I feel for our council. Councillors have moved a long way in improving our city and anticipating the issues we will face in a generation's time. And they are doing so at a pace that makes many in our community feel uncomfortable. The Island Bay Cycleway is just an example of this.
But it's also clear that we, as a city, are moving nowhere near fast enough to address, or even ease, significant issues. Issues like creating better, denser, living city spaces for our growing population, moving people out of cars into healthier, more compact forms of transport, and, yes, climate change.
One of the factors in this tug of war over the speed of council action is residents' associations. I've spent the last 17 months on the Island Bay Residents Association committee. People on the committee call it IBRA, and my kids have mockingly changed that to iBra — an invention that Steve Jobs thankfully never got around to.
I think that residents' associations have a duty to represent the views of their communities to the council. That is the primary purpose of a residents' association.*
I also think residents' associations have a second role — to mediate between their community and the council.
We, the residents' association committee, have let our community down when it comes to the Island Bay cycleway. It is clear to anyone who has been following the recent consultation around changes to the Island Bay Cycleway that 'paint it back' is not an option on the table. The council consulted on a specific set of safety changes to the cycleway. And the residents' association ultimately failed to address or engage with those particular issues. Instead, we tried, yet again, to repeal a decision that the council does not have the ability to revoke.
The requirements for cycleways and car parks are tied down in the existing Parking Policy 2020, the Long Term Plan 2021 and the Bike Network Plan 2021 — none of which we, IBRA, submitted on. The council cannot do things that are in breach of its policy or its long term plan.
The aggressive anti-council approach we took continued to stoke anger in our community. We gave no guidance to our community. We did not help them engage with the issues that the council needed advice on. We showed no leadership in addressing the fact that we as a community will need to continue changing and adapting to the future we face. We stuck with an 'outright opposition' strategy designed in 2016. This strategy has consistently failed the community — both those opposed to the current cycleway and those who see value in it but want it improved. We knew that the council could not 'paint it back'. By pretending it could, we simply prolonged the pain for our community and the likelihood of adverse outcomes by not adapting.
For instance, one of our community's fears was losing the angle parking at the shops. We could have advocated putting the cycle lane on the other side of the angle parks. This would have aligned with the safety guidelines of Waka Kotahi and the council. It has a chance of success, unlike our current submission proposal, which does not meet Waka Kotahi or WCC requirements, so it can not happen.
The other thing we did not do was talk to our community. And in particular, we did not seek out the experts in our community who knew about road design and council processes. We have some real expertise and experience in our community that could have guided and informed us. Sadly, we didn't seek help.
As an alternative, we could have said to the council and our community, "we know that our community is deeply concerned and divided about the cycleway. We know that our suburb's urgent issues are cycleways, urban densification, transport mode shift, and significant redevelopment. We want advice and support to help our community, our local households and our businesses with this transition."
The future for Island Bay is full of exciting potential. New people will be joining us, new businesses will appear, and new opportunities will emerge as we become an important beach-hub in our growing city. I'd like to see our new residents' association do a better job of helping our community and our council work together to realise these exciting opportunities.
* It's important to note that residents will always have a wide variety of views and that residents' associations have little scope to poll their community accurately. So it's probably safer to represent the full range of perspectives to the council rather than just the view of the perceived majority — especially if that majority view sits at the end of a spectrum.
* If you want to vote at the Island Bay Residents Association's AGM on Monday 7 March you need to sign up as a member by 5pm Saturday 5 March. More info on that and how to vote here.