At Wellington City Council's Long Term Planning meeting on Thursday they finally showed their hand and tried to kill off Island Bay's long overdue Parade Upgrade for good.
As foreshadowed in last week's blog Mayor Andy Foster's draft Long Term Plan (LTP) removed funding for The Parade Upgrade entirely, breaking a 3 year old promise to the Island Bay community. However, during a long and chaotic meeting a couple of amendments were made to the draft plan for consultation that offer a small glimmer of hope.
So what happened at the meeting?
Councillors were voting on what will be included in the draft LTP that goes out for public consultation. The Mayor's initial draft proposed removing funding for The Parade Upgrade entirely, along with reducing funding for cycleways across the board. The recommended option would cut WCC's funding for cycleways (outside the scope of Let's Get Wellington Moving) from $75m across 10 years in the 2018-28 LTP to $67m across 10 years in the 2021-31 LTP.
In order to follow this you need to remember that first councillors vote on any amendments they want to make to a proposal (the substantive motion). If the amendments pass they become part of the substantive motion and then councillors vote on that.
An amendment was moved by Councillor Tamatha Paul to "make Option 4 (Full connection) the preferred option for cycleway infrastructure". This would triple the cycling budget to between $170-200m over 10 years, including The Parade Upgrade. The vote on this amendment was lost narrowly 7-8. Bizarrely, the deciding vote against it came from the Green Party's Sarah Free who also currently holds the cycling portfolio. Also voting against it were Mayor Foster and Councillors Calvert, Condie, Rush, Sparrow, Woolf & Young.
As a compromise Councillor Laurie Foon then moved an amendment to "increase spending for cycleways by $45 million over years 4-10 which will keep us under the debt to revenue ratio". This would increase the cycling budget over 10 years to about $110m but also back-end much of it into another LTP consultation (which happens every 3 years). It also means that by 2031 Wellington still won't have a connected city-wide cycling network. This amendment passed 10-5 with Mayor Foster and Councillors Calvert, Rush, Woolf and Young voting against it (in the substantive vote it then passed 11-4 with Councillors Calvert, Rush, Woolf and Young voting against it).
There was confusion over whether that amendment included The Parade Upgrade or not so Councillor Foon moved another amendment to "request officers to advise us how the Island Bay project can be included within that programme". This amendment passed 12-3 with Councillors Calvert, Sparrow and Woolf voting against it (in the substantive vote it passed 12-3 with the same three councillors voting against it).
Finally, the substantive vote also included a motion to "instruct officers to bring forward the resealing of the Island Bay Parade and simultaneously remove ghost markings, complete minor safety improvements and install buffers between the cycleway and parking lanes". This passed 15-0.
Where does that leave us?
It's hard to tell without more detail because councillors and council officers really did seem to be making a lot of this up on the fly. One thing for sure is that the draft LTP that goes out for consultation will not include the promised Parade Upgrade anytime soon (not until 2024 at the earliest). That means there's currently no chance of the upgrade being delivered within the 7 years after council voted 13-1 to do it back in September 2017. That is an absolute disgrace, especially after they went to court in 2019 to defend their right to do it, and won!
The full upgrade may yet appear in the LTP after 2024 but that will depend on council officer's advice back to councillors. In the meantime bringing forward the next re-seal of The Parade (from when to when is not yet clear) and the instruction to "install buffers between the cycleway and parking lanes" does provide some hope of one of the key elements of the upgrade being delivered but that's going to be pretty tight to do within a re-seal budget. Of course, it does make perfect sense to do as much work as possible at the same time. We'll have to wait for more detail on that.
All in all, what happened on Thursday was a big downgrade of the upgrade. Although the upgrade is not yet dead it's definitely on life-support.
According to WCC this is just fine
Why have the council been stalling on doing The Parade Upgrade anyway?
It's a long story but put simply, they have been trying to get a bit too clever with the funding and as a result of delaying have then seen the costs go up.
When council made the decision to upgrade The Parade in 2017 they put $6m of WCC's own money in the following LTP to do it. Then they got a bit greedy. In order to extract as big a contribution as possible from Waka Kotahi to improve cycling in South Wellington in general they rolled The Parade Upgrade and Newtown Connections into one project. Unfortunately that had two damaging effects on The Parade Upgrade:
While all this was going the council have also seen the estimated cost of the upgrade slowly increasing. Partly because they discovered they would have to dig up a lot more drains than they thought in order to deliver the raised Copenhagen style lanes they had promised, and partly because if you faff around endlessly the cost of things does tend to go up.
Is the upgrade really going to cost $14m?
Nope. The $14m figure popped up last year when WCC threw a Hail Mary pass and put an application in to fund The Parade Upgrade as a shovel ready COVID-19 recovery project. Let's be clear - that is the absolute top end of what it could cost to deliver what was always a pretty over-engineered solution. If money is now tight and some unforeseen cost pressures have genuinely emerged around this project there are definitely other options.
The "Mayor's compromise option" that they settled on for The Parade Upgrade was a nice bit of PR but really just a combination of two of the options they consulted on in 2017 - Option C's raised Copenhagen style bike lanes in the residential areas and Option D's angle parking for cars at the shops. This was actually confirmed by the High Court during the judicial review.
This is only my opinion but if money is now an issue here's what I think should happen in order of priority:
What's proposed above is really just a combination of Option B in the residential sections (instead of Option C) and Option D at the shops (as originally agreed). One of the helpful things that the judicial review established was that as long as the decision the council made was within the broad parameters of what was consulted on then they were free to mix and match options in making a decision.
In summary, with or without a contribution from Waka Kotahi I think WCC have plenty of flexibility available to them to deliver a cost effective upgrade within the parameters of the original consultation and the decision already made. If they really want to get the cost down and significantly improve safety & comfort then they should remove on-street parking. This would be in line with the Parking Policy but might require more consultation (possibly through the traffic resolution process).
Whatever the amount would the money now be better spent elsewhere?
I've heard the argument that the current cycleway is ok and the money could be better spent elsewhere but I'd argue against that primarily for two reasons:
We shouldn't allow the council to use their own negligence as a bargaining chip in a re-negotiation of the scraps of funding that active transport gets in the first place. Once the bar is lowered to that point it will never be raised again.
So what should we do?
More detail about what is now proposed is needed and hopefully that will be included when the LTP goes out for public consultation. In the meantime keeping emailing councillors about how unhappy you are with The Parade Upgrade not being delivered yet and the reduction in funding for cycling in the LTP generally. Some of you have already done that and it is having an impact.
When the LTP goes out for consultation we will also need to make submissions. More guidance on that will come out closer to the time.
Wellington City Council's draft Long Term Plan is a kick in the guts for cycling
Wellington City Council has just released their draft 2021-31 Long Term Plan and Budget for consultation and it doesn't make pretty reading for cycling. At best, it requires some huge leaps of faith to even consider it underwhelming. At worst, it's a disaster.
The big picture
Capital funding for cycling in this LTP is $67m over 10 years (or possibly only $61m,depending on where you look in the plan) which is just 9.5% of the $699m total transport budget and 2.7% of the $2,437 total capital budget.
That's down from $75m in the 2018-28 LTP, which was 10.4% of the $720m total transport budget. Unbelievably, despite Wellington City facing a self-declared climate emergency, capital funding for cycling has decreased in absolute and percentage terms. Cycling is also absorbing a wildly disproportionate 38% of the overall reduction in the transport budget ($8m/$21m) despite being only 9.5% of the total.
The impact is actually far worse when you look at outcomes because the $67m is also spread over far fewer projects. The still unfinished Evans Bay cycleway has jumped from $11m in the 2018-2028 LTP to $26m in the 2021-2031 LTP. The rest of the 2021-31 funding goes to Minor Works ($11m) and unspecified 'cycleways' a.k.a a "prioritised set of key priority route connections not included in Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM)" ($29m).
That means almost every cycling project in the 2018-2028 LTP that had funding specifically attached to it now doesn't, including significant amounts of funding that had been tagged for the South, West and other projects in the East (the poor North didn't even have much funding tagged in the previous LTP). Nearly every project on the map below that is not already completed will now not proceed (except for the shaded area in the middle which represents LGWM - and even that is unclear. See below). As of right now the only specifically funded cycling project in Wellington City is the Evans Bay cycleway. That's an appalling state of affairs.
Adding insult to injury the map below, which shows how much WCC planned to achieve by 2028 (well within the term of this draft LTP) is still on their Transport Projects website, although in typical WCC fashion it hasn't been updated since 2018.
Two of the key projects that are now unfunded are Newtown Connections, on which consultation with the public started way back in 2017, and the The Parade Upgrade in Island Bay. In the case of The Parade Upgrade council actually made the decision to go ahead with it in 2017 but have been procrastinating over it ever since, despite successfully winning a court case in 2019. More on The Parade Upgrade below.
Why are the council doing this?
Cycling is the only transport mode in the LTP singled out as a "key issue for consultation" despite being just 9.5% of the total transport budget. Why does cycling get put under the microscope rather than the other 90% of transport funding? This reveals a deep cultural bias within WCC towards the transport status quo and the primacy of cars in particular.
By singling out "Level of investment in Cycleways" as one of the "key issues that are proposed for community consultation focus around matters that have material impact on the achievement of community priorities and/or on the Council’s overall financial position" WCC is just baiting all the MagicTalk listeners. The council needs to be way smarter than this and take the advice of people like The Workshop to 'sell the cake, not the ingredients' and build a vision of a mobility culture. This shouldn't be a discussion about bikes and cycleways, which are like kryptonite to a small but noisy minority. This should be a discussion about creating healthy streets and more liveable communities where people can move easily around our city in ways that also take care of the planet. If you ask people if they want to pay for more cycleways out of their rates far more of them are going to reflexively say 'no' than if you paint them a compelling vision of the 15 minute city.
More importantly, it's obvious that despite declaring a climate emergency, trumpeting Te Atakura their Zero Carbon Plan, and increasing evidence that e-bikes and other forms of micro-mobility like scooters are exploding in popularity the council still sees cycling > micro-mobility > healthy streets as a 'nice-to-have' and certainly not core business. Have they even read the Climate Commission's draft recommendations to government? Funding for active travel and micro-mobility should be going up not down. It's certainly not moving us towards the 'balanced transport network' that we are always being promised. Ask yourself about the extent to which the transport budget in the draft LTP reflects this hierarchy in the council's own Zero Carbon Plan (I can save you some time, it doesn't).
Joe Biden is credited with saying "don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value". The numbers here don't lie. WCC just doesn't value cycling. When push comes to shove and funding is tight their first instinct is to cut funding for cycling ahead of other transport modes despite all the evidence that it is the best value for money investment in transport. It's just not good enough and they need to sort it out. It may even see them in court one day.
Will Let's Get Wellington Moving save the day?
The council's get out of jail card seems to be to say "but all those active travel projects will now come out of Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM)". There's a few problems with that:
So what about the Island Bay Cycleway?
The council seems to have an almost pathological desire to keep the 'Island Bay Cycleway' PR disaster going. Even within the reduced cycling budget proposed in the draft LTP there's $29m of unallocated funding. It beggars belief that the council would actually prioritise funding for projects they haven't even identified yet over delivering on a decision that they already made 3 years ago, after a long & expensive re-engagement involving hundreds of community members. If you were an Island Bay resident who invested time and energy in the Love The Bay process, guess what? The council doesn't give a shit. They've got rid of the Love the Bay website (probably too ashamed) but you can still look at the Facebook page and remind yourself of the good old days when we thought spending hours sitting in council-facilitated workshops actually mattered. WCC should be viewing The Parade Upgrade as not just an infrastructure upgrade but a social license upgrade, because at the moment all trust in them to do the right thing is shot to hell.
I have repeatedly told councillors and council officers that The Parade can be upgraded for a sum much closer to the original $6m budget than the $14m that they seem to think it will, and within the 2017 consultation parameters. They just need to be prepared to listen to the people who actually use it on a daily basis. The $6m (approx.) required doesn't even need to be re-allocated from within the already grossly underfunded 'cycling' budget. $6m is less than 1% of the total transport capex budget in the draft LTP of $669m and a quarter of a percent of the total capex budget. WCC cannot possibly tell me that they can't re-allocate that funding from somewhere else because it's obvious that they haven't even tried. They could literally trim 1% off every other transport budget line item and it probably wouldn't even be noticed. They also wouldn't need to increase rates (not that rates increases and every other possible funding mechanism should be on the table here in general, including debt).
By the way WCC, the name of the project is The Parade Upgrade, not the Island Bay Cycleway as it is consistently referred to in this draft plan. The reason for this is that even the participants in the Love The Bay process could see the need to broaden the horizons of the project and call it what it really is - a change to the overall streetscape and the way people move around Island Bay. Once again, you are just asking for a fight by lazily serving up opportunities for the haters to hate. If the good people of Island Bay can see the big picture then you should be able to also.
A final thought
The saddest thing about this draft LTP to me is it's lack of vision. Yes, we face major challenges, including infrastructure, resilience, climate change and the Covid-19 recovery. But that's a time to be bold and visionary. Instead this plan feels like a sincere effort by bureaucrats to put things back on a business as usual footing as fast as possible. It's an attempt to fix problems with business as usual rather than grasping the opportunity to question what business as usual should even look like and then 'build back better'. This guiding principle mentioned by the Mayor in his media release about the draft LTP seems to sum up the problem pretty well.
It probably sounded great in their heads when they wrote it but to me it is completely disingenuous and an example of the kind of neoliberal nonsense that got us in this mess in the first place:
If you are unhappy about the treatment of active transport in the draft LTP or any other aspect of it let your local councillors know and keep an eye out for engagement opportunities.