Kia ora tātou,
Listening to all the amazing presentations on cycleways last week was heartening. However, over the weekend I was saddened to realise that before Marianne and Lake had even had the chance to speak the words "Kids Freedom Network" council officers had already finished writing the LTP paper that you will be discussing on Thursday.
That paper relies heavily on the results of "targeted independent research conducted in parallel with formal consultation" to steer you back in the direction of the council's preferred Option 3 for cycleways, rather than Option 4 which was the clear preference of submitters.
The paper notes that "The two sources of feedback provides Councillors with a broad and balanced view of submitter and public feedback, and provides the opportunity to weigh up contrasting community opinion. This enables Councillors to consider the relative significance of survey and submission results in finalising the LTP". While at face value this appears correct there's a couple of really important points I'd like you to consider before relying too heavily on the survey results as being good evidence.
First, as I pointed out when I spoke to you last Thursday, framing is everything. While I am sure that the survey methodology here is sound and that the 4.4% margin of error is reliable, the survey questions asked and the context in which they are asked will always reflect the bias, prejudices and agenda of the surveyor. In this case I strongly disagree with WCC consulting on cycleways in isolation, which means that you only consulted the public on 12% of your proposed $1bn transport capex budget for the next 10 years. Having made that choice WCC also failed to provide information in the consultation document that might be considered crucial to the public's understanding of the issue, such as:
I challenge you to imagine how the survey results may have been different if any of the above information had been included and/or the context had been urban mobility and transport shift more generally.
The research survey findings are also very much at odds with the findings of a Let's Get Wellington Moving public opinion survey from 2018 (page 43) which found 50% support among Wellington City residents for "a network of cycle lanes through the central city", 25% opposition and 25% don't know/don't care. Is this survey any more accurate? Why the apparent shift in public sentiment in the meantime? I don't know, but it illustrates just how important framing and context are and how difficult it is to actually get this stuff right.
As I said last week I don't believe that the way you consulted on cycleways reaches the standard required by the Local Government Act and if it is true that "the research questions were the same as those in the public submission form" then all the research has done is compound that problem. I am honestly left wondering whether this survey would have got ethics approval in an academic environment and what processes the council uses internally to sign-off on a survey like this being used.
Second, council officers themselves aren't arguing that you accept the results of the research. If they were, you would be selecting Option A and just finishing started projects, but everyone at council already knows how utterly wrong-headed and unpalatable it would be to reduce funding for cycling. If you are presented with a survey outcome that claims to be 'scientific' i.e. producing a statistically valid result from a randomly selected population, then you have to either accept it or disregard it. Unlike a self-selecting survey a 'scientific' survey can't be considered indicative or 'a little bit right', it either is or it isn't. You either accept it as truly reflecting public opinion or you ignore it (you may be unhappy with the design, for example). The way that council staff use this research to make the case for another option entirely by positioning their preferred option as a compromise between what a poorly designed 'scientific' survey says and what self-selecting consultation says is totally subjective. Remember - the council's preferred Option 3 is not preferred by the research survey respondents or the consultation respondents, it has no public support.
If there's anything to takeaway from the research survey it should actually be embarrassment and concern. Council has clearly not done anywhere near enough over the past decade to get public buy-in to an essential part of the response required to climate change, congestion and wider issues such as housing and public health. If anything the research justifies investing even harder and faster in cycleways rather than the half-arsed 'try and have a dollar each way' approach suggested. This is absolutely one of those situations where councillors have access to more and better information than the public and need to show leadership and good communication, rather than just allowing yourselves to be a passive conduit of what you might perceive to be (in this case, a very questionable view of) public opinion.
If you've read this far thank you for your time and attention. I still believe that Option 4 is the only credible choice you can make from the cycleways options you consulted on. I was considering coming and talking about this during public participation on Thursday but I'm not going to do that, hence the email. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that by Thursday all the amendments will already be written and all the deals will have been done so there seems little point in expending any more time and energy on this.
Thanks for all your mahi.
On Thursday 20 May I spoke to Wellington City Councillors about their proposed Long Term Plan. Here's what I said...
Tena koutou katoa,
Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today.
I want to specifically address cycleways. There's been lots of lovely, positive cycleways submissions already and I tautoko that but this isn't going to be one of them so apologies in advance. If you've had a chance to glance through my submission you'll already know I strongly disagree with you consulting on cycleways in isolation, rather than attempting a more holistic discussion about urban mobility and transport shift.
I find it ridiculous that you can declare a climate emergency and also know that transport produces over 50% of Wellington's carbon emissions but the only part of your $1b transport capex budget for the next 10 years that you choose to consult on is the 12% proposed for cycleways. You put cycleways funding up for grabs while not even asking the public to consider how the vast majority of transport capital budget gets spent, which is actually where all the emissions are.
However, what’s done is done and despite the natural disadvantage of not being the council's preferred option you got an absolutely clear message back from the public to spend more money on cycleways. 68% support for Option 4. So the vast majority of people who care enough to make a submission on your LTP support spending more money on cycleways.
A lot has been made of the council's need for financial headroom but we know that you've also received a lot of push-back about that. I'd like you to consider that it's not just financial headroom that you need but political headroom, legal headroom, reputational headroom and that you are already way shorter of those things than you think. The legal threat to the council around climate change is real. The political threat is real. In fact, what this consultation shows is that its not the rates hawks that you should be worried about getting organised but quite the opposite. Wellington is a progressive city and if you decide to ignore the results of this consultation and go down a fiscally conservative route that we can see now has not served us well in the past then I think you can expect some blowback from that.
The financial conservatism around cycleways makes no sense anyway. Your own website trumpets the fact that every dollar spent on cycleways delivers up to 20 dollars in benefits - information which might reasonably be considered very significant to the public's understanding of this issue but which you did not include in the consultation document. Wellingtonians will spend $13b on owning and running cars over the life of this long term plan and we're sitting here debating whether to spend an extra $100m over 10 yrs on cycleways, which equates to an extra $20 per annum on a $4,000 rates bill. That's 40c a week. The amount that households spend on cars is so vast - in the region of $12,000 per car per year - that any spending on cycleways only needs to reduce household transport costs by a fraction before it has paid for itself, and that's without even considering all the other benefits. Reducing the number of trips that need to be made by car is one of the biggest economic boosts a city can give its citizens.
There are approximately 700km of roads in Wellington, about the same in footpaths and around 30km of cycleways, so you can also spare me the platitudes about needing to balance priorities or that Option 3 is still a great deal for cycling. It isn't. The current transport network is completely unbalanced, it's dominated entirely by dependence on the least efficient mode - the private car - and it's actually hostile towards cycling. In the past decade you've built less than 20km of new cycleways covering about 2.5% of the network. During that same time over 600 people on bikes have been injured on Wellington's roads (I was one of them). That's more than one a week. More people have been injured riding bikes in Wellington in the past 10 years than have bothered to make a submission opposing the budget in this ten year plan. Who are you going to listen to? Who are going to say "we care about you" to?
I know there are some concerns about deliverability but you cannot deliver what you do not even plan to deliver and it's clear that the vast majority of people making a submission want you to at least try. Deliverability is actually just a question of priorities and you need to send a clear message both externally and internally that this is the plan and that these are the new priorities. And by the way, it's fine to note deliverability concerns and let the public respond to that, which they have, but if you're now saying that Option 4 was never going to be deliverable then you've breached the Local Government Act because if you knew that you should have said that. You set the parameters of this consultation, you put Option 4 on the table, you've heard what the public think, and now you need to deliver that.