Episode 10: Operation Human Shield

people protected bike lane 2

Cycle Aware Wellington is trying a new tactic; pop-up bike lanes created by human bollards. It sounds heroic, if not entirely practical. Will support for such action drop off as Autumn turns to Winter? And what happens if a truck doesn’t spot the change in the road layout?

However, in this case, the medium (or is it the median?) is also the message; there’s been some progress in creation of separated cycle ways, but they’re not coming fast enough for a lot of cyclists, especially in the central city.

So far, CAW’s human bollards have popped up on Featherston and Victoria Streets, greeting cyclists with a 25 metre stretch of protected bike lane. Not much, I grant you, but not many bollards give you a wave and a cheer as you ride by.

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Of course 2019 is local body election year, and as Wellington Councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman rightly pointed out to this blog on Twitter, while public transport is a regional council issue, the provision of local roads is a city affair. So if you agree with CAW, it’s to the City Council you go, which is exactly where the opponents of such cycle ways are sure to be going (as well as taking the council to court).

With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if the likes of Victoria Street, with its key role funneling people out of the central city (be it on foot, bus, bike or car) might have been the best place to start the whole cycle-lane conversion.

My recollection of the thinking around Island Bay was; “here’s a nice wide road with plenty of room for everyone, surely no one’s going to mind if we give a little over to the cyclists?”  Turned out quite a few motorists were rather attached to that wide bit of asphalt.

I wonder how much the concern over maintaining motor traffic flow out of the city played in the decision to begin the city’s recent cycleway upgrade in the suburbs? A lot of cyclists use Victoria Street to exit the city to the south. True, there are protected lanes between Ghuznee and Able Smith Street, but for most of the way, it’s a can of paint or nothing at all, and we all know how colourblind folk can be.

Perhaps more tricky trade-offs between space for motorists and everyone else using the roadway, need to be happening at the business end of town?

And there’s no doubt the cyclists are coming. Look at the bike racks, check out the stats.

This month is down on the last by the way, but the trend is up.

And given what last week’s Traffic Jammers were saying about our physical health, what’s not to like about getting more people on bikes?

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 9: Foot soldiers.

Sandy, Andrew and me.

So, a couple of high powered thinkers drift into town on a mission to get people back on their feet. How do you tackle the topic?

Take them for a walk around the block of course!

This week, Otago University released a report arguing New Zealanders need to get more active when it comes to getting around. It concludes the health benefits are too great to ignore, and our leaders need to prioritise walking, cycling, and other forms of human powered transport for the good of the nation.

The Report, Turning the Tide, lists these goals for 2050;

“Double the proportion of trips walked to 25%. Double the proportion of cycling trips in each of the next decades, with the ultimate goal of 15% of all trips being on bicycles.  Increase the proportion of all trips by public transport to 15%”.

If anything, these goals seem slightly on the conservative side, given the availability of electric assistance on bikes and other forms of micro-mobility is only likely to increase. I see no reason why smart motors won’t be able to kick in when you’re pushing off on a scooter, or using your roller skates, let alone bikes.

Of course, you could argue, if micro-motors are where we are headed, by 2050 we’ll all be floating around on our own personal pods.

All the more reason to encourage exercise while we can.

The report’s name suggests the situation we find ourselves in towards the end of the teen years of the current century is the result of a long term trend. Anyone who remembers 1980s high school bike sheds stuffed full of Choppers, Raleigh 20s and Healing Ten Speeds will relate to this.

In terms of winning over others to active transport (given I’m one of the converted) I think the surest route to success might be through our children. Adults who earn enough, can afford to compensate their sedantary existence with gym passes, but I don’t know of many parents who wouldn’t like to see their children living a more active lifestyle.

For this week’s Traffic Jam I took two of the report’s authors, Otago University’s Dr Sandy Mandic, and Wellington consultant, Andrew Jackson, for a 30 minute walk around the block.

You can read the full report here.  It’s the result of a lot of brainstorming which came out an Otago University run gathering  of active transport specialists earlier this year. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

It’d be great to see data from the University’s longitudinal study incorporated into a case for human powered travel. I’d also love to know what health outcomes populations in countries with more active transport (The Netherlands, Denmark) are achieving. Are the Dutch less obese? Do they have less heart disease? These were questions Sandy and Andrew were unable to answer.

Last year over a hundred Wellington doctors got off their chuffs  to argue more cycling infrastructure is a public health no-brainer.

I’d wager there aren’t many schools in the city that couldn’t do more to encourage kids to make their own way to class, especially if parents push them in that direction.

Sandy and Andrew are now taking their ideas to local and central government officials around the country. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them turn up as council and departmental policy in a few months time.

 

 

 

 

Episode 8: Waiting for Let’s Welly to Get Moving.

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I was hoping this would be a reaction piece, but there’s nothing to react to, although Stuff reckon they had the inside running with this a few days ago.

I’m talking about Let’s Get Welly Moving of course.

Instead, my latest Traffic Jam is a set of wish lists from a couple of observers; one a  Wellington National MP, Nicola Willis, who has been very prominent in her criticism of the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s new bus network.

Selfy with Nicola Willis

Here she is doing a Selfie with me on the No 2 bus to Karori. I’m the one on the right.

Nicola is a National MP. As such, her views are a pretty good indication of how the mainstream is moving when it comes to transport. Or at least, how National views the mainstream is moving.

My other guest was Arron Cox from Generation Zero – as in zero carbon .

Arron isn’t so well versed in the art of politics, and forgot to get a selfie with me. But he sent a nice one from the slopes of Mt Taranaki.

Arron's selfie

That’s Arron on the left.

The set-up for this podcast was simple; two guests are given the time it takes the No 2 bus to get from Lambton Quay to Karori, to tell me what they want out of LGWM and why. Luckily, we were traveling off peak, so transit times were pretty much identical.

If you’re a fan of less catering for cars, you might find Nicola’s views aggravating. However, given Arron benefited from a private vehicle to get to the slopes of Mt Taranaki (and he’s a greenie) what would you suggest instead?

Who knows? By the time you read this the Government may have decided where it’s putting its money. I’m half hoping, in posting this, I’m triggering Murphy’s Law.

Happy listening.

 

 

 

Six months until Judgement Day

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It’s been a while hasn’t it?

I got to Episode 7, then life intervened. First in the form of the Summer Break, then my choir, The Doubtful Sounds, got its big moment in the Wellington Fringe, before the events of March 15th pushed everything else into the background.

But the traffic keeps on jamming, Let’s Get Wellington Moving still isn’t moving, and most important of all, the local body elections are looming.

These are the elections where we get to choose the representatives who will shape our city’s transport policy for the next three years. If you don’t like the present leadership, this is your chance to change it.

And what ever recommendation the LGWM team makes, it’s bound to become a local body election issue. In fact, those elections on October 12th could become a de facto referendum on it.

You might have noticed how the LGWM announcement never seems to arrive; from the end of last year, to early 2019. The latest word is before Easter. You’ve probably guessed the people making it are having trouble reaching agreement.

And if you need reminding as to what that consultation is leaning towards here’s a screenshot to jog your memory.

LGWM

This is one scenario of four, and yes, this one involves digging quite a big hole under the city. The idea here, is to segregate the traffic traveling through the city, from the city itself. On one level (if you’ll excuse the mild pun) it looks attractive. The problem is the cost (which leaves less money for alternatives to the private vehicle) the disruption (it most likely won’t be a tunnel, but the trench that is then covered over) and amount of extra motor traffic such a scenario will deliver to the central city itself, not to mention the suburbs (have you noticed how busy it is in Karori, Kilbirnie and Miramar on the weekends these days?).

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester played it coy for a while, but he nailed his tunneling colours to the mast in the Dominion Post on March 12th.

 

“The next step for that will be focusing on public space, pedestrian space and putting a lot of that traffic out of the CBD, putting through tunnels effectively: cut-and-cover type facility.”

In other words, a trench for Highway One’s traverse of the city. That means two lanes each way, which will require extra tunnels at both ends. But he has a problem. The assistant transport minister is a Green. Julie Anne Genter can’t, in her carbon neutral conscience, commit billions of dollars to so much tar seal, even with light rail and additional cycle-lanes in the mix.

Stuck in the middle is the (Labour) transport minister, Phil Twyford. He’s been pushing for car alternatives in Auckland, but does he feel as strongly about Wellington, especially when to deny a trenched and tunneled Highway 1, puts him offside with fellow Labourite, Lester?

Waiting in the wings are local National MPs, who perceive (probably rightly) that a fatter highway is currently more popular with a majority of voters, and rejecting it is politically risky.

Will Twyford bury the Four Lane Trench and Tunnel project outright? Unlikely. But he is also reluctant to buy a public fight with the Greens. He could commit to some government spending, but insist ratepayers foot some of the bill for a bigger road. That would then leave it to Lester, and anyone else who supports a roads first approach, to campaign on that platform in the local elections.

But even if central Government does make a clear call to either embrace or reject the trenched highway option, the coming local body poll will still be crucial.

Wellington’s mayor and City Council make calls on local roads, cycleways and footpaths.

If you’re concerned about public transport, you need to scrutinise your regional councillors.

 

These are the people who presided over your new bus network, and who secretly re-appointed their CEO, despite the bus system continually failing to reach performance standards that CEO promised would be in place several months ago.

By the way, you can read Mike Mellor’s excellent ongoing analysis of Wellington’s bus and train performance here.

 

What does that say about the regard councillors hold for the people who put them there? I’ve argued in previous posts regional councillors were careless over the bus system because they felt most bus users don’t bother voting, and those who do, will have forgotten about the omnishambles by October.

And there’s another thing in their favour. Even if we are dissatisfied with the current crop, who do we replace them with? Who will lobby for public transport users, walkers,  cyclists and sensible car drivers?

Which is why I’ve decided to come back to The Traffic Jam, at least until the local body elections. I’ve put the choir on the back-burner. I’ve bought a new recording device. I’m ready to get moving.

The people at Talk Wellington have rightly recognised now is the time to up the debate, and good on Stuff for running their excellent series of articles. I see the potential for LGWM to produce this city’s version of Auckland’s Waterview project; a multi-billion dollar road scheme, made inevitable (politically at least) by that city’s car dependency.

Problem is, Waterview may well end up producing Wellington Bypass like results in the medium to long term, and I fear four lanes of trenches and tunnels through the central city will achieve the same for Wellington.

But that’s for another blog.

I’ll be back with more posts, and podcasts soon.

In the meantime, I invite you to read widely, think carefully, and study your history.

Happy jammn’.

Episode 7: Absolutely Positively Newtown (and Berhampore)

newtown

The deadline for submissions has closed, now begins the hard work.

Newtown and Berhampore are entering the business end of efforts to set up a functioning cycleway network in Wellington city. These suburbs are the pinch points –  where all that wonderful geography which helps to make the capital so compact and livable (and which becomes such a liability when you add a lot of cars) funnels everyone from the south down the same valley.

The Wellington City Council is going to come up with some sort of final plan of separated bike ways (off road and along the road) hopefully connected to the existing network, and designed so it can expand them when the need arises.

We can also be certain this will come at the expense of some room for cars and carparks.

The Island Bay Parade Cycleway, if I remember rightly, was meant to be the easy bit. With such a wide road, there’d be no trouble setting aside some space for bikes. Right? Well, that hasn’t quite turned out the way  its supporters hoped.

Which brings me back to Newtown and Berhampore, and the possibility that without the right leadership, it’ll end up as another Island Bay-like bunfight.

I discovered a lot of the groundwork, in terms of reaching a consensus, happened four years ago. I spoke to Michelle Rush, one of the facilitators who organised it.  A lot of the group’s recommendations, a group made up mostly of locals, has come through in the packages the council presented to the public. However the group, and it’s members, are now nowhere to be seen.

When the proverbial gets real, as it will, when some residents find they won’t be able to park where they used to, who will argue the loss of some carparks is worth it? Can cycling advocates rely on the council?

Over on the other side of the Orongorongo divide, Michelle Rush has been working on this. Here’s a post from a federated farmer in support of the process.

Cycling options stand a better chance of gaining support if  Newtown businesses, and Berhampore residents lead the debate in favour of what ever bike routes the council decides on.

There is risk in the council leaving the final decision to a committee of bureaucrats. Supporters of roads less traveled by cars, might do well to encourage the council to continue engaging with the community

There’s still time for Wellington City Council to do this. While it’s at it, it should get Newtown’s biggest employer involved.  Wellington Hospital currently forces many of its staff to park in already congested neighbouring streets. That’s where a lot of the local parking pressure comes from. What is the hospital going to do to support its shift workers in finding alternatives to driving to work?

If progressives want to achieve lasting change, they need to win over the conservatives, or at least enough of them, that when the next conservative regime arrives, it doesn’t roll it all back.

Happy jammin’!

 

Episode 6: In Search of Boxman

box man

It began as just another bikelash week.

Kiwiblog was lamenting the loss of 600 carparking spaces in proposals to make Newtown more active transport accessable.  On Newstalk ZB, Hosking, Hawkesby and Soper were all having a go at Government plans to spend 23 million dollars on encouraging kids to cycle to school.

“A sick craze” said Soper. “We’re not in the 1980s now” said Hawkesby.  Hosking summed it up thus; if a cyclist isn’t confident on the road, the Government shouldn’t be encouraging them. “That’s why it’s called riding a bike”.

I took a deep breath, as I often do. Somethings, being a cycling enthusiast is like holding open a prison door, only the inmate doesn’t want to leave. Instead, they hurl abuse at their would-be liberator.

How many online comments can you take?

Then, in the murk of a wet Wellington day, someone thought outside the box. Well, inside it really.

Caught on smartphone from the comfort of a passing car, a man, we think it was a man, cycling into the southerly, up Taranaki Street, in the rain, protected from the elements by a bike box, with strategic holes cut for arms and vision. And all as the car-stereo blasts out one of Tina Turner’s finest.

By Tuesday it’s all over Facebook. They’re sharing it in Spain. People exchange ideas on who Boxman might be. There are offers of romance.

Stuff and the Herald pick it up, and soon the comment sections are full – of love. So much love, for a cyclist.

Of course, it blew out as fast as it blew up, but just for a while, it felt like everyone was cheering for the bike.

Why am I writing about this now? Because in the debate about who shares the road and how, logic can only take you so far. For folk, who normally don’t think about these things until something gets in their way, emotion counts.

In my eagerness to open the prison door to all those trapped in traffic misery, I, like a lot of my kind, can get a bit earnest on it. It’s easy to forget the transformative power of a good laugh.

Because Boxman did make us laugh. Boxman was taking on the world, and ever so slightly, taking the piss. Boxman could have been anyone. Or put this way, everyone secretly, would love to be Boxman, if just for a moment.

New Zealand is blessed with cycling advocates like Patrick Morgan and Jolisa Gracewood, who remain positive and approachable in the face or relentless negativity.  But they can’t do it on their own.

We can all help. Want’s the point in being right, if it only makes us grumpy?

I never did track down Boxman. Well, if I did, I didn’t realise it. But in seeking him out, I gained a greater appreciation of the power of the Light Side.

If the buggers see us having fun, maybe some of them will want to join in.

Episode 5: Blindsight

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It’s something I ponder most days; how different my city looks and feels depending on how I get around in it.

As a cyclist, it’s often a mini-battle zone. As a motorist, an exercise in frustration. Travel is something urban public transport users appear to endure, rather than enjoy. Then there’s the look of resignation on the pedestrian’s face, as they wait for another red light runner to pass in front of their “cross now” signal.

But Thomas Bryan had a perspective entirely foreign to me. After hearing Episode 1 of The Traffic Jam, on Wellington’s new bus network, he invited me to view his  neighbourhood through his eyes; eyes which can’t see.

Thomas, who works with The Blind Foundation and hosts a disability show on Wellington Access Radio , calls Newtown home.

We met at a bus stop on a wet and blustery day. Walked a few pavements, hopped a few buses. I learnt a lot. Of course, quite a few things Thomas uses to navigate a busy urban environment were right under my nose. The pads of yellow plastic by every pedestrian crossing, the hazards of sandwich boards and other things, blocking the footpath.

I came away from our meeting realising even my stationary bike can be a hazard, depending on where it’s tethered. I also came away with more of an appreciation for the value of noise; the dangers of silent e-vehicles, or of crossing signals drowned out by the roar of traffic – or the Wellington wind.

As Ellen Blake argued in Episode 3, the footpath is not quite the pedestrian sanctuary it should be. I have mixed feelings about opening up paths to other wheeled users (on top of those who already have the right to be there).  I do feel, whatever happens, the sidewalk should be a place where pedestrians come first, and pedestrians should be able to put their trust it that being the case.

Newtown struck me as a noisy place. A lively one too, and Newtown’s environment is all the more relevant given this is coming up .  It’s a microcosm of Wellington’s dual geographical blessing and curse. A blessing in that its geography has funneled three major suburban routes into one compact easy-to-get-around valley. A curse because when you overlay that valley with demand to squeeze a growing number of motor vehicles through it, things get messy.

I’m going to devote Episode 7 to Newtown’s potential make over. In the meantime, I invite you (in true Traffic Jamm’n style) to walk a talk in Thomas’s shoes.