More good news this week as Wellington City Council unanimously agreed a $101m investment in cycleways over the next 20 years. This money includes the $58m over the next 10 years which is already in the council's Long Term Plan. $30m of that money will be spent over the next 3 years to really get the programme going.
Apart from being great news for sustainable transport in Wellington what this decision also provides is some much needed context for the work about to begin on the Island Bay Cycleway. The fact is that cycleways are coming to Wellington. There is no debate about that any more. They are also extending out to most of the key areas of Wellington that you would expect within a very short space of time. Planning is already underway to implement cycleways in the CBD, north to Ngauranga, east to Miramar and Kilbirnie and yes, south to Island Bay, all within the next five years.
The council's Cycling Framework specifically states that "We are creating a new network of routes for people who want to cycle slowly, in their everyday clothes, away from heavy traffic. We want to change the culture of cycling and encourage more women, children, and older people to cycle". Also, "Our plan is to develop a cycling network that allows the beginner rider to have a go on some of the safer recreational cycleways. This will help them become a more confident rider who may ultimately start using cycling as their primary mode of transport for getting to work or school". The target market here is definitely not just existing commuter cyclists (although Island Bay has plenty of those) and the objectives are broader than just reducing crash statistics. The council clearly understands that perceived safety is just as important as actual safety, and that safety (both perceived and actual) is just one of the barriers that prevent more people from biking.
Much has been said about how The Parade is already "one of the safest places in Wellington to cycle" but if that's true it just goes to show how appalling our cycling infrastructure in Wellington really is. Would you honestly feel comfortable about a young child cycling down the current bike lanes right next to cars, trucks and buses travelling at 50 kph, with or without an adult close by? As the father of a seven year-old and a nine year-old I certainly wouldn't. Others may feel more confident about their child riding next to a 12 tonne bus as it approaches a bus-stop but the reality is that most kids riding a bike along The Parade ride on the pavement. As Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogota, once said "a bicycle way that is not suitable for an eight year-old is not a bicycle way". The converse of the argument that The Parade "doesn't need bike lanes because it's already safe" is that it's precisely because The Parade is flat and wide that it is the perfect place for Wellington to try protected bike lanes for the first time, in a relatively risk-free environment.
Regardless, let's just pretend for a moment that the council had decided to start somewhere else. Does anybody really believe that the reaction from local residents would have been any different? Probably not. After all, change is hard. Overseas it's very common for cycling infrastructure projects to be met by "bikelash" from residents convinced that it hurts the neighborhood to dedicate any street space to anything other than cars. The irony is that if the council had started somewhere else the local residents probably would have been quick to start screaming "Why us? Why not start somewhere like Island Bay where they actually have room for protected bike lanes?". In the context of the Wellington Cycling Framework (which has the unanimous support of councillors don't forget) and the millions of dollars being poured into urban cycleways by both central and local government it's really hard to see what die-hard opponents of the Island Bay cycleway now hope to achieve. Maybe a few years postponement at best, before the cycleway is implemented anyway? Surely it makes more sense to take full advantage of the opportunity that presents itself now, and come together as a community to make it work as well as it possibly can. People can't possibly want to see it be implemented and then fail can they? What a massive waste of time, effort and money that would be.
A final thought on the money. It should be noted that the $1.5m budget for the Island Bay cycleway is just a fraction of the total cycling network budget, not just over the next 20 years (of which Island Bay is 1.5%) but even over the next 3 years (5%). And the total cycling network budget is just a fraction of the council's total transport budget, the vast majority of which still gets spent on cars. For some more local perspective, The Wellingtonian revealed this week that repairing the Island Bay seawall has a budget of over $800k, which is now expected to rise by another $500k to a total close to what will be spent on the cycleway.