narrow path on the southern side of the Transport Corridor, it’s very prone to flooding, and can remain flooded with stagnant water for many days after a rain event – a drainage problem TMR have been aware of for at least a decade.

We have now arrived at Bangalow Street.

The first sign of the new works is this section of green-painted shoulder. The width of the green paint is approximately 80 centimeters, and the distance between the edge of the traffic lane and the guide post is 1 meter.

This is not a promising start. The minimum safe width for a bicycle lane on a 70km/h road is 1.8 meters, with the preference being for at least 2m and protective curbing. This is a standard found in both Austroads and TMR design manuals, and which must be met by local councils applying for project funding. So how did this tiny ribbon of a lane get signed off as acceptable?

Pedestrians, meanwhile, have some new concrete to walk on. While at first glance this might seem like a reasonably wide path, the reality is that the roadside half of the pavement is much too steeply angled to comfortably walk or cycle on, while the handlebar-snatching fence has been installed, presumably, because it was an easier option than raising the stormwater pits behind it. The result is actually not much better than what was here before; two people with mobility devices or pushing prams would certainly struggle to pass each other through this section.

Let’s skip over the intersection itself for the moment, and look briefly at the context to the west, starting about 100 meters from Bangalow Street at the Cabbage Tree Creek Bikeway. This is a excellent shared pedestrian and cycle path that follows the creek from McDowall, through Aspley and Carseldine, to Bracken Ridge.

The footpath between the Bikeway and Bangalow Street is very narrow and uneven, while the on-road bicycle lane runs alongside a newly installed w-beam steel guardrail. This style of guardrail is a serious safety hazard for cyclists, with crash modelling from UNSW appearing in several of TMR’s technical publications. Why is this section of guardrail necessary? Is it a sign that the speed limit on Albany Creek Road is too high, even for the safety of motorists?

Approaching the intersection from the west, the arrangement of the newly constructed paths requires pedestrians to travel half way around the corner, then turn a 90-degree dogleg to access the crossings, while the signal control box takes pride of place in the center on an oversized pad. A little more thought in the layout, with two connecting paths instead of one, could have made this corner much more accessible for prams, people with limited mobility, and off-road cyclists.

Now, let’s cross Bangalow Street and talk about the intersection.

I’ve been writing about about slip lanes for a while now, and it turns out at least someone at TMR is on the same wavelength. It’s great to see that the latest version of QGTM, TMR’s road design manual dated July last year, is much more inclusive of non-driving road users than either the Australian standards or earlier TMR documentation, and repeats the advice that “left-turn slip lanes should not be provided in urban areas” five times in a 40-page document. It also includes a new hierarchy of left turn treatments, with slip lanes right at the bottom, and advises that where a slip lane is present, signalisation is unsafe and a wombat crossing is preferred. It’s very good policy.

So why, a few months later, has the same department built this?

Even if it weren’t against policy, it’s hard to understand what the operational justification for building this slip lane is. Bangalow Street is not a heavy truck route, or a bus route, or even a peak-hour rat run; it’s a non-through road, a connector for a handful of 40km/h residential streets. If anything, the slip lane is a hindrance to traffic flow, because – as usual – the signalised crossing is synchronised to the main intersection. This means pedestrians crossing Bangalow Street have to cycle the intersection and stop traffic in both directions on Albany Creek Road to cross the slip lane!

To understand why this has happened, let’s look back at the RTI document I linked earlier, which includes early design work for the intersection signalisation, drawn up by an external contractor.

Aside from acknowledging that there will be pedestrian crossings, this initial design does not mention active transport at all – there’s no consideration in the level of service calculations of pedestrians, and there’s no mention at all of on-road cycling facilities or planning of footpath connections. It is an entirely car-oriented design.

Once we move on to actual construction, where other road users have to be, however grudgingly, considered, what we’ve ended up with is two separate designs layered on top of each other, with different objectives, and neither functioning very well. The failure of TMR’s (very good) active transport policies to permeate into TMR’s (very car-oriented) operational culture has resulted in millions of dollars of public money being spent on an intersection upgrade which isn’t safe or efficient for anyone.

I’ll be writing to local MP Bart Mellish and State Transport Minister Mark Bailey later in the week, to talk about the safety issues at Bangalow Street, and what can be done to improve active transport safety and amenity along Albany Creek Road in general. As always, I’ll keep you posted with any replies.