by Andy Foster
Though I’m only occasionally asked about it, I’m aware of an underlying question in the cycling community about “why isn’t there more evidence of progress for cycling under a ‘green’ mayor?” Questions are also occasionally asked about how this all fits with overall transport planning.
So let’s start with cycling. As City Council Transport Leader from 2007-09, I led development of the city’s first Walking and Cycling Policies, both adopted in November 2008. At the time, the budget for cycling was a paltry $70,000. At the following budget (June 2009) I was successful in getting a 9-6 vote to support lifting the budget for the ‘basics’ (cycle racks, cycle friendly grates, advanced stop boxes, lane markings etc) initially to $225,000, and putting in funding to develop a strategic cycle network. That strategic fund is now $1 million per annum. Importantly in both instances this included the NZ Transport Agency’s 53% contribution. That is the same as for local roading. The total funding (‘basics and strategic network’) was lifted again to $1.8 million per annum from 1 July this year. The current Council has voted consistently 15-0 in favour of cycling funding.
However going back to 2008, the first challenge was getting that Transport Agency funding support. In November 2008 we had just had a change of Government. Labour had said that if a project was in a council’s properly developed and consulted-on Cycling or Walking Policy then it would get funding support.
National abruptly changed the rules completely, focusing very heavily on ‘Roads of National Significance’. Fully 40% of spending on transport (all modes, all roads, safety, policing, planning) over the next decade is intended by Government to be on RONS which collectively represent about 0.5% of the national network. Most other aspects of transport suffered and are going to continue to suffer, both in terms of the amount of money allocated in the Government’s Policy Statement, and also in how hard it is proving to access what funding there is.
RONS projects essentially automatically get funding because they are considered to have ‘high strategic fit’, regardless of whether the transport business case is good, bad or indifferent. To be fair to the Transport Agency, once they had worked through funding processes under the new regime it has become somewhat easier in terms of process. But the funding constraints remain.
We eventually got the money required to spend what was then $1.3 million a year on cycling. The strategic project that was ready to go was the $4 million, 5 km, Tawa – Porirua cycleway/walkway. That’s what the Transport Agency agreed to fund, and that’s what we are now well advanced in delivering. It will be finished around Christmas this year.
The problem is that most people probably won’t see it because most of us don’t live in or cycle through Tawa/Porirua, and therefore they naturally wonder what the council is doing. Ideally what we should have done was to advance two projects simultaneously, albeit slower. That is probably our mistake, but it was also recognition of the challenges of getting Transport Agency, specially at the time.
What else is happening ? We’ve been installing about 30 advanced stop boxes a year at traffic lights, and many cycle friendly grates (to stop your wheels getting stuck if forced too close to the kerb), and cycle racks.
At the second time of trying, we put in a morning peak clearway on Thorndon Quay to address one of cyclists’ most dangerous – high crash rate areas in the city. (It is especially a morning peak issue)
Celia and I pushed officers to allow a trial cycle route up through the Botanic Gardens (Met Office to Cable Car) which has a grunty approach but is a safe route up to the Western Suburbs. My personal experience is that it’s working very well. We also approved uphill cycling on the Birdwood St footpath into Karori, again for safety reasons. There is now signage on bus lanes (not bus only lanes please note), showing clearly that cyclists are allowed to use them. (if any of that signage is missing do let me know!) We have approved speed limit reductions through a number of suburban centres, and importantly along Oriental Parade and round the Miramar headland. Simple green paint on the Hutt Road shared path has been helpful in reducing the hazard caused by motorists crossing the path to enter business premises – altering them to the potential for cyclists to be there. It seems to be working.
In Johnsonville, the then ward councillors (Ngaire Best, Hayley Wain, Helene Ritchie) and I brought a paper to our Strategy and Policy Committee to better address walking and cycling issues as part of roading plans for the Johnsonville triangle associated with the planned Mall redevelopment. In this triennium, Justin Lester has also taken a close interest in refining those plans.
There have been recent improvements at Houghton Bay as part of roading changes. We should also not forget the ongoing fabulous work being done in developing off road tracks, mostly by mountain bikers, with Council support. Some of those are also excellent ways, when time permits, to get to and from work in a fun way and with a bit more exercise than a direct road route, as I did going in to Council yesterday.
The Great Harbour Way
The Mayor has led advocacy for the Great Harbour Way – a visionary and I think potentially game changing 70km walkway/cycleway from Pencarrow Head right round the harbour to finish at Owhiro Bay on our South Coast. WCC has closed the ‘gap’ Balaena Bay and reduced speed limits around Oriental Bay and the northern end of Miramar Peninsula as well as localised improvements such as at Houghton Bay. Hutt City has been doing some good work on the Eastbourne Bays route.
The Regional Transport Committee has decided that the big gap between Petone and Ngauranga is the #2 priority transport project for the next three years, and the Transport Agency is working to a timetable to deliver this project. However it has questions about whether existing road cyclists would use it, and about the level of currently-suppressed demand from people who simply won’t cycle that route because (not unreasonably) they feel unsafe. Unfortunately the Transport Agency doesn’t really acknowledge recreational road use which is also obviously growing dramatically. It’s great to see the Government’s support for tourist cycleways around the country, but this makes it all the more bizarre not to recognise the potential value of cycle facilities right where most Kiwis actually live.
All that said, the Transport Agency is in the process of letting a contract to make a detailed investigation of the entire route from Melling to Wellington City. We are working on the basis that we can get a major rearrangement of the Hutt Road to provide a much safer cycling environment there. This also requires safe connections at the Petone end. The Hutt Road would come off the back of the planned RONS project Ngauranga Gorge to Aotea offramp which entails extra capacity on the motorway hence freeing up space on Hutt Road. The Petone end would come off the proposed Petone – Grenada link, though timing may be an issue here. Incidentally these two projects are the RONS related projects with comfortably the highest benefit:cost ratios in the Wellington RONS programme.
After the big storms in May which closed the railway lines for some days, the Mayor has raised the need for greater protection of the railway and state highway. Building a seaward protection wall would enable the Great Harbour Way to be constructed on top of it. So there are two avenues which are being considered for the GHW ‘Gap’. Whatever comes to pass I think has potential to be a game changer. Just think about the benefit New Plymouth has achieved from its fabulous coastal walkway-cycleway.
We have asked the Port about land to get the Great Harbour Way along Aotea Quay, which is also proving a challenge. If built, that would link with the improved shared walkway/cycleway along Waterloo Quay to the cruise ship terminal finished in 2011.
Celia and I have also supported a regional tourism cycleway which Positively Wellington Tourism is now championing with the Hutt and Wairarapa Councils, using the Hutt River Trail, Rimutaka Incline and Western Lake Road.
We have funded significant investigatory work on a new cycle route from Island Bay to the Central City. That is intended to be our next city strategic route (beginning early next year) after Tawa is completed. There are a number of route and design options. They have varying levels of challenge but I am confident that we will find a way through them. There will be significant consultation with the cycling and wider community on the options.
In the wake of the Cycle Forum I organised in May, and armed with the feedback from that Forum, officers have commissioned preliminary work on 19 routes into the city, to look at where there are difficult or challenging areas, or opportunities. That will translate to a programme of physical works.
Further out there will need to be some thinking about the northern approach to the city along Middleton Road from where the Tawa shared path will finish. That will need some creativity to achieve a realistic cost.
Working with NZTA on State Highway One related plans
While the Basin Flyover is very controversial, it does have clear benefits for cyclists, and indeed for pedestrians. Ally this with the proposed second Mt Victoria Tunnel: that project includes a wider, separated (ie less smelly!) walkway–cycleway through the new tunnel. It also includes a walkway–cycleway along Ruahine Street and Wellington Road. We are and will continue to work with the Transport Agency on Ruahine Street and Wellington Road because we have concerns about them being shared with vehicles coming out of the few properties which have their access onto the State Highway. There will also be changes to the existing walkway-cycleway along Karo Drive and of course through Memorial Park.
Assuming the flyover is consented and built, there will be a cycleway–walkway along the length of the southern side of Karo Drive from Willis Street to Taranaki Street (no need to switch sides at Cuba Street as now), then through Memorial Park, across the flyover and through the tunnel, and via Ruahine Street and Wellington Road to the existing facility at Cobham Drive.
I think that out of the Island Bay work we may well opt for some form of cycle route along Tasman Street which intersects with the east-west route at Memorial Park.
Any route down Adelaide Road or using Adelaide Road’s parallel streets would also obviously intersect.
As part of the mitigation work for the flyover, the Transport Agency has agreed to do beautification work with us on the ‘Canal Reserve’ between Kent and Cambridge Terrace. The council’s intention is to take that right through to Courtenay Place. That clearly has potential for a walking–cycling route north of the Basin, though acknowledging the barrier that Vivian Street represents.
We are also beginning to review the City’s Transport Strategy. The aim is to do this in a holistic way, so that movement is not seen in isolation from the environment through which movement occurs. We’ll also look at key corridors and times for each mode. This is important for cycling especially in the central city, in working with cyclists to determine the appropriate routes through the CBD.
As we have signaled previously, Wellingtonians will have the ability to have a say later this year on appropriate speed limits for the non-arterial streets in the Central City.
Councillors have also unanimously supported my recommendation that we audit all pedestrian crossing times in the central city. Officers are methodically working through the CBD intersection by intersection to review traffic signal times, particularly to move away from the mindset that it is all about traffic movement to one being about people movement. They are achieving some valuable gains on all the intersections they have so far considered.
I understand people’s concern about the visibility of any changes. Yes we probably should have spread the Tawa project over a longer period to allow another project to get underway that a larger proportion of the city would have seen, but Tawa is nonetheless a very good project and we will move to other major projects very shortly.
It is important that we invest in all modes and that absolutely includes cycling. Wellington certainly does not yet have an adequate, safe cycling network, and our topography and narrow streets make it challenging to deliver one. However cycling is growing rapidly in popularity, and fits with our desire for a lower cost, more sustainable transport system. We are at the wrong end of the national safety statistics for cycling. Therefore it is really important that the city continues to deliver a better cycling network. I think a better network has the potential to be quite transformative for our city and indeed our region.
In all this we are keen to continue to work with cyclists, pedestrians and representative groups like Cycle Action Network (CAN), Cycle Aware Wellington (CAW) and Living Streets Aoteoroa (LSA), while of course also being mindful of the needs of motorists and public transport users. We will also need to continue to stress to the Government and to its Transport Agency how important we see this investment.
I hope this gives a bit of context for what is happening, what we plan to do, and the (difficult) environment in which we operate.
Andy Foster is the Wellington City Council’s Transport Leader
[A public meeting organised by Cycle Aware Wellington to discuss the cycleway from Island Bay to the CBD is being held on Wednesday at 7pm at the Island Bay Baptist Church.]