In her opinion piece in The Dominion Post on February 17 Councillor Nicola Young argued that cycle lanes are a good idea but must be based on sound planning. She's right of course, but in the case of the Island Bay cycleway the planning has been done. What we need from the council now is action.
At the extraordinary council meeting on February 3 a couple of major obstacles to implementing Stage 1 of the Island Bay to City Cycle Route were cleared out of the way. The first was the issue around all councillors having a vote on cycling, which was resolved by moving the decision-making on cycling from the Transport & Urban Development Committee to the full council. The second was the lack of a master plan for cycling in Wellington. A draft master plan is now being developed and is due to be finalised by April in time to be included in the council's Long Term Plan in June. A remaining issue is whether starting work on the Island Bay cycleway needs to be delayed until the master plan is actually finished.
It is widely accepted that Island Bay will be an important part of the Wellington cycle network. According to the 2013 census Island Bay already has one of the highest numbers of cyclists riding to work in Wellington, in both absolute and percentage terms. A cycleway through Island Bay has to go via Wakefield Park and then connect to the rest of the route into the city from there. No amount of additional planning, analysis and consultation is going to change that simple fact.
Critics have claimed that the Island Bay cycleway risks becoming an "orphan" because Stage 2 through Berhampore and Newtown will be much more difficult and, according to some, may never be built. That is an extremely pessimistic view and sounds disturbingly like a self-fulfilling prophecy when it shared by some of those around the council table. It also ignores the fact that Island Bay is not an "orphan" now - hundreds of commuter cyclists already use the Island Bay-Berhampore-Newtown route to get to the CBD in the morning. The proposed cycleway is about improving the route, not creating one from scratch, with the intention of getting more people to commute by bike than currently do.
When Councillor Young describes Island Bay as being the "end of the line" in commuting terms she's got it the wrong way round. Places like Island Bay, Miramar and Karori are actually the "start of the line". The vast majority of people going to work by bike start their journey in the suburbs and travel into the CBD. You clearly won't get more people commuting by bike if you only improve the infrastructure in the CBD, which is the mid-point of their daily round-trip. At the very least you need to strike a sensible balance between projects focused on the routes coming in from the suburbs and projects in the CBD.
A discussion about prioritising cycleways is also not just about commuter cyclists. Suburban cycleways make it much safer and easier for residents to get around their local area, including children, the elderly and other people not comfortable riding on the road. There are over 1,000 children under the age of 10 living in Island Bay so when Councillor Young refers to the Island Bay cycleway as a "cycleway to nowhere" she dismisses their needs as being irrelevant. This is also why the kind of data-driven approach to prioritising cycleways being advocated by Councillor Young is flawed. The biggest beneficiaries of protected cycleways are the very people who don't feature in existing cycling datasets because they either don't cycle at all or don't get counted when they do. Data can be helpful, but it is certainly not the full picture.
There are some clear benefits to be gained from implementing Stage 1 straight away. Island Bay is one of the best places in Wellington to try protected cycle lanes for the first time. Because The Parade is wide, flat and straight the implementation is low risk and relatively low cost. When Island Bay is completed it will then inform and improve the planning of the rest of the network, while also lowering the risks. By allowing Wellingtonians to actually see a protected cycleway working in practice it will help make future consultations a much more informed and positive process. Island Bay will be the show home of the Wellington protected cycleway network.
Wellington City Council split the development of the full Island Bay to City Cycle Route into four discrete stages precisely because they all have specific issues that can't be resolved at the same time. Options for Stage 3 from John Street to Memorial Park depend on the development of bus rapid transit routes and options for Stage 4 from Memorial Park into the CBD depend on the outcome of the Basin Reserve flyover debacle, among other issues. Some of these issues might not be completely resolved for several years. It seems ridiculous to try and use what was actually a good planning decision as an excuse to delay the one section of the full network that is ready to go right now and doesn't have any critical dependencies with the rest of the network plan.
Before the full council meeting on February 25 councillors need to ask themselves whether there is more to be gained from delaying Island Bay than proceeding? If so, what is it? Nobody wants to see more delays just for their own sake, or because of other agendas, so if councillors don’t proceed with Island Bay they need to very clear with the public about their reasons. Actions speak louder than words and whether they mean to or not they are currently sending signals that they don’t really care about cycling and any flimsy excuse to procrastinate longer will do. Starting the Island Bay cycleway will be tangible evidence that they are committed to cycling and cementing Wellington's reputation as one of the world's most liveable cities.