A super snarky response to Graeme Tuckett's half-baked reckons on Wellington cycleways
Dominion Post movie reviewer Graeme Tuckett had an opinion piece published yesterday that suggests some Quick and simple steps Wellington can take right now to help cyclists. Unfortunately it includes so many terrible reckons that it demands an immediate and very snarky response of counter-reckons. Before anybody has a moan about me being mean, consider this - Graeme has been given a massive platform from which to spout his views. This is a blog that I will be happy with if it gets half a dozen retweets and 20 Facebook likes. He's also got some previous form having demanded in his near-identical September 2017 piece that the council rip up expensive cycleway follies. To be perfectly honest Graeme looks like a man who can take a bit of criticism. It's what he dishes out for a living after all.
I'll start with the one truly excellent point that Graeme makes "the council has the opportunity to do a lot of simple, effective stuff immediately, while it works on getting the design of the proposed new paths right". I certainly agree that we could do with more short-term, tactical trials of street changes that would benefit vulnerable road users. Unfortunately it's all downhill from there. Graeme's idea of what constitutes "simple & effective" falls desperately short of mine and the way he gets there is just riddled with errors and half-formed ideas.
Let's take it from the top:
Graeme says: "Island Bay is a dangerous mess that hides cyclists from following traffic and forces us into contact with car doors and pedestrians, with no way to swerve around them."
I ride the Island Bay Cycleway every day and I don't agree this is a significant problem. Even if it is The Parade re-design mitigates this by raising the cycleway to footpath height, which also allows cyclists to swerve onto the footpath if needed. This is much safer than swerving into traffic if you're riding on the road.
Also, only 1/3 of all car journeys have passengers which greatly reduces the risk of encountering a car door opening on the passenger side anyway. It's just maths. Plus, the Parade redesign includes pretty generous 0.9m doorzone buffers which is basically the width of an open car door.
Yes, everybody agrees that the original consultation around the Island Bay Cycleway could have been a lot better and that the current cycleway can be improved. But we went through a year long re-engagement process called Love the Bay to get to the Mayor's compromise solution. Does Graeme even realise The Parade is being upgraded?
At the end of the day if visibility is that big a problem then the most simple and effective solution is actually to remove the on-street parking. Or are we only screaming about something being "a dangerous mess" until it might affect our ability to park right outside our house? Island Bay Cycleway critics please take note; every time you complain about visibility you are helping to build the case for removing on-street parking.
Island Bay kids who are much braver than Graeme Tuckett ride the cycleway he calls "a dangerous mess"
Graeme says: "I've tried riding [the Island Bay Cycleway] a couple of times and gave up in disgust"
A couple of times? You're a quitter Graeme. I live in Island Bay and have ridden the cycleway well over 1,500 times over the past 3 years. You're entitled to your opinion but far from feeling disgusted it makes me feel safe and happy. It also makes me feel much more relaxed about my kids riding their bikes on The Parade. They are 10 and 12 and have used the cycleway hundreds of times. Maybe you should save the hyperbole about "giving up in disgust" for the latest Adam Sandler movie*
Two super-chill Island Bay residents ride the cycleway that made Graeme Tuckett "give up in disgust"
Graeme says: "The Parade was already safer for cyclists than most. Wide shopping streets with 30kmh limits enforced by gentle speed humps are about as benign an environment as any Wellington cyclist (or pedestrian or car driver) ever hopes for."
This is factually incorrect. Most of The Parade is still a 50kmh zone and with 10,000 vehicle movements a day it is well over NZTA's threshold for where separated cycleways are recommended, as pointed out in Section 3.1.2 of the Sep 2017 Island Bay Design Report.
The same report points out in Section 5.1 that the current road layout (including the cycleway) has successfully reduced 85% percentile speeds to the posted speed limit. That means that previously more than 15% of drivers on The Parade were speeding! And 15% (every 7th car) are still going over 50kmh!! That's 1,500 cars still going over the speed limit on The Parade every day.
Let's be clear that if that's what Graeme thinks is 'safe' then that is entirely his own point of view and not the experience of many other people on bikes (and people who don't bike because it doesn't feel safe or comfortable being on the road).
Here's the old layout of The Parade that Graeme is so nostalgic for
Let's look at Graeme's ideas for "quick and effective cycle safety measures that could be implemented immediately"
Graeme says: "Any cyclist heading into the city from Berhampore will take Stoke St on to Hanson St and then King St instead of riding on Adelaide Rd at all, if they know that route exists. So signpost it."
Any cyclist? Speak for yourself. I don't take that route, not on my way in to town anyway. I prefer to carry on straight down Adelaide. It's more direct and I can ride at the same speed as traffic. But that's just me. On my way home I use part of the same route Graeme is suggesting but not the rest. Other cyclists prefer to use Rintoul St or other routes.
There's a theme emerging here. Graeme seems to think every other cyclist is like him and has the same needs as him. He also seems to think that this is just about improving the safety of existing cyclists when it's not. Sign-post your preferred route if you want but I don't think it will make even a modest contribution to making cycling a viable and comfortable choice for many more people, including kids.
Graeme says: "Declaring the footpath on Adelaide Rd from Berhampore to Stoke St a shared path for uphill cyclists would be a no-brainer. It runs alongside a park, and cyclists going uphill are no faster than pedestrians anyway"
You're right it's a "no-brainer" Graeme but not in the way that you think. Shared paths are just about the only way you can make things simultaneously worse for pedestrians and cyclists. They are the Hunger Games of transport infrastructure, forcing pedestrians and cyclists into a hostile environment together so they can fight over the scraps left by cars and see who survives. Besides, the steepest part of that stretch of Adelaide Road has houses on it and the footpath is narrow. There's also a steep downhill section before getting to Stoke Street. Nope, nope, nope. Can we please just forget about shared paths and focus on getting decent separated cycleways in place?
Graeme thinks this would make a good shared path
Graeme says: "30kmh speed limits – enforced by shallow road humps – are great for pedestrians, businesses, drivers and cyclists. Implement them now in every suburban shopping area and outside every school. They create a safe environment without the expense, controversy and disruption of a cycle lane."
OK, but there's already 30kmh speed limits in many Wellington suburbs, including Island Bay and Berhampore (and a 40kmh limit in Newtown). Yes, more 30kmh zones would be welcome, especially near schools, but they fall well short of "creating a safe environment without the expense, controversy and disruption of a cycle lane". For one thing they still require people on bikes, including kids, to ride on the road. They also typically exist over short stretches of road which is no good for actually going anywhere. They help prevent crashes at those sites but people want to move between those places too. Comparing their utility to a cycle lane is a false equivalence.
Graeme says: "I've been saying for years that the median strip between Kent Tce and Cambridge Tce would convert simply and easily to a shared cycle/pedestrian path, with no loss of parking."
There's actually half of a good idea there but not as a shared path. The fact that Graeme would promote this idea as being "simple and effective" while calling the Island Bay Cycleway a "dangerous mess" actually goes beyond being laughable into 'the awkward silence after laughter when you realise they are serious'. Cycle lanes along the middle of Kent and Cambridge Terrace would be good but let's do it once and do it right and put them in place of the on-street parking. It could be trialed very quickly and easily too (I'll help put out the road cones) although there would be some work to do at the intersections because actually, it's not quite that simple.
Sorry Graeme, your conclusion that "the council has the opportunity to do a lot of simple, effective stuff immediately, while it works on getting the design of the proposed new paths right" is a good point but unfortunately it's buried under a pile of terrible ones. In your September 2017 opinion piece you confidently claimed that "I am the very definition of the person [cycleways] were designed for". Actually mate, as an experienced, middle-aged, male cyclist you're not the primary target for separated cycleways and your failure to understand that seems to be a big part of the problem here. You're just one of a large group of users and potential users of cycleways, all with their own particular views and needs. It would be great if you could remember that before the next time you use the massively influential platform you have to spout off.
And for that reason your piece has been certified rotten on the Tomatometer:
*I actually like some Adam Sandler movies and my kids love them. Which is the point right? Different strokes for different folks.
The Newtown Connections packages are good but they could be a lot better
The next stage of Wellington City Council's Newtown Connections project is now underway. Newtown Connections is part of a programme to develop a connected citywide cycle network so people of all ages and abilities can safely choose to make more trips by bike. The council is asking for feedback on three different packages of routes and possible street changes in Newtown, Berhampore and Mt Cook by Tuesday 11 December. You can read the council's media release here. The Dominion Post also produced a reasonably balanced overview of what's happening despite the slightly reductive headline: Options revealed to connect Wellington's Island Bay cycleway to Basin Reserve.
Conditions for people on bikes in Newtown and Berhampore are far from ideal
The current stage is the second of three opportunities the community will have to help shape what happens in the wider Newtown area. More than 770 people provided their initial thoughts a few months ago during the first round of community discussion. Eighty-five percent said it was important or very important to make it easier and safer for more people to ride bikes in and around the Newtown area. All the information collected is summarised in the Community Engagement Feedback Analysis Report, which also provides a good overview of the extensive engagement that occurred. The feedback was then used to create a Community Brief that summarises the community's wishes. The planners used the Community Brief to develop the packages of possible street changes that are now being consulted on. There's more information on how the packages were developed here.
It's important to note that the packages are not discrete options and the consultation is not a vote. The council simply wants to hear what you think at this stage. As Mayor Justin Lester says “Nothing is at a detailed design stage yet, and no decisions on routes or changes have been made – so it is a very good time to get involved. The more community input we can get at this stage, the better.” Councillor Sarah Free says "we want people to look at the routes up for discussion, what’s possible, what’s likely to provide the greatest benefits, and what these connections would mean for various streets. The plan that’s developed could well be a mix of the different packages".
I have to say I think Wellington City Council have done a great job putting all this together. It's by far the most comprehensive consultation on this type of project they've done so far. There's a lot of information to look at but the website is nicely done and easy to understand. You can look at an overview of the packages and then go through each one section by section. There's also a very comprehensive summary of the parking impacts of each package.
Here's the three packages side by side (click image to enlarge):
Here's animated gifs of each package that give a better idea of what the treatments will be in different areas. Don't forget that if you go to the Newtown Connections website and click through the detail of each package you can see what the proposed treatment for every section of each package is.
The good news is that all the packages will be a vast improvement on what's there now, which is basically nothing. Every package gives someone on a bike the ability to cycle from Island Bay to Newtown and on to the Basin Reserve entirely separated from motor vehicles.
However, a bit of a problem in my mind is that two of the packages (B & C) rely very heavily on 2-way separated bike lanes. 2-way bike lanes are OK but they're really not ideal. Some cycling advocates think bi-directional bike lanes are a folly while others take a more pragmatic view that they can sometimes be justified. The main reason they appear to be used so much in these packages is to save space, and on-street parking. In principle, I think the default treatment in an urban environment should be to use 1-way separated bike lanes on both sides of the road wherever possible. What "wherever possible" means, and how that impacts parking, is going to be at the heart of the debate.
It also seems to me that the designers have tried to use one consistent treatment within a package as much as possible. This is presumably to minimise the transitions from one kind of cycleway to another i.e. from 1-way to 2-way and vice versa. I don't think we should be too concerned about transitions between different types of cycleway. Mainly because we're not going to be able to avoid this in Wellington unless 2-way cycleways become the norm, which would be dumb & significantly lower the overall level of service of the network. Transitions can be managed as long as they are well-designed. For example, anywhere where there is a set of traffic lights it should be relatively simple to design a transition from one type of cycleway to another.
So, on balance, I am leaning towards Package C as being the one worth developing further. It has the best overall connectivity and greatest number of options (both routes and types of cycleway) for people on bikes to choose to get around. Package A looks good too, but does have a big impact on parking. It's also not quite as connected as Package C and I think I agree that putting cycleways on some of the steep gradients along Adelaide Rd would not be the kind of 'all ages & abilities' infrastructure that the Community Brief demands. How well each package meets the objectives set by the community in the Community Brief is a really fundamental question. Wellington City Council have done their own analysis of that and I think they've got it about right, with Package C just edging out Package A. What do you think?
However, although I like Package C I think it is far too reliant on 2-way cycleways. I'd like to propose a Package C+, in which the entire stretch from the Basin Reserve, along Adelaide Rd (to John St) and Riddiford St (to Russell Tce, maybe as far as Waripori St) becomes 1-way separated lanes. Package C+ would look a bit like this. The pink is 1-way separated bike lanes on both sides. The orange is 2-way lanes. Yellow and green are off-road paths. Blue is quiet streets.
The key to this is that Package C+ can be done with no additional impact on parking (if I'm reading the detail of Package A correctly, where this is already the treatment along that stretch). If so, why on earth wouldn't we do it? In fact, it's the absolute minimum we should do.
Once you've done that it really does beg the question whether you go further & put in more 1-way cycleways (potentially joining up with the Island Bay Cycleway) even though it will then start to impact on parking. The focus of that discussion would be firmly on Waripori St and Luxford St to get across to Adelaide Road before carrying on from the Berhampore Shops to Dee St.
By my rough calcs the minimum parking lost under each package as presented is:
A: approximately 540 reduction in on-street parking
B: approximately 140 reduction in on-street parking
C (and C+): approximately 230 reduction in on-street parking
If we extended C+ along Waripori, Luxford & along Adelaide Rd from the Berhampore shops to Dee St I think that would add approximately 120 parks lost to Package C (approximately 350 lost in total).
We could, and should, also have a discussion about Rintoul St. Will this be the moment that Wellington City Council finally steps up and says unequivocally that mobility and safety are a higher priority than on-street parking? If so, Rintoul Street provides a more direct route to connect possible 1-way lanes in Newtown to the 1-way lanes we already have in Island Bay. However, this would result in a reduction in on-street parking on Rintoul Street of an extra 75 parks (over what is already proposed as part of Package C) and would likely push the total reduction in parking in Package C towards 400.
What do you think? Whatever it is, make sure you go the Newtown Connections website and have your say!