If you build it, they will come: Capacity crowd at Wellington's cycling forum

If you build it, they will come: Capacity crowd at Wellington's cycling forum
By Amanda Witherell

The capital's first public forum on cycling drew 180 people off their bikes and into Wellington City Council chambers, overflowing capacity. Sporting cycle shorts beneath her mayoral robes, Celia Wade-Brown addressed the crowd. "We compare ourselves to Copenhagen and Portland, but we're not doing really well with cycling. Wellington is now the most dangerous place in New Zealand to ride," she said. "We want to know your priorities. We will act on them. We can make things happen faster than they're happening now."

Even with a cycling mayor, seven other city councillors in the room and elections a few months away, some attendees questioned whether there is the political will to meet the demands of cyclists, which have doubled in number over the past six years.

"As cyclists, we aim too low," said Jill Ford, a Newtown resident. "We have to get strategic in terms of councillors. There's obviously some roadblock in this council. Even Auckland is better. I was recently in Sydney and they have cycle lanes and few people there cycle. What's wrong with Wellington?"

Jason Morgan, Wellington region investment advisor for NZTA, was there with a bike helmet under his arm, and said it was good to see Wellington get proactive. "A lot of cities have these types of forums. They tend to be very effective at an operational level, where they action some of the discussion. This one was more of a political level," he said. "We make these low level targets, 25 percent over 40 years isn't much, but a third of all trips - that requires transformation and political courage."

Lauding recent improvements to the cycle network consumed the first part of the forum, with Paul Barker, council's safe and sustainable transport manager, providing details on the $3million Tawa Pathway, installation of cycle-friendly grates, and more signage.

However, some of the achievements raised eyebrows in the audience, such as calling the 17 km section of the Great Harbour Way from Balaena Bay around Miramar peninsula "complete", and the installation of advanced stop boxes without feeder lanes, which one person called "self-defeating."

Barker announced the results of three feasibility studies for the city's next major cycling project, which revealed that the Island Bay to CBD route, using Adelaide Rd, had a better funding profile than the the South Coast portion of the Great Harbour Way, or the route from Ngauranga to the CBD.

"Island Bay is the one we're going to proceed with," he said, after the forum. "It hits so many key points, and timing wise it works with the flyover."

To gather more specific information, attendees were split up into groups of 10 based on geographic location, and asked to discuss three major questions: What are the big issues and barriers, citywide and in your area? What does the ideal city look like in 2040? What are the priorities?

Though the details varied, the overall demands were similar, no matter where people lived: more cycle lanes safe enough for kids to use, better permeability into the CBD, less on-street parking on main roads, 20-30 percent travel mode share by 2040, and more money spent on cycling improvements.

Mayor Wade-Brown shared a similar vision for 2040, but stopped short of saying how much funding could be put toward it. "When I think about it, those strategic routes from each point of the compass are complete and there's a far better network in the CBD and more people cycling," she said. "The aim of 20 to 30 percent mode share is very achievable and a good idea."

Richard Hocken, Senior Sergeant and district road policing prevention manager, liaises often with the cycling community and said of the forum, "It's all good but it's going to cost money one way or another and that's at a political level."

Asked if Wellington's poor safety record made a compelling case for spending more money, he said, "Yes, but I'm a realist. How much?"

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