One of the biggest issues in the debate about the proposed Island Bay Cycle Way (from Shorland Park to Wakefield Park) has been a lack of understanding about the real pros and cons of the cycleway. Here’s an analysis of ten of the most common myths (first published at https://www.facebook.com/IslandBayCycleWay).
#1: It's a "cycleway to nowhere"
Critics of the Island Bay Cycle Way who call it a "cycleway to nowhere" are ignoring what a key destination for recreation Wakefield Park has become, not just for Island Bay but for Wellington.
Any cycleway in Island Bay simply has to go via Wakefield Park. This fact also counters the argument that a master plan for the entire route needs to be in place first. It doesn't, and delaying Section 1 for this reason risks the entire project being bogged down in bureaucracy for years.
By connecting the two major recreation hubs of Shorland Park and Wakefield Park and enabling safe, easy cycling around Island Bay the cycleway is completely justified in itself.
#2: A master plan for the entire route is required first
This myth is really just the "cycleway to nowhere" myth by another name and the argument that counters it is essentially the same. 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 and consultation is going to change that simple fact.
The Island Bay Cycle Way will also be for everybody, not just commuters. By making it safer and easier for recreational cyclists, children and local cyclists to bike around Island Bay the cycleway is completely justified in itself.
Everybody agrees that Section 2 of the full route to the city (from Wakefield Park through Berhampore to John Street) has some real issues and a number of different options are being considered. However, the Citizen's Advisory Panel’s report confirms that the connection point with Island Bay will be via Wakefield Park.
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 Section 3 from John Street to Memorial Park depend on the development of a rapid transit bus route and options for Section 4 from Memorial Park into the CBD depend on plans for the Basin Reserve. Some of these issues might not be resolved for 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 entire route that is ready to go right now!
#3: There's been a lack of consultation
The formal consultation on the cycleway undertaken by Wellington City Council back in April/May generated 188 submissions. This compares very favourably with other WCC consultations which very rarely get more than 200 submissions. The Island Bay Cycle Way was actually the 10th largest number of submissions out of the 42 WCC consultations since Feb 2010.
However, what's really important is what has happened subsequently. First, since the formal consultation period WCC has also been running drop-in sessions and receiving a wide range of feedback that way, including on quite specific elements of the detailed design.
Second, and more significantly, the community has now totally engaged with the issue and for the last couple of months has been driving its own completely organic consultation process. Councillors have now received hundreds more emails and letters about the cycleway, plus a petition, in addition to the 188 formal submissions originally received.
Whether or not the council's formal consultation was good enough is debatable but as things stand right now it seems ridiculous for anyone to complain about a lack of consultation. Although it has not all been driven by WCC the fact is that a huge number of submissions have now been made over a 4 month period and councillors should be feeling fully informed by the next full council meeting on 27 August.
If there is a real complaint to be made about the consultation it is that one of the biggest groups likely to benefit from the cycleway - children - are largely excluded from a process which is designed by and for adults.
#4: Kerbside bike lanes are dangerous
Kerbside bike lanes are new for Wellington, but they are consistent with international best practice principles and are already being used in many places, including Christchurch. Here's four reasons why they are actually quite safe.
1. A buffer zone separates car passengers and cyclists
The lanes will be 1.8m wide to provide a safe space between parked cars and the footpath. This includes a painted buffer zone about 600mm wide and some form of marker to physically separate the lane from parked cars and remind passengers getting in and out of cars to take care.
2. There's less chance of a door being opened into a kerbside lane
The chance of a car door being opened into a kerbside lane is much lower because between 70% and 90% of car journeys are just a driver, significantly reducing the risk of a collision.
3. Cyclists in a bike lane will be travelling slower
People using the bike lane - including children - will usually be riding slower than commuter cyclists, who will probably stay on the road.
4. Most people are actually very sensible and nice
At the end of the day some basic attention and courtesy from all parties should avoid any problems and people will quickly get used to the new system. Lanes similar to this function very well overseas in busy areas with high parking usage.
#5: It's a financial risk
Earlier in the year city councillors voted unanimously to triple the cycling budget in the 2014/15 annual plan to $4.3m. The Shorland Park to Wakefield Park section of the Island Bay to City Cycle Route is estimated to cost between $773k and $1.3m. This means that even at the upper estimate the cycleway represents only 30% of the total budget set aside for cycling for the year.
$1.3m is actually less than 1% of the council's entire capital budget in the 2014/15 annual plan ($152.0m) and only 3% of the council's total capital budget dedicated to Transport ($37.7m). The truth is that when put in the context of the council's total capital spending the financial risk of this project is barely even on the radar.
In addition, the Island Bay section of the full route into the city is by far the straightest, flattest, widest and easiest section to build. By building the Island Bay section first important lessons will be learnt that can then be applied to the other, more difficult, sections of the route. This will greatly reduce the financial risk of the overall project.
Focusing purely on financial risk also ignores the many health, safety, social and economic benefits that can be expected to flow from the cycleway, many of which can also be quantified financially. The potential benefit to the community more than outweighs the small financial risks involved.
#6: Too many car parks will be lost
According to the WCC's 20 May report to the Transport and Urban Development Committee there are currently 315 (approx.) street parks along The Parade. In the original proposal 45 of those were due to be removed to make way for the cycleway, which would be a 14% reduction. Since then council officers have been working to reduce that number based on feedback from the drop-in sessions. So something like 280 street parks will still be available on The Parade after the cycleway is in place, which is 89% of the current capacity. Even after discounting the 40-50 street parks that service the Island Bay shops that leaves an average of at least 1.2 street parks per residence.
In addition, there are only around 15 out of approximately 190 residential properties on The Parade that don't already have their own off-street parking. Even assuming that every one of those 175 residences has only one off-street park (and many of them have more than that) it means that the loss of around 35 car parks is a reduction in the total parking capacity on The Parade of only 7%. This seems a very small price to pay for creating dedicated cycling infrastructure that actually contributes to the overall health and wellbeing of the community.
And of course, we shouldn't forget that on-street parking is on public land and doesn't actually belong to anybody by right. As discussed in the article below cities around the world are beginning to scale back on parking spots, seeing them as wasted space. The article's focus is more towards inner-city parking, rather than suburban parking, but it still makes many good points that are relevant to the cycleway discussion in Island Bay.
#7: Island Bay is a "divided community"
There's been much talk over the last couple of months about how the Island Bay community has become "divided" over the subject of the cycleway. While there are no doubt a few extreme views at both ends of the spectrum the reality is that most of us occupy a greyer space in the middle where a healthy, and gradually more-informed, discussion about the pros and cons of the cycleway has been happening.
The idea of a "divided community" actually assumes two things about our community that aren't very flattering:
1. That there are only polarised, for or against, views on the cycleway with no middle ground, and
2. That people have completely entrenched views and don't have the ability to assess new information and change their minds.
This is a mis-representation of what has really been happening, and underestimates the power and value of a truly community-driven dialogue as a mechanism to achieve a consensus. People have been talking about the cycleway a lot - and that's a good thing!
In regard to the Island Bay Cycle Way Facebook page it has never been the intention to attack critics of the cycleway or even try that hard to change their minds (although that would be great and has actually been happening). Rather, the page was set up with the specific purpose of promoting the benefits of the cycleway and demonstrating to councillors the level of support for the cycleway that exists. It's as simple as that.
At the last council elections Wellington re-elected a pro-cycling mayor and this year the council voted unanimously to triple the cycling budget. It is now councillors job to decide how to best spend that budget. That's why we elected them and that's what we pay them for.
#8: The cycleway will work perfectly or be a complete disaster
Of course neither of these statements is true. It's just an unfortunate characteristic of any passionate discussion that people tend to make extreme statements in order to make their point and be heard above the noise.
The truth is that nobody knows exactly how well the cycleway will or won't work but a decision needs to made based on understanding the best evidence and advice available and whether - on balance - there will be an overall net benefit for the community.
One thing is for sure, the cycleway will not be the complete disaster that a few people would have us believe. Similar kerbside cycleways are already in place in many places around the world, including Christchurch, and work very well. Research says they increase ridership, health & well-being, and reduce accidents. They can increase local property prices and are good for local businesses. They create a greater sense of community. Island Bay is also the perfect suburb in Wellington to establish a cycleway and then take lessons from that and apply them elsewhere.
However, that's an important point that supporters of the cycleway also need to acknowledge. The cycleway will not work perfectly from day one. It is a big change and it will take some time to get used to. There will undoubtedly be some issues early on and lessons that need to be learnt. People who are uncomfortable with aspects of the cycleway have a right to voice their concerns and have them addressed as far as practicable. Everybody is on different points of a learning curve so in some cases people just need a bit more time to become better informed.
#9: The cycleway is just for commuters
The cycleway is actually for everybody and will benefit commuter cyclists, recreational cyclists, local cyclists, elderly cyclists and children. In the council's own words:
"Cycle lanes along The Parade are part of our plan to gradually make Wellington more cycle friendly. We want people who cycle now to have safer options. We also want to create more cycle-friendly routes for people who would like to make short journeys by bike but don’t feel confident on the road at the moment.
With protected lanes along a route, we can expect to see numbers at least double. While the full route for commuters is not complete, the increases will be mainly from people making local trips".
The Citizen's Advisory Panel looking into options for Section 2 between Wakefield Park and John Street also confirmed this when they identified the target user group for the cycleway as being both city commuters and community commuters:
"City commuters relate to both new and existing cyclists. It is intended that the cycleway will attract and encourage people who are interested in bike commuting from Island Bay, Newtown and Berhampore to Wellington city but may be hesitant and/or concerned. These commuters want a cycleway that is safer and easier. The cycleway will provide motivation to existing cyclists who already cycle into Wellington city but want to do more and more often.
Community commuters are those who will use the cycleway to move around and between the southern suburbs. It will connect business (the local shopping areas, such as Newtown and Berhampore), school and recreation across these suburbs. These commuters want a cycleway that is local, easy and fun".
The benefits for local and recreational cyclists, including the elderly and children, mean the Island Bay Cycle Way is justified in itself and also counters the argument that a master plan for the whole route needs to be in place first.
#10: What's the problem? The current bike lanes are fine.
First, the current bike lanes are hardly worthy of the name. They don't extend all the way along The Parade and they provide no protection at all from the traffic. Even with the generous width of The Parade they are used only by determined, confident cyclists. You will hardly ever see non-commuter cyclists using them and no parent in their right mind would let a young child anywhere near them (you are much more likely to see these type of users on the pavement). The only reason there are not more cycling related accidents along The Parade is because the current bike lanes discourage greater use.
More importantly, the investment of public money is not just about solving problems. Sometimes it is about taking advantage of opportunities and realising the potential to actually make citizen's lives better. Overseas evidence shows that protected bike lanes like the ones proposed for The Parade can be expected to at least double the number of people cycling on them and near them. With that comes a range of health, social and economic benefits for everybody.
There is also an important point of principle here. Why should cycling be the one mode of transport that is expected to make-do, rather than have any of the public space allocated for transport dedicated to its use? Pedestrians have their space, cars have their space, even parked cars get more space than cyclists! Cyclists - who are almost all car drivers and property owners too - pay just as much for the roads through road user charges and rates as anybody else. In fact, it could be argued that when cyclists cycle - an activity that has virtually no negative cost impact on either the infrastructure or the environment - they are not getting the full value of what they have already paid for. Protected bike lanes are just a small element of redress and will still leave cars, both moving and stationary, as the dominant users of the road.