It was disappointing to read in The Dominion Post this week that a group calling itself The Democratic Voice of Island Bay (DVOIB) is requesting mediation with Wellington City Council with an option of a judicial review over the Island Bay Cycleway. The Island Bay residents who are part of this group are quite entitled to their opinions of course but their request to "sit down and talk sensibly" might have more merit if that wasn't something that has already happened and which two of their members chose to walk away from.
One of the least reported and least understood aspects of the Island Bay Cycleway consultation process is the work that the Island Bay Cycleway Working Party did during May and June of this year. The working party was set up by the council to give community stakeholders the chance to discuss the design of the cycleway in a mediated environment and make recommendations about any changes that should be made. It was also asked to test the cycleway against the principles in the new Wellington Cycling Framework to make sure that it conformed. The membership of the working party was the Deputy Mayor, the two Southern Ward councillors (who have contrasting views on whether the kerb-side cycleway should proceed) and four Island Bay residents. The four residents were myself and another supporter of the kerb-side cycleway design, and two opponents of the kerb-side cycleway design. The working party was mediated by an experienced facilitator, Anne Pattillo, and support was provided by council officers. The working party met on three occasions although the two opponents of the kerb-side cycleway resigned after the second meeting. Despite that, my view of the meetings is that they were constructive and conducted in good faith. You can read the report from the working party here and watch Anne Pattillo talk to the council about it here.
The working party made a long list of recommendations that were all agreed to by the council. Some of these were significant and demonstrate that the working party actually had some teeth and that the council was prepared to compromise. The key recommendations were:
The central issue of whether to have a kerb-side or street-side cycleway was discussed and the majority view was that the kerb-side cycleway should be pursued. However, by far the most important thing to come out of the working party from my point of view was getting a better understanding of exactly how the cycleway was intended to be implemented. The council officers explained that under both the kerb-side and street-side options for the cycleway all the same infrastructure would be built, including the bus-stop bypasses and the new intersection treatments. I had not properly understood this up to that point but when it was explained to me it made perfect sense. The only physical difference between the two options is where the parked cars will be. This is a really important point to understand because what it means is that switching between the options is as simple, and cheap, as giving the cycleway a new paint job. My immediate reaction was that this was not something that was widely known. If it was then surely it would mitigate any concerns that Island Bay could get stuck with cycleway that is not fit for purpose, especially when the working party had also agreed that an evaluation will be carried out.
At this point I should be absolutely clear - as a general rule I'm not in favour of unprotected street-side bike lanes. I think they expose people on bikes to an unnecessarily high level of risk and, more importantly, they don't help to increase the number of people riding bikes. I agree with the principle in the Wellington Cycling Framework that "where there are viable routes within the existing road space, we will implement protected bike lanes". I'm keeping an open-mind though, and if the kerb-side lanes in Island Bay turn out to be totally inappropriate then we will obviously need to look at reverting to street-side lanes. It's difficult to see how that could be achieved under the Cycling Framework, however, without either reducing the speed limit on The Parade to 30 kph, or completely removing on-street parking so that another form of physical separation can be used. That's also why the suggestion from some opponents of the kerb-side cycleway that simply extending the current street-side lanes all along The Parade could be a "compromise" solution shouldn't be considered. It would be more like putting the proverbial "lipstick on a pig". It's worth noting that one of the biggest compromises in the entire process was actually made very early on with the decision that the cycleway will not continue through the shopping centre. This is something that people on bikes will just have to accept despite the obvious dangers that riding bikes behind angle parking presents. Hopefully this situation might get fixed after people have had a chance to see the cycleway working and retailers feel more confident about how it affects them.
The DVOIB group are entitled to do pursue whatever course of action they want but the fact that some mediation has already occurred, some genuine compromises have been made, and that the option of reverting to street-side lanes is still a possibility would seem to undermine their cause quite a lot. In a sense the DVOIB group could end up being victims of their own success. Claims of a "lack of proper public consultation" don't really stack up when you look at the facts. Over the course of nine months in 2014 and three separate consultations the council received over 1,200 formal submissions, including over 700 from Island Bay. All the drama and publicity created around the cycleway means that, in the words of Councillor David Lee, it has been the "most over-consulted piece of infrastructure" of its scale in recent years. Opponents of the cycleway have also had some significant wins over the last 18 months, including forcing the expansion of the council's Transport and Urban Development Committee to include all councillors and the establishment of a Wellington cycling "masterplan" (the Cycling Framework). It was solely due to their efforts that the final decision to go ahead with the cycleway was taken by the full council, not a sub-committee. Cycleway opponents have also appeared regularly in local news media. None of this points to any "lack of democracy", in fact quite the opposite. Of course what has to be remembered is that in any democracy having a say doesn't always mean getting your own way, especially in the type of representative democracy that we have here in New Zealand. Ultimately, and with the greatest respect, it's hard not to arrive at the same conclusion as The Dominion Post that "it seems more likely that a lot of residents just don't want the cycleway and this is their way of fighting it".