Don’t stop the cycleway

by Regan Dooley
At its meeting on Wednesday, the Wellington City Council will vote on a motion lodged by Councillors Nicola Young and Paul Eagle that could delay the development of the Island Bay Cycle Way (Section 1 of the full route to the city) indefinitely.

The motion states that:

– all future decisions on the Island Bay-to-city cycleway (including the Shorland Park to Wakefield Park section) will be made by the full 15-member council, rather than the eight members on the Transport and Urban Development Committee, and

– council officers must prepare a master plan for the entire route from Island Bay-to-city that will be discussed by the full council before the final decision on the Shorland Park to Wakefield Park section is made.

While the transfer of decision-making to the full council might seem innocuous at face value, it is actually quite a serious subversion of the council’s processes and sub-committee structure.

The reasoning seems to be that the Island Bay Cycle Way is suddenly “controversial” and “risky”. This is despite the fact that the estimated cost of around $1m is less than a third of the annual budget for cycling of $4.3m that councillors voted for unanimously earlier this year. When you consider that the council’s total capital budget for transport in 2014/15 is $38m it seems to be setting a very low threshold for decision-making to be moved to the full council. If the Transport and Urban Development Committee can’t make decisions about a mere $4.3m for cycling then what can it make decisions about? Will the same logic be applied to every other council sub-committee?

More seriously, imposing the requirement that a master plan for the entire route to the city is in place first will probably ensure that the Island Bay section of the cycleway (Section 1) gets bogged down in bureaucracy for years, and may never actually happen. For example, ask yourself how quickly you think the Basin Reserve traffic congestion issue is going to get resolved now, with the knock-on effect on decisions about rapid-transit routes and options. There’s a very obvious reason why the implementation of the Island Bay-to-city cycleway was split into four distinct sections. It’s because each section has its own unique characteristics and issues, which can’t all be resolved at the same time.

How valid are the three main reasons given for lodging the motion anyway? Let’s take a closer look:

1. That a master plan for the entire route to the city needs to be in place first:

This is simply not true. By linking the two major recreation hubs in Island Bay and making cycling around the suburb safer and easier for everybody (not just commuters) the cycleway is completely justified in itself. Many more people in Island Bay now understand that the cycleway will actually enable much more local cycling, recreational cycling and cycling by children. The recent report from the Citizen’s Advisory Panel on Section 2 of the cycle route also confirms Wakefield Park as the connection point between the two sections, which means any doubt about that is no longer an issue.

2. That there has not been sufficient consultation:

This may have been true two months ago but it is certainly not true now. The formal, council-run consultation process was actually pretty robust and generated a level of submissions that compares very favourably with other council consultations.

However, what is much more important is that the local community has subsequently become completely engaged with the issue and driven its own informal consultation process. This has generated a lot more discussion in the community and many more letters and emails to councillors.

Councillor Eagle was inviting people to talk to him about the cycleway as far back as February. That means we have effectively had at least six months’ consultation. We need to remember that consultation is not a referendum. Nor is it a process designed to achieve a complete consensus. Do we really need to have more consultation and what would it achieve if we did? Councillors are now in a position to make a fully informed decision.

3. That there is a financial risk:

There isn’t. As noted above, the upper estimate of $1.3m for the Island Bay section of the cycleway is less than 1% of the council’s total capital budget for 2014/15
and only 3% of the transport capital budget. In that context the risk is barely on the radar and there are more important matters for the full council to be concerned about. Also, the Island Bay section of the full route to the city is by far the flattest, widest, straightest and easiest to build.

By building it first, many important lessons will be learnt that can be applied to the rest of the route. This will reduce the financial risk of the overall project. At a time when political parties are lining up to throw more money into urban cycling, it’s hard to understand why we are procrastinating over this decision.

It’s fair to say that there has been a lot of discussion in Island Bay about the cycleway as people have weighed up the pros and cons. Going back a couple of months it’s possibly even understandable why Councillors Young and Eagle lodged their motion. However, the Island Bay community has come a long way in that time and as people become more informed support for the cycleway is growing.

More and more people are starting to understand that the cycleway will have a net benefit for the community and represents a fabulous opportunity. If councillors have truly been listening to the full range of views, they will know this and they will vote against the motion and let development of the Island Bay Cycle Way proceed.

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

 

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