The Great Cycleway Debate

After recently collecting my Saturday Dominion Post, I am considering cancelling the paper. I have already cancelled the weekday version; however, I need some paper to light my fire!

Although this article is Wellington-centric, it has relevance to all New Zealand. There is a blatant bias regarding the ideological move to force us from cars onto bikes. This is regardless of the weather, the steep hills, narrow roads, the lack of adequate bus services across the suburbs and difficulties getting children to regional sports grounds.

After opening the paper, I decided to re-enter this debate. There were more articles on the virtues of riding bikes and one on reducing speed limits in Wellington to 30km per hour. The front page was exultant about transporting children to school on bikes.  In another Saturday paper there was a beaming photo of a mother and child on their bike, eliciting in me the thoughts of deep-rooted propaganda of proud Nazis.  This is only good for those who live on the flat areas of Wellington with wide roads, but no use to most of us who live on the hills and must navigate narrow roads. No one likes pedalling in the wind and rain.

The next article was about the Newtown cycleway hitting a hurdle due to a court injunction brought by businesses objecting to the lack of consultation and potential loss of business. The article was derogatory to those filing the case, the implication being those businesses were trying to delay progress. Yet the court case was brought about partly due to a lack of consultation on the impact the cycleway would have on their businesses. The council’s aim to build, and then consult, is deeply insulting and undemocratic.

Other Wellington businesses are also considering this issue and are taking the council to court for the same reasons. The transport minister responded by reviewing the Local Government Act to remove citizen’s rights to file such cases. Once again, this government is preventing people from exercising their democratic rights to object, all in the name of ideology, in this case building expensive cycleways at the expense of all else.

The following Wednesday, The Dominion Post had an emotional front-page article on how the ‘obstruction’ of the cycleway was disappointing, totally disregarding the economic impact the cycleway would have on local businesses. Unfortunately, it is a one-sided argument with The Dominion Post.

To highlight this, I commented on the Newstalk ZB post on Facebook on how the proposed cycleway in Thorndon was going to affect me. I received 27 ‘likes’ for my comment, about how it might impact me being able to park my car and go for my regular walk in the Botanical Gardens. I was wary about including that I also have a beer at the Sprig and Fern afterwards, which drew one bad reaction (note, I have commented further on this matter below on the Bike Network Plan that Wellington City Council have released). The comment was from a bike zealot, but fortunately I received ongoing support from others to my follow-up comment to him, and they added their opinions too. I also mentioned the cycleway would impact those going to summer festivals in the gardens and that my bus routes do not come this way. The point here is two-fold, the zealot went down a weird rabbit hole, which was nonsense, and he was not ideologically driven, but was obsessed with bikes and hated cars. Meanwhile, most people had reasonable arguments. These changes are ideologically driven and most people do not see the sense of this, when public transport services, like buses, are inadequate. The ideology is simply to get people out of cars. A holistic approach to transport issues is not being addressed (e.g., Cobham Drive, where 83% of locals and most businesses objected to the proposed pedestrian crossing on a main arterial route, but were ignored).

Another article exalted how one town in the Netherlands has removed all cars, and how people can now freely cycle. This is a small, flat, densely populated town, and they have built a road around the town for cars. I have written on this idea for central Wellington, although this has been ignored by the planners. Freeing up the movement of cars to compensate for no cars is not their plan. When I heard Vance Vivian’s Hamish Vance talking about the impact that removing cars would have on his business, I thought of the very bias permeating this issue. He said he approached Stuff (aka The Dominion Post) to join him for a walk around the CBD, to listen to his views and what impact removing cars from the city would mean to his business. They refused, saying he had already had his say. No, he had not.

The Wellington City Bike Network Plan – Botanic Garden to City

The Wellington City Bike Network Plan has been released and aims to build a bike network at the expense of cars. It is not a plan to build for the future. where EV, hybrid and hydrogen cars co-exist with public transport, bikes, and scooters. The plan openly states “Our goal is to be a city where people of all ages and abilities can move easily and freely by bike or bus. These essential street changes will make it easier for more of us to be less reliant on our cars”.

They assume that “more people will be living in apartments or townhouses – in suburban areas on main transport routes as well as the central city”. This may be true in the future. However, this does not mean they all want to bike into town, catch the bus, or scoot. Whilst this is idealistic at best, it is also town planning at its worst, whereby not all options are being considered for long term planning

In relation to the planned Botanic Garden to City bike route, 24 carparks on Tinakori Rd will go, and other carparks will have restrictions. Bowen St will lose 65 carparks and 5 will have restrictions, and Whitmore Street will lose 14. That is 104 carparks gone from the city along one route. The impact is two-fold. Firstly, recreational drivers to the gardens will be affected, along with people coming into town to shop and attend events at the stadium. Those commuting into town for work will be forced to scoot, bike, or catch a bus or train, that might not turn up. Let alone having to bike in the wind and rain! Secondly, the council will be losing revenue through parking fees. That revenue will shift to privately owned parking buildings. It is a twin cost in effect, loss of income and higher maintenance costs, let alone the cost to build the route without any tangible return.  Finally, there is the potential loss of revenue to affected businesses, that might not survive these changes.

In Petone, the cycleway was originally costed at $22m, or a return of $1.60 on the investment. This has increased to $65m, or a return of just 86 cents. It is a totally unjustifiable loss at this rate and is more expensive, on a cost return basis, than Transmission Gully. As Heather du-Plessis Allan noted on Newstalk ZB, the Petone cycleway will cost $22 per millimetre!

Are there any environmental benefits to these changes?

Recently I was sent the “Environmental Health Intelligent New Zealand” report on the health and air pollution in New Zealand 2016. This study discussed how cars are one contributor to premature death in New Zealand.  I was told that car pollution prematurely kills 3,300 people a year. This was both propaganda and incorrect, it is 2025 premature deaths. Further, I noted that Wellington is not mentioned as a dangerous place to live when it comes to cars, but Christchurch is. The environment of the city is a major contributing factor on the impact of car pollution. The report does not say how many people per region die prematurely of car pollution, or at what age, or with what other ailments. 2025 premature deaths from car pollution represents 0.045% of the population.  I am interested to know what the percentage is for Wellington, given that Christchurch is the worse place in New Zealand. The rationale here is that the percentage in Wellington may well be less than the 0.045% of the Wellington population. Arguing that this is an environmental issue, i.e., climate change, or a health issue, is very nebulous at best.

I’m not objecting to cycleways, or buses, however there must be a balanced approach to maintaining transport infrastructure (I walk and play sport a lot and catch buses, and when overseas I have cycled around Brisbane and caught trains to go into central cities, or walked to the pub because they are close by). There are flaws in the current ideology on our roading infrastructure.  An example of this is City Councillor Iona Pannett’s desire to reduce the speed limit on 80% of Wellington roads to 30 km per hour. This is an absurd idea which defies logic and it will add to pollution. As I have previously written, cars going less than 30km per hour generate more pollution than cars going at 50km per hour. Again, my point is that attacking people using cars is both ideologically driven, and sometimes based on false assumptions. Wellington is not a small densely populated town in the Netherlands, or a compact city in Denmark, or a metropolis like London with a highly efficient transport system. It is city with a small population by world standards, spread across a large area, built mostly on rugged hills. To try and make Wellington the same as a densely populated town or city, built on the flat, is nonsensical.