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Open letter from the Island Bay cycleway

An open letter from the Island Bay Cycleway to Island Bay residents Vicki & Dave
Dear Vicki & Dave,
First of all, thank you for the comment you made on my Facebook page on Sunday. It’s great to have your input into the conversation. You raised a number of issues that are obviously causing you concern, so I’d like to address them one by one and hopefully put your minds at rest. I hope you will receive this feedback in the constructive spirit it is given.

“We currently have SAFE cycle lanes that are consistent with international standards”

Actually, I’m ashamed to say that at the moment I’m not that safe. I don’t extend all the way along The Parade and I provide no protection to cyclists from the traffic. Even with the generous width of The Parade, I’m only used by determined, confident cyclists. You will hardly ever see non-commuter cyclists using me and certainly not young children (you are much more likely to see these types of users riding on the pavement). The only reason there are not more cycling related accidents along The Parade is because my current design discourages greater use.

The international standard for safe cycle lanes is to separate them completely from traffic. As explained in the council’s report to the Transport & Urban Development Committee on December 2, my proposed kerbside design conforms to the best international practice within the existing environmental constraints. Yes, there are still risks but safety isn’t a binary concept (i.e. things are not simply ‘safe’ or ‘not safe’), nor does it exist in a vacuum. Safety needs to be assessed relative to all the other options. In this case, the key question is “are separated cycle lanes for The Parade safer overall than the current lanes?” and the answer to that is an unequivocal “yes”. The case for separated bike lanes also has a lot to do with people’s perceptions of safety and Wellington City Council’s own research found that “cycleways which physically separate cyclists from other road users and risks (moving cars, pedestrians, doors of parked cars) will encourage substantially more people to consider cycling than either shared road spaces or cycle lanes that are just painted lines on the road”.

Admittedly, there are some safety issues around intersections and driveways but it is clear that the council’s engineers have tried to mitigate these as much as possible in my final design. The sight lines for cars and bikes at intersections are generous and much improved over what currently exists. Also, don’t forget that the driveways on the western side of The Parade all have wide grass verges which give exiting cars and cyclists plenty of time to see each other. The driveways on the eastern side of The Parade are probably the greatest concern but even then the question has to be “by moving cyclists off the pavement and out from behind parked cars are they safer than they are currently?” The answer is yes.

“The proposed new lanes are dangerous:
• people would step off buses into cycle lanes,
• elderly people will have to get across cycle lanes before they can get to footpath, no easy feat with a walker or wheelchair.
• While drivers by law need to look before opening their car door, passengers do not, doors will be opened and children knocked off bikes, the Council say that people will change their habits, this did not happen when they changed the bus routes in Willis street and Manners streets, by stopping the funding you can stop people from being seriously injured and killed”

Every bus stop along the new route will actually have a specially designed Dutch style bus stop by-pass which diverts cyclists around the back of the bus-stop. This means passengers will actually step off the bus onto an island where they will be perfectly safe. They can then cross the cycle lane to the footpath when it is safe to do so.

Elderly people should really not find exiting a car any different to now. Getting out the car onto the buffer zone of the new cycleway should provide no greater challenge than getting onto the footpath.

The chance of a collision between a car passenger and cyclist is also much lower than the chance of a collision between a car driver and a cyclist. Recent research from the Ministry of Transport shows that for two-thirds of all car travel, the driver is the only person in the vehicle, which massively reduces the risk straight away. In my new design the cycle lanes are 1.8m wide which includes a painted buffer zone of about 60cm to physically separate the lane from parked cars and remind passengers getting in and out of cars to take care. A fully open car door extends approximately 1m from the car so the maximum possible intrusion into the remainder of the cycle lane is 40cm. This leaves 80cm of cycle lane completely unobstructed. An adult riding a bike with a standard 70cm handle-bar width can completely avoid any risk of collision simply by riding slightly to the left of me. Cyclists using me will also generally be riding slower and with the excellent sight lines that I will provide they will have plenty of time to slow down or stop.

I really think the comparison to the changes to the bus routes in Willis and Manners Streets is very unfair. The potential consequences of a collision between a pedestrian and a cyclist and a pedestrian and a bus are completely different and, in fact, this just reinforces the key principle that road users of significantly different mass and speed should be kept separated from each other as much as possible.

“The community have spoken loudly and clearly, they do not want the new cycle ways”

The recent consultation by the council on my final design generated over 700 submissions, with 486 coming from Island Bay. Although these numbers are excellent compared to other WCC consultations the 486 from Island Bay still only represents around 6% of the total population. That would be a terrible participation rate if you were actually running a referendum! Much more tellingly, over two-thirds (69%) of households on The Parade itself didn’t bother to make a submission, which seems quite incredible considering they are directly affected and what a “hot topic” I am supposed to be.

In terms of understanding “what the community wants” it seems that the one thing the consultation proves conclusively is that the vast majority of Island Bay residents, and even those living on The Parade, don’t really care what happens (at least not enough to take a few minutes to make a submission). That means that neither my supporters nor my opponents can claim to represent the majority.

That brings us back to why we have representative democracy in the first place (as opposed to participative democracy). No citizen has the time, information or expertise to participate in every decision-making process they are affected by so we vote for representatives to do that for us. Yes, we expect them to consult with us on important decisions but consultation shouldn’t be mistaken for a referendum. Consultation is just one part of the information gathering process but councillors also need to take many other pieces of information into account before making a decision, such as research and evidence from around the world and the advice of their council officers. Just because some parties might not like the outcome doesn’t mean there has been bad consultation, or bad decision-making.

“You would be paying 3 million dollars for the approx. 75 people who currently cycle. Of these approx. 75 cyclists the commuter cyclists have said they won’t use the cycle lanes”

I am actually going to cost an estimated $1.7m. I’m also not sure where you get the figure of 75 people currently cycling because the 2013 census showed 261 people cycling to work from Island Bay, which is a 100% increase from 2006. At that rate of increase there could be 500 people cycling to work from Island Bay by 2020. Island Bay also has a much higher percentage of people cycling to work (5.6%) than Wellington City as a whole (3.5%).

The number of people riding to work is not the full story anyway. WCC’s own research indicates that I will greatly increase ridership, not just by commuters but by local, community cyclists. This is consistent with overseas research that shows that if you build it, people will ride. Some of my biggest beneficiaries will be children, the elderly and other people not confident enough to ride on the road. There is also a strong social justice argument for cycleways.

“The proposed new cycle lanes will severely narrow The Parade, then add the new proposed 1.5 metre rule to get around cyclists and The Parade will be reduced to a single lane”

My new design doesn’t narrow The Parade at all. It simply re-allocates the space and the major casualty will be the completely redundant median strip. Cars won’t actually have any less usable space than now and there will be fewer cyclists on the road and pavement. It’s a win-win for everyone. Yes, the road will feel narrower for cars but this could actually be a good thing as evidence shows that narrower lanes have a natural traffic-calming effect and reduce accidents. Motorists who need to get around a cyclist on the road will do exactly what they do everywhere else in Wellington – they will wait for a safe opportunity to pass and then they will use the opposite lane to move safely past.

Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to respond. I really hope that this has been helpful in allaying some of your concerns. I genuinely believe that the benefits I will bring to the Island Bay community are significant and far outweigh the costs.

All the best for the holiday season and I hope to see you in the New Year.
The Island Bay Cycleway

PS Auckland gets another cycleway