Shifting gears, embracing change
Why Wellingtonians will embrace cycleways
Opinion for the DomPost
29 February 2016
by Patrick Morgan, Cycling Action Network
Cycling is a hot topic.
It generates strong feelings, plenty of letters to newspapers and social media posts.
But this discussion is as much about change as it is about cycling.
Smoke-free bars. Marriage equality. The metric system. All had their detractors, but somehow the sky didn't fall in. The lesson is that we get used to change. Eventually, most people embrace it.
Cycling is no different. Improving cycling is just another way that world-class cities grow and develop. More people cycling improves our quality of life, which is why right now 15 cities from Whangarei to Dunedin are investing.
Last week I spent a morning at a Karori school, teaching 10-year-old children bike skills. One girl had yet to master her balance. She was initially nervous and unsteady, but with admirable persistence she kept at it. By the end of the session she was happily looping the playground with a big grin on her face.
I have yet to meet a child who doesn't want to ride - but plenty who never get the opportunity. We can, and should change that. Every New Zealand child deserves a chance to bike.
All around the world, people are flocking to great cities. Wellington is expecting to grow by 50,000 people in the next 30 years. Auckland by a million. What impact will that have on our transport networks? Do we want gridlock, or do we want to give people more transport choices?
More people cycling delivers compelling benefits: cleaner air, attractive streets, healthier and happy people. It makes good cities great. It's excellent value for money. An entire cycling network costs less than a few kilometres of motorway. Cycling projects return up to $20 of benefits for every dollar spent. That's an investment we should all be happy about.
But why should those of us who drive cars support bike lanes? The answer is that when more people bike, there is less congestion and easier parking. This is the same reason that public transport costs are partly met by taxpayers. The decongestion benefits are worth it.
The good news is that the Government and councils are convinced, and are stepping up.
They are responding to strong public demand for safer and more attractive cycling. They have support from the AA, health experts, many businesses, and advocates for better cities.
When AA asked members if cycling safety on urban roads was improved, would they give it a go, 92 percent said yes.
ACC and the Ministry of Health recognise that active people have fewer falls and better health, which reduces health costs.
In Paris in December, New Zealand joined the global community in committing to reduce dangerous emissions. Whichever way you look at it, more people on bikes make sense.
After a $100 million investment, the New Zealand Cycle Trails continue to generate great feedback from tourists and the businesses they support. Cycle trails are breathing new life into rural communities and adding yet another attraction to hotspots like Rotorua and Queenstown.
At Wellington's Go By Bike Day on 10 February, Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said, "We recognise the contribution cycling makes to healthier communities, and that safe and attractive cycling infrastructure can encourage people to change their travel patterns.
"We're investing to give more New Zealanders more opportunities to choose cycling - whether to commute to and from work and school, to run errands, or get some exercise."
The Government and councils are investing $350 million in new cycleways in the next three years. They aim to increase cycling by 30 percent by 2019. Cycling is on the up.
It's vital that councils get it right. They need to engage with all stakeholders and to follow best design practice. They need to carefully set out what they want to achieve, how, and at what cost.
Cycling is here to stay. In Wellington it has doubled in the past decade - despite modest investment. As protected bike lanes are added to our streets, we'll see more and more people on bikes. Bikelash will fizzle out as people embrace the convenience and fun of cycling.
With 76 percent of Wellingtonians saying they would cycle if protected lanes are built, it's giving people what they want, and what they voted for.
Over the next three years the government, Wellington and Hutt City Councils will invest $53 million into improving cycling in the region. That's a change we can all applaud.
I understand that change can be unsettling for some, but I reckon people will grow to love this valuable and much-needed upgrade to our beautiful city.
We're moving with the times.