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.