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!
I attended Wellington City Council's City Strategy Committee meeting on Thursday morning to talk about their new proposal for funding The Parade upgrade by rolling it into a $32 million integrated plan for the southern suburbs, including the Newtown Connections project.
Here's what I had to say:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning in support of the Southern Connection Cycleway Development paper.
I'll get straight to the point - I think the funding opportunity presented in this paper is simply too good to ignore despite some reservations about the delays it will cause to starting work on The Parade upgrade.
When I first read the paper I was disappointed that it meant work not starting for another year, although I'm glad to see that you are planning some much needed remedial work in the meantime.
However, on further reading I decided that on balance the opportunity to roll The Parade upgrade into an integrated plan for the southern suburbs is the right way to go.
The Island Bay cycleway was always intended to be just the first stage of a safe and comfortable cycling route all the way into the CBD.
So apart from the obvious financial benefit what's pleasing to see about this proposal is Island Bay again being recognised as part of a network plan.
What's even more pleasing is the recognition that cycling networks are not just about commuter routes to and from the CBD but also the inter-suburb connections.
Largely because of geography Island Bay, Berhampore, Newtown and Mt Cook are intimately connected and good transport connections between them are really important to the people who live there.
My sons are 10 and 12 and they often ride their bikes from Island Bay up to Berhampore to visit their Grandma. The first part of the journey along the cycleway is sweet. The second part is a nightmare and so they ride on the pavement.
As a family one of our most frequent destinations is Newtown. That's a journey of a just a few kilometres that we would love to bike more often and which is exactly the type of short, local journey you should trying to encourage people to get out of their cars for.
Island Bay absolutely should be brought back into a strategic business case for the southern suburbs and aligned with the Newtown Connections project.
I do think there are some risks with this approach:
An obvious one is that the extended time-frame provides more opportunity for attempts at re-litigation.
There's also the risk that NZTA don't come to the party.
But with both of those risks I think whether they actually turn into issues is entirely within your power to control.
If you are divided over this plan then it's a self-fulfilling prophesy that these risks will become issues. If you are united they won't.
Even in respect to NZTA's involvement I think that if you are united behind this plan then NZTA are far more likely to come on board. If you're divided that's less likely.
So yes, there are some risks to be managed. However, there's also some really good people among the council officers in this room and there's some really good people around this council table. The bottom line for me is that I trust you.
I'm pleased to report that councillors supported the proposal unanimously.
I was also very impressed by the comments made in support of this by councillors. It was a positive, well informed and forward-looking discussion and the most united I have ever seen the council be around anything Island Bay Cycleway related. It really feels like we are all starting to understand what we are collectively trying to achieve.
Read the council's media release here: Council to work with the Government on walking and cycling
Wellington City Council have made a major announcement regarding the planned upgrade of The Parade in Island Bay.
The good news is that it is now proposed that NZTA will fund 75% of the cost of the upgrade by including it in an integrated plan for high-quality biking and walking connections from the south coast to the city. Mayor Justin Lester says "with the new government’s policy statement on transport, we have the opportunity to make more improvements in more suburbs with the same amount of ratepayer funding [approximately $8 million]. By partnering with NZTA under the new Government Policy Statement, we have the opportunity to fund up to $32 million worth of changes in these areas by 2021, with the Council paying 25 percent and NZTA paying 75 percent”. $32 million is a massive investment into improving transport options in the southern suburbs.
NZTA are coming on board with a major funding boost for the upgrade of The Parade
The bad news is that it will mean a further delay of a year before any work starts on The Parade because the upgrade becomes dependent on the Newtown Connections project. However, Wellington City Council are proposing to do remedial work in the meantime which will include removing all the ghost markings and resurfacing the section of The Parade between Dee St and Tamar St.
Councillor Sarah Free says "the key thing is that by delaying significant changes to the Island Bay cycleway until planning in Berhampore, Newtown and Mt Cook has been completed, we can potentially achieve a better, more coordinated result. It’s always been planned that the Island Bay facilities would form the southern end of a wider southern bike network. We’re now almost at a point where those wider connections can be agreed.”
Although it's disappointing to be facing yet more delay before the upgrade begins it's really hard to see how the city council could possibly turn down the possibility of such a substantial offer of funding from NZTA. In fact, it would be financially irresponsible not to integrate the two projects. It's also great to see NZTA finally recognising the Island Bay Cycleway as being part of a bigger network picture. Props to the current government for creating the policy settings for that to happen.
Read more about the announcement here:
Wellington City Council email sent to stakeholders
Wellington City Council media release
Wellington City Council City Strategy Committee paper Southern Connection Cycleway Development - Funding Opportunities (pages 15-19)
In related news in November Wellington City Council will also be be seeking community feedback on packages of options involving different routes and changes to streets in Newtown, Berhampore and Mt Cook. Read more about that here.
A recent Dominion Post story blaming the cycleway for a dairy closing was long on opinions and short on facts
I was sad to read the story in the Dominion Post a couple of weeks ago about another Island Bay dairy set to close amid claims of cycleway parking issues. I don't want to speculate on the specific reasons why this particular dairy might be closing because I honestly don't know what combination of factors led the owners to make this difficult decision. However, I do want to talk about the reporting of it and the many questions it raises.
The Mersey St dairy is set to close amid claims of a lack of parking. Photo credit: GoogleMaps
In the original print and online story the Dom Post attributes just about all of the blame to the cycleway. Admittedly, that seems to be because that's what the owners think. The owners, the owners of the dairy across the road and the President of the Island Bay Residents Association Vicki Greco are all quoted expressing pretty much the same view that the cycleway, and the associated impact on parking, have made things difficult for businesses. The story attempts to provide some context by including comments from a retail strategist about how dairies are now a marginal business and that around the country dairies are becoming less relevant.
There's one very important piece of context that the Dom Post left out, however: the parking in front of this dairy on The Parade is due to be reinstated. This isn't recent information either. The reinstatement of parking outside dairies was part of the Mayor's compromise solution that was approved 13-1 by Wellington City councillors in September 2017. Collette Devlin, the reporter who co-wrote this latest story, wrote at the time that Wellington Mayor Justin Lester proposes new solution for Island Bay cycleway, but without mentioning dairies. The information was also included in the council's April 2018 update on The Parade redesign which Collette Devlin also wrote about but again, without mentioning dairies.
The parking immediately outside the Mersey St dairy is due to be reinstated. Photo credit: WCC
To not mention that the parking is being reinstated seems like a pretty significant omission to make from a story that is about parking outside dairies and makes the story quite mis-leading. One of the dairy owners is actually quoted as saying "no-one was listening to dairy owners' concerns" which obviously isn't true. The reporter has either twice failed to note the information that parking outside dairies is being reinstated, or worse, knew the parking was being reinstated and decided not to mention that in the story.
It's certainly true that the parking hasn't been reinstated yet, and may have had an impact on business in the meantime. However, it's ironic that it's the Island Bay Residents Association who are currently threatening court action to stop The Parade redesign from happening, even threatening to take out an injunction if the council starts work. The residents association must be extremely confident of an all-or-nothing "paint it back" victory if they are prepared to delay the dairies getting their parking back.
The owners of the Mersey St dairy have made it very clear what their feelings about the cycleway are. Photo credit: Fairfax
There are other concerns with the story. The specific context for this dairy is that it is one of five along a 1 km stretch of The Parade from Medway St to Reef St. That's a lot of competition. It also faces competition from the Empire Cinema (which re-opened in 2015) and Island Bay New World (who expanded the size of their carpark in 2016). The owners of this dairy have also made their feelings about the cycleway very clear and very public, more so than any other dairy on The Parade. Has this inadvertently affected custom from the more progressive side of Island Bay? None of this was explored in the story.
This dairy is also an earthquake-prone building and was yellow-stickered in 2014. What impact on business has this had? In fact, 19 businesses along The Parade are in yellow-stickered buildings, including 4 out 5 dairies and the majority of the Island Bay Village Heritage Area. The potential impact of that on Island Bay seems like a pretty big story, in and of itself. Again, none of this was explored.
In the video accompanying the story two business owners from the Island Bay Village shops are interviewed. Both of them express concerns about the removal of car parks in the shopping village, which is not going to happen. Retaining the angle-parking there is actually a key element of the Mayor's compromise solution, which in reality is Option D from Tonkin & Taylor's original recommendations with a few tweaks. The detail of the agreed solution has been known for the past year and the reporter absolutely should know about this. Why was this not pointed out, either in the video itself or in the story? It brings to mind that quote doing the rounds on social media recently regarding journalism: “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the f**king window and find out which is true.”
The agreed solution for The Parade includes retaining all the angle parking at the shops. Why do some businesses not seem to know this?
Photo credit: WCC
It actually beggars belief that business owners could on the one hand make so much fuss about the perceived impact on the cycleway on their business but on the other hand still be ignorant of the details of what's actually been agreed. It also seems a little hypocritical for any business owner to be complaining about the safety of the cycleway while operating out of a yellow-stickered building, which both of the business owners interviewed in the video are doing. There are plenty of businesses around town in earthquake-prone buildings, of course, but it's interesting how people can have quite different views about what is or isn't 'safe'. If you're going to express an opinion on that publicly maybe you should get your own house (or business) in order first?
Most of the businesses in the Island Bay shopping village are in earthquake prone buildings. Photo credit: https://epbr.building.govt.nz/
On 27 August, five days after the story was originally published, I emailed Eric Janssen, the Chief News Director (Wellington) for stuff.co.nz including dompost.co.nz and The Dominion Post. I told him I thought the article was mis-leading and asked him to consider the above points. Over the next 10 days there was a bit of email to and fro that also included Warwick Rasmussen, the Wellington News Director. I won't go into all the detail of the emails but during that time the Dom Post moved from a largely defensive position to one where on Wednesday 5 September they finally added to the online version of the story the information that the parks outside the dairy are being reinstated. A minor victory, and a little bit late, but something at least. Eric also offered me the chance to write a Letter to the Editor, which I declined due to the length of time that already elapsed and my feeling that the Dom Post should really take ownership of correcting its mistakes, not outsource it to others.
More importantly, I asked Eric to please make sure all staff writing about the cycleway in the future are aware of the basic facts including the detail of the upgrade agreed by council, which he agreed to do. I sincerely hope they do up their game because an article as mis-leading as this one only contributes to a negative perception of the cycleway overall and the whole issue continues to roll on in a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy of doom and gloom. It's bad enough that there are still residents of Island Bay who are ignorant about what's actually planned for The Parade, let alone professional journalists (who many residents rely on to get their information, of course).
In an effort to retrieve something more constructive from the wreckage of this story I also suggested that the Dom Post could consider following up on some of the many questions that it raises:
At the end of the day the Island Bay cycleway is either an important issue or it isn't. If it's important enough to be to complaining about the impact on your business, or raising money from the community to go to court, or writing stories in the local newspaper about, then surely it's not asking too much to expect everybody to put a little bit of effort into being properly informed. Just get your facts right please.
If you haven't checked out the full detail of the planned upgrade yet, please do: The Parade redesign
This is an open letter sent to the Island Bay Resident's Association's lawyer Con Anastasiou on 26 June 2018.
Kia ora Con,
I understand you are acting on behalf of the Island Bay Residents Association (IBRA) who are seeking a judicial review of Wellington City Council's decision-making in regard to the Island Bay Cycleway. I'm writing to you as an IBRA member in order to raise some concerns that I think you need to be aware of before you advise the IBRA committee about whether or not to proceed. Full disclosure - I am a supporter of the cycleway and over the past four years have written about it extensively at Island Bay Cycle Way. I have already written specifically about the judicial review here: Why I support the judicial review (please don't be fooled by the tongue-in-cheek title).
My first concern is that the IBRA committee have not consulted with the wider membership before embarking on this course of action. There was no indication at all via email or Facebook about what they were planning. It may have been discussed at the two meetings they held between their AGM in October 2017 and announcing their intent to pursue a judicial review in May (I did not attend either of those meetings in February 2018 & April 2018) but they have certainly not gone to any great lengths to be open and consultative in their decision-making. I'm also concerned that by taking this action they are stepping outside the objects of the association, in particular object d) to ensure all ideas and viewpoints can be represented, and object f) to represent Island Bay but not to make decisions on behalf of Island Bay residents.
Another concern is that as IBRA's lawyer you are fully aware of the amount of information that already sits in the public domain regarding the council's decision-making process. IBRA's 25 June 2018 email update to members states that "At present the WCC is stalling the process. WCC have added another 20 working days to supply the information requested under the Official Information Request (Logima) [sic]. They have also stated we must pay $4k for this information." It concerns me that any unnecessary costs are incurred by IBRA on this exercise (including legal fees and LGOIMA charges) when they are currently collecting money from the public to pay for it. It's my belief that there is already more than enough information publicly available to enable you to give advice to the IBRA committee on whether or not to proceed that is consistent with your professional obligations.
I would greatly appreciate you confirming by return email that you are aware of and have read the following:
A simple Google search will also establish the full depth and breadth of consultation efforts by the council over the course of 4 years.
I am aware of several recent high-profile failures by community groups to overturn similar decisions and that the High Court will set a high threshold for this decision to be reviewed. In particular I note the recent decision regarding Chamberlain Park in Auckland in which the Court's decision clearly stated "The approach taken by the Albert-Eden Local Board (AELB) was neither perfunctory or a mere formality. It engaged in a robust process of consultation where multiple interest groups participated in an open and at times hotly contested debate concerning the best use of Chamberlain Park. Moreover, and crucially, consultation must not be equated with negotiation. The process embarked on was not one which had as its object arriving at a solution which represented some form of consensus. There was no requirement for the AELB to accept the views and preferences or even reach a compromise with those who sought the maintenance of the status quo."
You should also know that as an IBRA member who supports the cycleway and opposes the IBRA committee's current course of action I intend to support the council in defending themselves against these proceedings. Despite my blog post on the judicial review linked above I am very concerned about this review going any further. My hope is that the IBRA committee receives fully informed and professional advice from you that is consistent with the Law Society's client care requirements and minimises the costs (both money and time) that IBRA and the rest of the community are potentially exposed to.
Thank you for your consideration of these concerns.
Here's why the judicial review of the cycleway is an absolutely terrible idea that I support anyway
As recently reported in the Dominion Post Wellington City Council has received a letter from a lawyer acting for the Island Bay Residents Association (IBRA), indicating the group intends to take judicial review proceedings over the Island Bay Cycleway. Basically, IBRA want to take the council to court because, in IBRA President Vicki Greco's words, "the community is not happy with the final outcome". Ms Greco told Radio New Zealand that she could not comment on the details of any legal proceedings but that "the community had been totally ignored throughout the entire process - despite being clear about what it wanted to have happen".
Despite being 2 years old and with an upgrade already agreed IBRA want a judicial review of the cycleway
What's a judicial review?
A judicial review is a legal test of the decision-making process of a public body and whether the decision-maker went outside their legal powers in making the decision. Usually the judge will focus on whether the decision-maker followed the process set down in law for making the decision. There's a good explanation of what's involved in a judicial review on the Community Law website. The most important thing to understand is:
"The judge usually won’t look at whether the decision-maker made the “right” decision, but will look instead at the way the decision was made – for example, whether you were given the chance to put your case, and whether the decision-maker considered all the relevant factors. The court’s role isn’t to substitute its own decision for that of the relevant agency or official, rather it’s to make sure the decision-maker acted within their legal powers – in particular, that they followed the process that the law requires."
Even if IBRA's legal challenge is 'successful' the court won't make a new or different decision:
"The judge won’t be able to change the decision just because they would have made a different decision if it had been up to them originally. And even if the judge does cancel the original decision, they may simply send the issue back to the original decision-maker for them to make a fresh decision – the decision-maker could then just make the same decision after correcting any problems with their process that the judge identified."
A court can't make WCC put the cycleway back on the road but it can tell them to re-consider their decision
Can IBRA win?
As pointed out to the Dominion Post by Southern Ward councillor Fleur Fitzsimons IBRA has the right to test the legality of the decision-making around the cycleway. However, as noted by ex-Southern Ward councillor Paul Eagle we've been here before. "IBRA had previously sought legal advice on a judicial review and were told it would be expensive and not the right process to get the right outcome, he said. He was surprised the group had decided to go down the same route".
IBRA's position seems to be based almost entirely on the belief that consultation with the community is the only thing that council should have taken into account and that having consulted the council has not done 'what the community wanted'. In Vicki Greco's own words "the community is not happy with the final outcome". Setting aside the fact that it's questionable how much of the community IBRA actually represent, the admission that it's the outcome that IBRA are really unhappy about is a big problem for them. The court will only be interested in the process, not the outcome.
IBRA's Vicki Greco and Jane Byrne shaking hands with then Deputy Mayor Justin Lester, Councillor Paul Eagle and Cycle Aware Wellington's Ron Beernink at the start of the Love the Bay process (photo: DAVID WHITE/ FAIRFAX NZ)
Another problem for IBRA is that since the last time they investigated the judicial review option there's been the Love the Bay process. This was a long and expensive consultation process that included setting up a pop-up shop and four rounds of workshops. The process will more than satisfy the council's legal obligation to consult. The Love the Bay process was set up in direct response to IBRA's concerns and they were also part of the governing syndicate. The sweeping statement about "the community being totally ignored throughout the entire process" is demonstrably untrue and the council's lawyers will have no problem proving that in court. The fact that it was IBRA who also demanded the Love the Bay process be prematurely ended won't look good in court either.
IBRA President Vicki Greco and WCC's Phil Becker are all smiles outside the Love the Bay pop-up shop (photo: KEVIN STENT/ FAIRFAX NZ)
The council (and the court) will also put much greater weight on "whether the decision-maker considered all the relevant factors" than IBRA are doing. For example, Tonkin & Taylor's post-consultation design report made it clear that roadside bike lanes were not a suitable option for The Parade because they did not conform with NZTA and other international guidance on when separated cycleways are appropriate. IBRA might want to play-down the relevance of that but the court won't. In fact, if the court criticises the council for anything it might be that the roadside Option A (and its bastard child Option E) never should have been considered in the decision-making at all. Don't forget that the only reason Option A was even in Tonkin & Taylor's report was because councillors insisted that "an option similar to the original layout" should be included. That's the kind of political interference in the process that councillors were warned to stay away from in Morrison Low's review of Wellington City Council's Urban Cycleways Programme.
If the advice that IBRA received back in 2015 was that a judicial review was not the right way to proceed it's even more likely to be the advice they get now.
So why are they going ahead?
It's a good question. An article in the Cook Strait News (page 10) sheds some light on what IBRA's real motivation for seeking a judicial review might be. In the IBRA President’s own words their preferred outcome is that the council “settles with IBRA out of court”. So what IBRA seem to be doing is asking for a judicial review of a decision-making process as a tactic to force the council into negotiations with them (nobody else) about re-litigating the same decision-making process. If that's the case it's not only undemocratic but hypocritical. The council can’t and won’t come to any kind of behind-closed-doors agreement with IBRA to change a decision that was made by a 13-1 majority of councillors. If they did it would (ironically) leave them exposed to a new Ombudsman’s complaint or judicial review about a lack of proper process, and one that is far more likely to succeed.
It’s quite surprising that IBRA would so blatantly show their hand like this. IBRA have a democratic and legal right to seek a judicial review but the council should absolutely call IBRA’s bluff and say “ok then, see you in court”. If it does get to court the fact that IBRA have made their motives so clear will count against them. It’s obvious that IBRA don’t really think they can win and the court won’t appreciate being used as a bargaining chip. It will also affect the council’s and the court’s thinking around costs. Citizens should be able to test the legality of council decision-making without the fear of huge awards of costs against them but this situation is different. There’s already been a long and expensive consultation process and IBRA are being quite open about using the threat of a judicial review as a negotiating tactic. If it somehow gets to court that makes the review itself look vexatious. The council should seek to recover costs and the court should award them.
Love the Bay was a long and expensive consultation process (photo credit: Love the Bay, WCC)
There's also questions about IBRA's fundraising towards the cost of the review. If the review gets all the way to court it is highly unlikely it will be successful and highly unlikely that anybody who donates will get any money back. In fact, an award of costs against IBRA could bankrupt them, although as an incorporated society no-one will be personally liable. If IBRA don't have any real intention of going to court then I don't think they have made that anywhere near clear enough in their request for donations. It's also not clear what will happen to any left-over money they've collected. When questioned about this on their Facebook page the replies from the page admin have ranged from evasive to antagonistic. Unlike the last attempt at a judicial review they are asking for donations directly into a bank account rather than a Givealittle page, which just adds to the sense of a lack of transparency.
I'm an IBRA member (I'm on their mailing list at least) so I also know that the committee did not consult with the wider membership on this. There was no indication at all via email or Facebook about what they were thinking although it may have been discussed at the two meetings they have held since their AGM back in October 2017 (I did not attend either of the meetings in February 2018 & April 2018). In reality the strategy of seeking a judicial review was agreed by the dozen or so members of the IBRA committee & then (maybe) endorsed by the 50 or so members they usually get to their meetings. Which is ironic when a perceived lack of proper consultation is a major part of their ongoing beef with the council.
Why I support the judicial review
Funnily enough, getting more clarity about IBRA's rather dubious motives for seeking a judicial review makes me feel quite supportive of it actually getting to court. That would be much more transparent and democratic than any kind of out of court 'settlement'. It would also bring a much needed conclusion to the whole saga and I'm quite confident about what the outcome will be - the court will confirm that the consultation process met legal requirements and take no further action. I just hope that IBRA and anyone donating to their cause know what they are getting themselves into.
24 May: This post has been updated to include the correct link to questions and answers on IBRA's Facebook page about how the review is being funded.
What the Southern Ward by-election results tell us about the true size of opposition to the cycleway
As you will all know by now Fleur Fitzsimons is the new Wellington city councillor for Southern Ward. Congratulations Fleur!
The election results show that it was a hard-fought election (perhaps a little too hard-fought at times) with Laurie Foon coming a close second. This was an impressive result for an independent candidate. Vicki Greco came third with a solid bloc of support as expected.
The election had been framed by some as another informal referendum on the Island Bay cycleway. As such it was heartening to see the two most progressive candidates finish first and second. Fleur Fitzsimons and Laurie Foon have both been clear about their support for the Island Bay cycleway compromise solution and were rewarded with 59% of the first preference votes between them (2,155 votes for Fitzsimons and 1,723 votes for Foon). Vicki Greco, the candidate who was most vehemently opposed to the cycleway, picked up 24% of the first preference votes (1,590 votes). By the 6th STV iteration, when it was down to the final three candidates, the split was Fitzsimons 40%, Foon 32% (72% in total) and Greco 28%.
Fleur Fitzsimons (right) & Laurie Foon (second right) finished first & second in the Southern Ward by-election respectively.
Image via Living Wage Aotearoa.
While it's fair to paint this result as a solid 'win' for the progressives a couple of things need to be remembered. The first is that turnout was only 30%. That's low for a local body election but not uncommon for a by-election, especially right before Christmas. While elections serve a necessary purpose in getting candidates elected into roles, they are not random surveys and with such a low turnout the results can't be extrapolated to the entire population. The result is indicative of the entire population, at best. It also needs to be said that although she finished third Vicki Greco has done OK. 1.5k first preference votes is not to be sniffed at and the majority of those votes probably came from Island Bay.
When I first saw that Vicki had secured 1,590 first preference votes I thought that number seemed very familiar. It turns out it's almost exactly the same number of Island Bay residents who voted for the cycleway to be removed in the Island Bay Residents Association's infamous survey of March 2016, which was 1,559. IBRA's survey was another non-random survey, so the result can't safely be extrapolated to the whole population (despite the fact that IBRA tried to do exactly that) but it's interesting that the absolute number of people who 'voted' for the cycleway to be put back in the IBRA survey is almost exactly the same number of people who voted for Vicki Greco in this by-election. Of course, this means assuming every single vote Vicki got in the by-election was from Island Bay so the actual number could be lower.
Another important indicator is the results of the city council's recent consultation on the cycleway which are analysed in this report. There were 1,991 submissions from Island Bay in the consultation, 309 from The Parade and 1,687 from the rest of Island Bay (page 12). This is another non-random survey so once again the results can't be extrapolated to the whole population but according to the graph showing first preferences on page 21 90% of respondents from The Parade and 70% of respondents from the rest of Island Bay wanted a roadside cycleway as their first preference [Note 1], which adds up to 1,458 people! [Note 2].
While all three sources of evidence mentioned above have their flaws and can only be treated as indicative, taken together they provide fairly compelling evidence that there's around 1,500 people living in Island Bay who are actively opposed to the cycleway [Note 3]. That's about 20% of the population of 7,000 or around 30% of the adult population of just over 5,000. For that number to be any higher means assuming that there is a bloc of cycleway opposition who have never spoken out about it. For example, for opposition to the cycleway to be as high as the 80% of Island Bay residents which is sometimes claimed would mean that there are around 2,500 adults in Island Bay who are opposed to the cycleway but who didn't participate in the IBRA survey, didn't make a submission in the consultation and didn't vote for Vicki in the by-election [Note 4]. That simply isn't credible.
However, what's interesting about the 20% number is that although it's a minority it's still a significant minority. As such, it's not hard to see how a group of 1,500 people, representing 20% of the population, could easily believe themselves to be a much bigger number, maybe even a majority. After all, many of these people will be known to each other, moving in the same social circles, connected on social media etc. They will be talking to each other on a daily basis and probably correct in observing that "just about everyone I talk to is against the cycleway". 20% of the population of a community seems like just the right number of people to create the classic 'bubble' or 'echo chamber'. At the end of the day though, it's still a minority and having based pretty much their whole campaign on simplistic, all-or-nothing 'majority wins' rhetoric it's probably time that cycleway opponents accepted that. As previously explained here and here the truth is that the vast majority of Island Bay either support the cycleway or just don't care.
Note 1. It is important to note that the consultation was never set up to be a referendum. Using the first preferences in this way is a bastardisation of the methodology in order to roughly establish the absolute number of people who were 'against the cycleway' if the consultation had been a simplistic first-past-the-post vote.
Note 2. (309 x 0.9) + (1,687 x 0.7) = 1,458
Note 3. There are other sources of evidence but they are even less robust and none of them disprove the theory that the maximum number of Island Bay residents actively opposed to the cycleway is approximately 1,500. For example, 1,365 people signed this petition against the cycleway but many of them will not be from Island Bay. Another example is the 2016 local body elections where anti-cycleway candidate Brendan Bonner got 800 first preference votes and 1,269 votes in total, picking up a large number of 2nd preference votes from Paul Eagle but still finishing a distant third behind pro-cycleway candidate David Lee's 2,475 first preference votes and 3,230 votes in total.
Note 4. 80% of 5,000 is 4,000. 4,000 - 1,500 = 2,500
Godwin's law reared its ugly head in Island Bay this weekend, but not for the first time
It's been hard to avoid the fall-out from the Island Bay Residents Association's protest march at the weekend. You can read The Dominion Post's report on the march here and Radio New Zealand's report here. Wellington City Council also issued a correction of some incorrect reporting here.
Unfortunately, at some point between the end of the march and early evening Godwin's law came into effect and as reported by the Dominion Post a Nazi sign taken to the protest was put on by-election candidate Fleur Fitzsimon's fence. The story was also picked up by the New Zealand Herald 'Return of the Third Reich' sign put on Wellington Council candidate's fence, the Otago Daily Times Council candidate victim of Nazi slur and Newshub Anti-cycleway protester compares opponent to the Nazis which hardly seems like the kind of publicity the residents association were looking for.
I obviously agree with Fleur that this was a stupid and disappointing act. The sign shouldn't have been on the march in the first place, especially not when it was being carried by the husband of the Chair of the Island Bay Residents Association. It's disturbing that apparently not one other person at the march thought that the sign was inappropriate and should maybe go in the bin.
However, I see things a little differently to Fleur when she says we need to "bring the community back together". I've said many times that I don't think the cycleway divided Island Bay, it simply revealed the diversity that was already here. A desire to "bring the community back together" could be seen to imply that it was united in the first place. I don't think it was united so much as it was unchallenged, although debates about the seawall, marine reserve etc showed some cracks. A desire to "bring the community back together" could also imply that diversity of views is a 'problem' that then needs to be fixed. But people should be able to disagree. In fact, it can be very healthy to get outside your bubble and be challenged by different views
I see the real problem here as one of civics and civility i.e. it's why and how we are disagreeing with each other that's the issue. First, too many people don't seem to understand and respect the way local government decision-making actually works. Second, we don't always seem able to engage in a debate in a civilised way. That's what we really need to fix and that's where we need to see greater community leadership.
And this is where it gets a bit tricky. Fleur is right that "this kind of messaging is totally unacceptable" but the uncomfortable truth is that this type of rhetoric is not new. In my opinion the tone of the cycleway debate in Island Bay was established and then enabled over a number of years primarily by two people; ex-councillor and current Rongotai MP Paul Eagle and current councillor Nicola Young. Paul and Nicola both used language and tropes throughout the cycleway debate that in my view were often inflammatory and inappropriate. For example, Paul Eagle has previously used the Twitter hashtag #WCCGestapo to refer to the former Mayor, council staff and cycle advocates.
In another example Nicola Young compares the handling of the cycleway to "the Soviet occupation of Berlin after 1945". I also remember ex-councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer referring to the "Green Taliban" during one council debate on the cycleway (that one will be on YouTube).
When community leaders use language like this is it any wonder that community members feel they have license to do the same? In this particular case I suspect that Fleur, as the Labour Party candidate, is on the receiving end of some anger in the Island Bay community regarding Paul Eagle's previous behaviour. Ironically, this includes his recent vote for the cycleway compromise which has been largely seen by cycleway opponents as a betrayal (for example in this Cook Strait News story on Vicki Greco's election campaign).
So if we really want to get Island Bay back to somewhere better I think we should focus on civics and civility and not some utopian ideal of "community" where we all think and act as one homogeneous hive-mind. I suspect that's what people who want to "bring the community back together" really mean anyway. In fact, Fleur subsequently clarified her own comments:
The point is you can't repair something unless you've correctly diagnosed what the problem is in the first place. I think we need to be much more honest about what really fueled the "division and tension" in Island Bay and that includes demanding much higher standards of behaviour from our community leaders. That also includes the organisations they belong to holding them to account. I applaud Mayor Justin Lester for his unequivocal statement about the Nazi sign that "I'd expect better standards from anybody who is elected to council, or running for council, or even aspiring for council. I'm disappointed by the behaviour". However, I have to wonder why Wellington City Council and the Labour Party a) never called Paul Eagle out on his own behaviour and b) actually seem to have rewarded him for it. There's a clear double standard at work here. As long as we're demanding apologies from people perhaps a sincere apology from Paul for his own behaviour over the past few years would be in order.
For my part, I still stand behind every word I've written across the Island Bay Cycle Way website, Facebook page & Twitter, and it's all still there for public scrutiny. I've certainly disagreed with people in the past but I've always tried to do it in a respectful way with my reasons fully explained, just as I have tried to do here. But that doesn't mean I haven't screwed up at some point and it's true that I've been accused of 'social media bullying' in general terms on a number of occasions, including by Paul Eagle himself [Note 1].
The interesting thing is that I'm yet to receive a single complaint about anything specific that I've written, the accusations have always been framed more broadly as "you're a social media bully". I've had plenty of positive feedback too, including being nominated for an NZTA Bike to the Future award, so I feel like I must be doing OK overall.
Regardless, if anyone has specific examples of when they think I've over-stepped the mark then please let me know. I will definitely take any issues raised very seriously.
Paul's accusation that I have been the "catalyst for lots of hate" towards him and his family is wide open to interpretation. On the one hand he could simply be highlighting that my criticism of his position on the cycleway led to others behaving inappropriately towards him and that might even be true. A less generous interpretation is that it was an attempt to use his position of power to try and publicly shame a constituent who hasn't actually done anything other than disagree with him.
I actually had the opportunity to discuss this with Paul in person in November 2016. The meeting was very amicable and when I asked him if he seriously believed that my criticism of him was illegitimate or that I should be held responsible for others' criticism of him of course he said no. He understood that as an elected representative he should expect his position on any matter to be publicly critiqued. He agreed that although what I had written often made him feel uncomfortable that I was well within my rights to say it. That tweet is still on his timeline though.
With Southern Ward by-election voting papers due to arrive in letterboxes any day now, here's everything you need to know about the candidates (or at least pretty much everything we could easily find out).
Here's links to their official WCC profile, their Cook Strait News profile, Scoop Wellington profile (if they have one), their Facebook page and their Twitter account (if they have one).
Scoop Wellington did a great write up of the Newtown Residents Association Meet the Candidates evening which you can read here.
Cycle Aware Wellington asked the candidates some questions about active transport and cycling. You can read their responses here.
Please let me know of any other interesting links and I'll add them.
The voting period for the election is 30 November - 22 December. Results will be announced on 28 December. Make sure you vote!