The Love the Bay process is back on track with drop in sessions this week to look at design options for The Parade
The latest update on the Love the Bay process contains a lot of information. The most important thing you need to know is that there are drop-in sessions coming up on 3 May (7-9pm) and 7 May (1:30pm-3:30pm) at the Island Bay Baptist Church. The sessions will be an opportunity to provide feedback on the design options that have been created for The Parade and assess their pros and cons against the design objectives and underlying design statements that emerged from the workshops. You only need to attend one session but put one of those dates in your diary now! The update also helpfully provides an overview of the process so far for those who may be getting involved for the first time.
This is the first time anyone has seen the design objectives and design statements so here are some of my initial thoughts. Overall I think the Love the Bay team have done a good job of trying to summarise all of the feedback received from the community via the workshops and online engagement. The design statements cover a lot of ground and at first glance appear to cover most of the things you would expect them to cover. It's also very hard to disagree with any of the specific design statements, they are all things you would want to see reflected to some degree or another in an overall design for The Parade. However, that's where I think the first real issue arises.
The design statements are all a bit 'motherhood and apple pie'. There's certainly no suggestion of how to resolve some of the obvious conflicts and trade-offs that will need to be made if everything on this 'wish-list' is to be accommodated in the limited space available on The Parade, and within a limited budget. At this stage there's no mention of prioritisation at all. For example, the first design statement is:
It is safe for pedestrians, safe for cyclists, safe for motorists, safe for children, safe for the elderly, safe for people with disabilities, safe when exiting/accessing vehicles while parked, safe for exiting driveways, safe for parking, safe at intersections.
Safety for everybody! Sadly, I think it probably is necessary to make this statement and to be honest I actually feel relieved to see cyclists given the same status (at least at face value) as other road users. The problem is that this statement doesn't actually help the designers. Safety, and what it actually means (actual vs perceived vs experienced vs relative), is an incredibly complex and emotive subject. I tried to dig much deeper into that in a couple of earlier blogs; The hypocrisy around cycleway safety needs to stop and Crash facts. Hopefully the effective and fair reconciliation of the safety needs of different modes will be a focus of the drop-in sessions. At least we now have 2016 crash statistics to take some of the subjectivity out of the discussion.
Another issue is that council policy is not reflected in the design statements at all and nor is NZTA guidance. These things can't simply be ignored so surely it's better that they are dealt with now than introduced later in the process. To not do so risks raising the community's expectations and then creating the sense that the community's wishes have been over-ruled by technocrats. Surely it's better to challenge the community up front to take ownership of the fact that we live within a regulated environment, and mostly for very good reasons.
For example, the sustainable transport hierarchy is central to the council's Urban Growth Plan and Low Carbon Capital Plan and both plans make it absolutely clear that walking, cycling and public transport will be prioritised over motor vehicles. Mayor Justin Lester went as far as saying in a recent blog The sustainability opportunity – a Wellington story that "we’ve identified getting people out of private fossil fuel powered motor vehicles as a top priority. That’s why we’re supporting walking and cycling and public transport". That's the Mayor of Wellington talking about Wellington City Council policy and Island Bay is not an autonomous local fiefdom. I also know for a fact that prioritising walking and cycling was in the feedback received from the community because I included it in my own online submission and mentioned it several times during workshops but for whatever reason it didn't filter through to the design statements.
We’ve identified getting people out of private fossil fuel powered motor vehicles as a top priority
Maybe this will somehow get resolved in the drop-in sessions but on this particular issue it's my view that the participatory part of the Love the Bay process (the workshops) has been brought to a premature conclusion. The need to take into account local and central government policy and guidance is something that the community should have been given the opportunity to discuss and take ownership of. For example, a great discussion topic at a workshop could have been "should the design of The Parade help to grow active transport? If so, how?", or "how can the design of The Parade encourage users to make sustainable transport choices?". I think these kind of questions would have given the community the opportunity to explore some of the challenges that councillors and council officers face in balancing the general interest (or 'the greater good') against very specific local and individual interests.
Responsibility for the community not getting that opportunity sits with the Love the Bay syndicate and in particular, the Island Bay Residents Association (IBRA). It was IBRA who included "no more workshops" in their recent list of demands to the council and it's clear that they want to see the Love the Bay process concluded as soon as possible. So when the technical experts and council officers are inevitably forced to align "the community's wishes" with council policy and NZTA guidelines before making their recommendations to councillors I expect to hear nothing but silence from IBRA.
The Island Bay Cycleway has now been in place for over a year
In my view there's also a bias in the design statements towards what could be called a traditional road layout. There are numerous references to the road, the footpath, pedestrian crossings and even parking but not a single mention of the cycleway or dedicated cycling infrastructure (unless you count bike parking). This is despite the fact that the current cycleway has now been in place for well over a year and even the half-arsed, on-road, painted bike lanes that previously existed along sections of The Parade appear to have been forgotten. It seems that the default layout between private property boundaries is assumed to be footpath > parking > road > parking > footpath and that anything else is a 'nice to have'. Whether it was intended or not the implication is that some elements of the built environment for transport are not negotiable but others, like cycling infrastructure, are.
It's also noticeable that there's more detail in the design statements around the specific needs of motorists and pedestrians compared to cyclists. For example, there's a statement that "footpaths are wide enough for two adults and a dog to walk side by side". That's lovely, but there's no acknowledgement that cyclists might ever want to do the same thing, with or without a dog. In fact, the only specific mentions of cycling in the context of the design objective "The Parade accommodates all current and future users" are "children may cycle on the footpath" and "faster cyclists who prefer to ride on the road". You'll notice that in both those situations the implication is that the cyclist can be accommodated as a 'guest' in somebody else's 'space'. It's as if cycling, in and of itself, simply isn't considered a valid and viable mode of travel, and certainly not one worth dedicating any space to.
I also have some concerns about this design statement, which in my view is too simplistic and not consistent with current NZTA guidance about when separation is needed:
There is clear separation between fast moving things, slow moving things, and parked things (motorists and fast cyclists / slow cyclists and pedestrians / parked cars).
This statement assumes the need for separation is associated only with the relative speed of the different actors. While relative speed is important at least two other factors should also be considered; vulnerability and traffic volumes. It should be clear to anyone that pedestrians and cyclists are both vulnerable road users. NZTA's Road Safety Audit Procedures for Projects certainly treats them that way and according to those procedures a pedestrian or cyclist hit by a car travelling at 50km/h has an 80% (approx.) chance of being killed, which is far higher than someone travelling in a car.
The design statement is also isn't clear about what "clear separation" means. Is a painted on-road bike lane considered clear separation? Or does it mean physical separation, using parked cars or some other form of barrier? The key factors in NZTA guidance on when cyclists should be completely separated from traffic are traffic speed and traffic volume. Did you know that the traffic volumes and speed along almost the entirety of The Parade (ranging from 7,000 - 11,000 vehicles per day) mean that under NZTA's criteria the physical separation of cyclists from motor traffic is needed?
While this design statement might accurately reflect what came through the public feedback I think it is a great example of how "the community's wishes" ultimately have to be moderated against technical expertise. As I've already pointed out I think it's a shame that the community weren't given the opportunity to participate in these types of discussion in the workshops but so be it. I think this particular design statement needs to be re-written and that's one message I'll definitely be taking to the drop-in sessions. I also hope and trust that the professional designers and engineers who will now be taking this process forward are well aware of their responsibilities in this regard.
Let's also not forget that Love the Bay has already been probably the longest, deepest and most expensive council consultation in years. Despite being very well advertised participation in the workshops represents about 4% of Island Bay residents, so we need to be very careful about extrapolating "the community's wishes" from this process anyway. It will be very interesting to see what attendance at the drop-in sessions is like and perhaps the promise of actually seeing some designs on paper will prove more enticing to some people. Please do come along if you can and encourage other friends and family to do so. If you can't make the drop in sessions, there will be other opportunities to give feedback on the Love the Bay website and elsewhere in the community.