Politics, consultation, and the cycleway

The Wellington City Council has come under pressure over its consultation process on the Island Bay cycleway. Opponents are claiming that one of the options – simply preserving the status quo – wasn’t even on the table, despite the route from Island Bay to the city not having a history of cycling deaths or injuries.

Is the council simply starting with the conclusion they want, and then working backwards to the “consultation”? In the vernacular, are they actively screwing the scrum?

The traffic planning fraternity has a long and illustrious track record of this behaviour, of course – the recent defeat of the NZ Transport Agency at the hands of the Basin Reserve flyover Board of Inquiry is a prime example. The criticism levelled by the Board centred around their view that the Agency had not properly considered all the options. All that money and all that time and all that “consultation” appeared to be nothing more than a forced march to a foregone conclusion.

In microcosm, the city council’s approach to the cycleway seems to have some disturbing similarities to the mess that the Transport Agency got itself into. The first round of consultation presented two options – both of which assumed there will be a cycleway. It may well be that councillors think they have a mandate to push it through, based on the election results, and damn the torpedoes. Yet as the opponents of the Basin flyover clearly argued, “do nothing” is always a viable alternative that needs to be considered if the conclusion is to have any credibility. And it wasn’t on the table for Island Bay residents. This has clearly given rise to some opposition to the plan.

And it’s always fascinating to watch how the scientific method intersects with political reality.

The assumption most people have is that council officers will proceed from evidence to conclusion; that alternatives will be weighed and assessed, and that the right course of action will be soberly agreed upon after the facts are agreed. Yet in many cases, the information provided to ratepayers seems to be missing some salient items, the conclusions don’t always appear to be linked to the evidence, and the mechanism for getting from facts to outcomes seems to require an alarming degree of magical thinking.

The result is a loss of credibility for the process, and a sense that consultation is an exercise in smoke and mirrors before the inevitable conclusion is reached. At least, that’s the cynical view – which generally comes after people have had a few rounds of presenting logical arguments and inconvenient facts, and realising that they count for naught.

Which is where good old messy politics comes into play.

If the city council can’t be convinced by logic, then the only alternative is political opposition – at the public meetings, on the Internet and at the ballot box. There is clearly a gathering tide of it in Island Bay, and it will be interesting to see how hard the disaffected residents push councillors over the issue. Will this be the impetus for Paul Eagle to stand for mayor? If the cycleway is defeated, will Andy Foster lose the Transport portfolio? And how will Celia Wade-Brown – cycling advocate and Island Bay resident – manage to navigate the shoals between unhappy neighbours and assertive lobbyists?

There will undoubtedly be more rounds of consultation to come. Will local residents will see them as a way of shaping the cycleway, or just as a way of rubber stamping a design that’s been agreed behind closed doors? At this early stage, the political ramifications of how the process is handled have yet to make themselves felt around the council table.

Ian Apperley: Democracy in action



  1. Ellie, 6. August 2014, 10:22

    Well! Andy Foster should go, already discredited over the flyover debacle, now the cycleway mess. Flip flop Foster.
    Paul Eagle would make a good mayor.
    How is Celia going to navigate her way through her own ward’s dissatisfaction?

  2. John, 6. August 2014, 12:28

    Flip Flop Foster should be sacked for his disgraceful performance over the failed flyover, but the cycle-way debacle is a further nail in his political coffin. He has no capacity for self-examination at all (if he did, he’d have already resigned…).
    Why can’t Celia harden up and do the decent thing, and remove his transport portfolio? She has the authority. Just stop him doing more damage to Wellington. Please!

  3. Regan, 6. August 2014, 13:14

    Some reasonable points made here about the formal consultation but characterising the situation as a polarised debate between “unhappy neighbours and assertive lobbyists” is ill-informed, as discussed here: http://t.co/GQQsEePj0f

    There are a lot of people in Island Bay who support the cycleway who have nothing to do with any cycling lobby.

    The Island Bay community has also been driving its own informal – but equally valid – consultation process for the last two months as discussed here: http://t.co/SSYhZpgFsO

  4. IslandBay Cycleway, 6. August 2014, 13:20

    At the last council elections, Wellington re-elected a pro-cycling mayor and this year the council voted unanimously to triple the cycling budget. It is now councillors’ job to decide how to best to spend that budget. That’s why we elected them and that’s what we pay them for.

  5. Ian Apperley, 6. August 2014, 13:25

    It’s time Andy resigned from the Transport Committee and the rest of the committee stood down. They have done nothing for the city and show absolutely no signs of doing anything in the future.

    We need a Transport Committee that knows what they are doing to get on with the various improvements we need including cycleways, smart parking, other smart city improvements, and much better public transport.

  6. nato, 6. August 2014, 16:45

    Just build the cycleway, stop worrying about nimbys.

  7. Laura, 6. August 2014, 17:02

    The consultation for the cycleway from IB to the city has been a sad and sorry saga, and I am embarrassed for the transport leader that this pitiful consultation continues under his watch. When are we going to have a fair and transparent consultation process that includes everyone, not just the favoured groups that the transport committee want to hear from, but all parties affected?

  8. Island Bay resident, 6. August 2014, 18:04

    @IslandBay Cycleway – some of Wellington re-elected a pro-cycling mayor, and yes, the council voted unanimously to triple the cycling budget. So that gives Celia, Justin, Andy and the Green bloc at the council the right to ram through the cycleways across Wellington without decent consultation? I elected my councillors to properly engage with me when decisions on my money are being spent. One Councillor is visible and approachable (and lives in the Bay), the other is invisible, hides behind the Green Party, and doesn’t even live in the Ward. I’m prepared to pay for one of them, Lambton Ward ratepayers can pay the other guy.

  9. Sridhar Ekambaram, 7. August 2014, 16:02

    The world is realising the benefits of cycleways and getting to replace cars with cycles. Even in car centric US, cycle ways are proving to be a hit across all age groups, so much so that local councils are having to come with plans to increase capacity of cycling infrastructure. After 25 years of a love affair with cars, these countries are going in for cycles.

    Here in New Zealand we are bickering over who is right or who is wrong in the process of consultations, or calling cyclist and cycle supporters green terrorists / brigades, essentially trying all possible ways to block projects that will bring the same benefits – not just to the economy but also to the individuals who cycle (which increases saving and improves health and productivity) but rather continue their own love affair with cars, not to mention reducing transportation infrastructure cost to the taxpayer. Some people even say “yeah! cycleways work overseas and give those benefits. But this is New Zealand and we are different”. Different huh! how? Just because we are tucked in one corner of the world.

    It’s no wonder NZ is considered 25 years behind the rest of the world. Perhaps 25 years from today NZers will want to do what the rest of the world is doing today i.e. build cycleways unless they are ready to wake up to reality today.

  10. Wellington Commuter, 8. August 2014, 4:16

    “Even in car centric US, cycle ways are proving to be a hit across all age groups”

    Yeah, right, in the US cycling has rocketed from 0.5% to 0.6% in only 32 years !

  11. John Clarke, 8. August 2014, 6:26

    @sridhar – it doesn’t matter how noble and progressive this cycleway is, the people of Island Bay still deserve to have their voices heard rather than having Flip Flop Foster shove it down their throats.

  12. Mike Mellor, 8. August 2014, 8:48

    Wellington Commuter: if you read the article you linked to, you will see that cycling in the USA increased by 50% in the 2000s, which is pretty good.

  13. leon feneridis, 8. August 2014, 12:46

    Are we living in a democracy? all wellington ratepayers should be allowed to have a binding ! referendum on the subject of spending on the cycleway and if the majority want it let’s have it, this would be the only proper way, and it will stop all the nonsense talk by a handfull of both sides.

  14. Sridhar Ekambaram, 10. August 2014, 21:55

    @John Clarke! How about discussing the merits and demerits of the cycleway?

    It is not that there has been no discussion with the residents of IB. If you check Cycle Aware Wellington’s website and search “Island Bay Cycleway”, you will find minutes of public meetings (in July and Aug 2013) with communities. Some of these meetings involved the WCC as well. Sure there could have been more, but it doesn’t mean they were left completely in the dark and the cycleway was being shoved does their throats.


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