Wellington Scoop

Five myths about the Island Bay cycleway

by Regan Dooley
One of the biggest issues in the debate about the proposed Island Bay Cycle Way (Section 1 of the full cycle route to the city, from Shorland Park to Wakefield Park) has been a lack of understanding about the real pros and cons of the cycleway. Here’s an analysis of five of the most common myths.

#1: A master plan for the entire route is required first

This myth is really just the “cycleway to nowhere” myth by another name and it ignores what a key destination for recreation Wakefield Park has become, not just for Island Bay but for Wellington. A cycleway through Island Bay has to go via Wakefield Park and then connect to the rest of the route into the city from there. No amount of additional planning and consultation is going to change that fact.

The Island Bay Cycle Way will also be for everybody, not just commuters. By connecting the two major recreation hubs of Shorland Park and Wakefield Park and making it safer and easier for recreational cyclists, local cyclists and children to bike around Island Bay the cycleway is completely justified in itself.

The Wellington City Council split the development of the full Island Bay to City Cycle Route into four discrete stages precisely because they all have specific issues that can’t be resolved at the same time. Options for Section 3 from John Street to Memorial Park depend on the development of a rapid transit bus route and options for Section 4 from Memorial Park into the CBD depend on plans for the Basin Reserve. Some of these issues might not be resolved for years. It seems ridiculous to try and use what was actually a good planning decision as an excuse to delay the one section of the entire route that is ready to go right now.

#2: There’s been a lack of consultation

The formal consultation on the Island Bay Cycle Way undertaken by the City Council back in April/May generated 188 submissions. This compares very favourably with other WCC consultations which rarely get more than 200 submissions unless on a hot topic such as regional governance or a draft annual plan.

However, what’s really important is what has happened subsequently. First, since the formal consultation period WCC has also been running drop-in sessions and receiving a wide range of feedback that way, including on quite specific elements of the detailed design. Council officers have also been working with individual residents to address their concerns.

Second, and more significantly, the community has now totally engaged with the issue and for the last couple of months has been driving its own completely organic consultation process. Councillors have now received hundreds more emails and letters about the cycleway, plus a petition, in addition to the 188 formal submissions originally received.

Whether or not the council’s formal consultation was good enough is debatable, but as things stand right now it seems ridiculous for anyone to complain about a lack of consultation. Although it has not all been driven by the WCC, the fact is that a huge number of submissions have now been made over a four month period and councillors should be feeling fully informed.

If there is a real complaint to be made about the consultation it is that one of the biggest groups likely to benefit from the cycleway – children – are largely excluded from a process which is designed by and for adults.

#3: It’s a financial risk

Earlier in the year city councillors voted unanimously to triple the cycling budget in the 2014/15 annual plan to $4.3m. The Shorland Park to Wakefield Park section of the Island Bay to City Cycle Route is estimated to cost between $773k and $1.3m. This means that even at the upper estimate the cycleway represents only 30% of the total budget set aside for cycling for the year.

$1.3m is actually less than 1% of the council’s entire capital budget in the 2014/15 annual plan ($152.0m) and only 3% of the council’s total capital budget dedicated to Transport ($37.7m). The truth is that when put in the context of the council’s total capital spending the financial risk of this project is barely even on the radar. It also illustrates exactly why the council has the sub-committee
structure that it does for making these type, and scale, of decisions.

In addition, the Island Bay section of the full route into the city is by far the straightest, flattest, widest and easiest section to build. By building the Island Bay section first important lessons will be learnt that can then be applied to the other, more difficult, sections of the route. This will greatly reduce the financial risk of the overall project.

Focusing purely on financial risk also ignores the many health, safety, social and economic benefits that can be expected to flow from the cycleway. The potential benefit to the community more than outweighs the small financial risks involved.

#4: Island Bay is a “divided community”

There’s been much talk over the last couple of months about how the Island Bay community has become “divided” over the subject of the cycleway. While there are no doubt a few extreme views at both ends of the spectrum the reality is that most of us occupy a greyer space in the middle where a healthy and gradually more informed discussion about the pros and cons of the cycleway has been happening.

The idea of a “divided community” actually assumes two things about Island Bay residents that aren’t very flattering:

1. That there are only polarised, for or against, views on the cycleway with no middle ground, and
2. That people have completely entrenched views and don’t have the ability to assess new information and change their minds.

This is a mis-representation of what has really been happening, and underestimates the power and value of a truly community-driven dialogue as a mechanism to move towards a consensus. People in Island Bay have been talking about the cycleway without relying on the council to drive it – and that’s a good thing! As time passes more and more people are starting to understand what the actual pros and cons of the cycleway are and that – on balance – there will be an overall net benefit for the community.

#5: What’s the problem? The current bike lanes are fine.

First, the current Island Bay bike lanes are hardly worthy of the name. They don’t extend all the way along The Parade and they provide no protection from the traffic. Even with the generous width of The Parade, they are used only by determined, confident cyclists. You will hardly ever see non-commuter cyclists using them and no parent in their right mind would let a young child anywhere near them (you are much more likely to see these users on the pavement). The
only reason there are not more cycling related accidents along The Parade is because the current bike lanes discourage greater use.

More importantly, the investment of public money is not just about solving problems. Sometimes it is about taking advantage of opportunities and realising the potential to actually make citizen’s lives better. Overseas evidence shows that protected bike lanes like the ones proposed for The Parade can be expected to at least double the number of people cycling on them and near them. With that comes a range of health, social and economic benefits for everybody.

There is also an important point of principle here. Why should cycling be the one mode of transport that is expected to make-do, rather than have any of the public space allocated for transport dedicated to its use? Pedestrians have their space and cars have their space. Even parked, empty cars get more space than cyclists! Cyclists – who drive cars and own property too – pay just as much for the roads through road user charges and rates as anybody else. In fact, it could be argued that when people ride bikes – an activity that has virtually no negative cost impact on either the infrastructure or the environment – they are not getting the full value of what they have already paid for. Protected bike lanes are just a small element of redress and will still leave cars, both moving and stationary, as the dominant users of the road.

Regan Dooley is an Island Bay resident who supports the Island Bay Cycle Way.