by Lindsay Shelton
The plan for better, safer cycleways is one that should be welcomed by everyone. Yet the city council is in danger of allowing its key project to be derailed by endless complications.
Plans to triple the amount of council spending on cycleways were announced two weeks ago. The city’s cycling budget for 2014/15 is to be increased from $1.3 million to $4.3 million, an increase of 230 per cent, focusing on “delivering strategic cycling routes and improving cycle safety city-wide.” Sounds good.
Celia Wade-Brown said the funding boost would be transformative for Wellington. Yay!
More details were announced on Tuesday, when the council said it was seeking “clever thinking, compromise, and creative solutions” and was starting work to plan improvements to the cycleway from Island Bay to the city. Compromise? Was this a sign that things weren’t going to be easy?
Patrick Morgan of the Cycling Advocates Network sounded an alarm after attending this week’s council meeting where the plans were discussed:
I was underwhelmed by aspects of the staff’s presentation. While it was good to see the detail, I have some concerns:
It was framed as a cycling vs parking decision. Not helpful.
The benefits of quality cycleways were undersold.
Demand for on-street parking was presented as a given.
Councillors were cautioned that this was a hard, complex problem which would take ages.
What we end up with in Island Bay will determine the level of service of future cycling routes. Do we want more paint-on lanes in the car door zone, or quality protected lanes? Re-allocating road space from parking to safe cycling is a good choice. How do we demonstrate to all councillors that we have their backs on this?
And today the “hard complex problem” was converted into one of the DomPost’s alarmist headlines: Safe cycling plan faces big blowout. Katie Chapman, echoing the view of conservative council staff, writes that the Island Bay to CBD plans have “already had a spoke thrown in their wheel because of the extra costs involved in replacing roadside parking spaces that would be lost to cycling lanes.”
A crisis before consultation has even begun?
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown needs to move fast and take over leadership of the cycleway planning before the best intentions are derailed. As any cyclist will tell you, it’s taken years to get to this position. As anyone will tell you who has seen cycleways in cities all over the world, Wellington is years behind the times on this issue.
A Wellington.Scoop reader commented yesterday:
The cycle lane should a) take the flattest route from Island Bay to Newtown and b) be separated out from traffic. These two features should be non-negotiable. If NZ’s old school traffic engineers aren’t able to cope with the above they should be replaced with people who can. Hire from abroad if necessary.
As this is a new kind of project, political leadership is important. I’d like to see one councilor step up and become the public face of cycling in Wellington just as Len Brown was with the city rail link in Auckland. As it’s a new territory, Wellingtonians will need a lot of hand-holding. Celia Wade-Brown? Justin Lester?
And even before the DomPost’s attempt to de-fuse the momentum of cycleway planning, Ross Clark sounded a warning:
Getting councillors to see the benefits of removing on-street parking, indeed *any* sort of parking, is akin to pushing water up hill. I have no idea how you get round this sort of mindset.
So let’s expect leadership. The mayor, as a committed and expert cyclist, is best fitted to take on this role. Her comments reported this morning are a pointer towards what must be done:
She knew from personal experience that cycling in the ‘door zone’ along Adelaide Road was not much fun. Whichever option the council eventually settled on, it was likely some existing parking would be sacrificed.
And a mayoral under-statement:
Wellington is not good enough for cyclists yet.
She may be bruised from her defeat on the flyover issue, but she should ensure that cycleways stay on track and don’t get detoured into years of unconstructive and unnecessary delays.