Episode 14: Empathy Street

There was a bit of a fracas in the Wellington cycling community the other day, over this…

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The standard sort of anti-lycra meme, only this one was posted by a senior manager at one of bus companies serving Wellington, Tranzurban.  Now, I’m all for a joke, but given the lack of passing space some buses give bikes on the road, I did feel the company’s initial response to cyclist queries – along the lines of – don’t worry, he’s only having a laugh, cut it like a truck cutting me off at the corner.

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So it didn’t surprise me, once I’d passed this story onto a colleague in the RNZ Newsroom, to see  the company change its response.  Good. Next time, think before you post, Mr Tranzurban Manager. Turned out, a few of the people you shared your joke with on social media were cyclists.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. We are all multi-modal. When was the last time you drove to the counter at the shop? Sure, they’re talking about drive-in supermarkets in Dubai, but really, what happens when you meet an SUV coming the other way in the male hygiene products aisle? How many of you own a bike in lieu of a second car? Or take the bus when it’s too wet to scooter?

Actually I felt a little sorry for the Tranzurban man. It’s probably stressful work dealing with an omnishambles, even if some of it is partly your own making. A joke at some other road users’ expense might just help ease tension with the foot soldiers.

But what we all ought to be doing is looking out for each other, and showing support and appreciation when we do.

I’ve had many close calls with motor vehicles. I’m here today writing this because I often anticipated their mistake before they made it. Does this mean all motorists are wankers?

I can also think of the dozens of times a car has given me space this month. Just yesterday, an SUV waited until I cleared a narrow piece of Aro Street before overtaking. I gave him a wave. Riding with my son along the shared path at Balaena Bay, a ute waiting to enter the main road, reversed so we didn’t have to cycle around it. I gave him a big thank you.

So I decided to dedicate the latest episode of The Traffic Jam to courtesy. Using my regular “Quax” down to the Sunday market as a vehicle for chatting about some of the things I do to help other people on the road, and thank others when they help me.

These include….

  • Waving vehicles past at a blind corner when I can see the way ahead is clear: I don’t want to hold up others any longer than I have to. The sooner they safely pass me the better.
  • Waving a thank you for vehicles that stop for me at a pedestrian crossing: They could get away with rushing past, but they chose not to. I want them to feel good about the choice they made.

 

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  • Going slowly on shared paths when pedestrians are around: Having someone on a relatively large and hard object speed by a few centimetres away is no fun. If they have their back to me, and there’s not much room, I gently let them know I’m approaching (a little tinkle on a bell works a treat). If they still don’t hear me and the way is blocked, an “excuse me” usually works. If it doesn’t, I simply wait until there’s room.  If I’m in a hurry, there’s almost always the road (yes I know the road can be scary, which is why I’m all for calming traffic and more separated lanes for cycles, skates and scooters).
  •  When a vehicle chooses to wait, rather than risk passing me at speed in a tight space, they get a wave when they do eventually slip by. I do the same if the lane is so narrow I have had to ride in the middle of it: They could have bullied me with their extra mass, power and speed, but they choose not to. I want them to know I appreciate that.
  • Thumbs up for people who stop at yellow lights rather than rushing red ones: because the city is so much more chill when we decide to be the first off the rank on the next green, rather than the last to shoot through on someone else’s.

Am I mad? Naive? Possibly. But now you know what that crazy guy at the lights was on about.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion about how we share the road over the next few months. Let’s Get Welly Moving is saying, in its own mother of all roundabouts way, more space for cars is not the number one priority.

Fair call I reckon. I think 50 years of car-first policy is enough. However, that change in approach is going to upset quite a few people, and until we up our game on public and active transport in some of the outer suburbs, it’s going to make life harder for some as well.

In recognition of that, I’m putting away the middle finger and trying on the positive mindset. Being a cyclist,  as well as the part-owner of a car, has made me happier and healthier, and I want to share some of that happiness. In the battle for common sense, I reckon a smile is an under utilised weapon in the arsenal.

I even end Episode 14 with some positive thoughts on the new bus system.

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Those bike racks, for example, make it possible to Quax, even when you live 150 metres higher above sea level  than the market. They’re also handy when taking kids to distant cycle paths.

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But I might save those thoughts for another blog, lest you think I’m on someone’s payroll.

Still, I’d love to get some of your’s on sharing our highways and byways, while spreading the love, so feel free to comment.

Happy jammin’.

 

 

 

 

 

The movable feast that is Let’s Get Welly Moving

Warning, some images may not reflect reality.

Kapiti Expressway Wikimedia

There’s a problem with Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

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Well, you’d expect that in a document that comes out in May 2019 with October in the headline.

But where Let’s Get Welly Moving really comes unstuck is it’s a local fix to a regional problem.

Much of the traffic LGWM is designed to address comes not from Wellington City, but from the growing suburbs and commuter towns to the north, and the new roads built to accommodate, and in some cases, encourage that growth.

Those advocating for better alternatives to the private car, celebrated the LGWM announcement. So they should. For a start Wellington Mayor, Justin Lestor, and transport minister, Phil Twyford, chose the city’s railway station as the venue for their big reveal.

And it is significant their announcement did not include a major programme of new roads at the top of the list.

But the roads are still there, just buried in the text. Their importance open to interpretation. Will Wellington build a mass transit  link from its railway station to Newtown before it builds a second Mt Victoria Tunnel? At the same time?

Then there’s the unanswered question as to what form that mass transit will take. Trackless trams? Light rail?

It took Auckland a long time to convince the previous National lead government to proceed with its City Rail Link. That may have been frustrating for the CRL’s supporters, but it did bring one benefit. By the time John Key and then transport minister, Simon Bridges, recognised its merit, Aucklanders (including Auckland businesses) were pretty united in their support for it.

The same can’t be said for Wellington. Let’s Get Welly Moving might have come up with a plan, but I’m not convinced it’s achieved consensus. The Chamber of Commerce still wants the roads, if not first, then at least at the same time as the other stuff. Local National MPs have been vocal in their calls for the Government to complete road projects promised by the previous administration.

And all the while, that low density car focused residential development continues. In Whitby, above the Hutt, and along the Kapiti Coast, as the increased traffic flow of Transmission Gully and the Expressway extension approaches with the inevitability  of an advancing glacier – not that we see many  of those in real life these days.

Let’s Get Welly Moving’s first tranche of proposals involve plucking the seemingly low hanging fruit of calming city traffic, giving more road space over to buses, cyclists and micro-mobility users, encouraging walking; all the stuff that a growing number of poeple living in the central city love.

But their needs are on a potential collision course with those from the North, who either choose, or have no option but to live in Carland.

And if you didn’t click on the link, here’s a bit of the sales pitch to give you an idea of what I mean;

The suburb of Whitby, within Porirua City, is set to leverage off the infrastructural benefits of the Transmission Gully project which promises to cut commute times to Wellington city.

The Automobile Association’s Mike Noon made an observation about “lifestyle choices”  when I got his reaction to LGWM the other day. And he has a point. The kids are marching to stop climate change, but many  Mums and Dads are still buying SUVs. They’re still investing in low density housing, and even when someone suggests a bus service might be a good idea, some of them oppose it.

Most of the people who move to such places expect to be able to drive where they want without encountering congestion, and for the first few years that’s often the case. Think about the space you currently enjoy on the Kapiti Expressway.  Just like the artists impression at the top of this blog…

It won’t last. Soon more homes pop up, housing residents with more cars and the same expectations. Now the call is for an Expressway all the way to Levin to the north, and “Four Lanes to the Planes” to the south.

That’s why I spent a bit of time up the coast the other day. I needed the reality check. As the (probably) outgoing chair of the Wellington Regional Council said of the LGWM launch; “it’s the beginning of the beginning”. Mr Laidlaw hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory recently, but he’s right about that.

Let’s Get Welly Moving isn’t locked and loaded. The results of this year’s local, and next year’s national elections will have a significant bearing on what gets priority – although it is important to note, as Isabella Cawthorn from Talk Welly does so well in this edition of Traffic Jam, for once, the motoring lobby isn’t in the driving seat.

But we can’t solve Wellington City’s mobility problems and ignore the needs of the wider region. That’s why investment in public and active transport in Kapiti and the Hutt is key. That’s why the choices residential developers make on greenfield sites matter. That’s why the connectivity of whatever mass transit mode Wellington City decides on, is crucial.

Why would you ditch the car for the train in Kapiti, if you have to walk several hundred metres through a subway at Wellington Railway Station to catch a trackless tram to get to Newtown? In fact why would even bother driving to Waikanae station on a week day when the park and ride is already full?

Or, as I hint at the end of my podcast with Mike Noon, is there an even deeper question? Is the low density housing model an unsustainable solution subsidised by roads?

I’m not quite ready to declare war on cars. I still like to drive, as well as cycle, bus, walk and train. However, I am enjoying a podcast by those who have. For a fresh view on mobility with a nice light touch, I recommend these guys.

In the meantime, keep asking the questions, keep the smart debate going, and when you’re stuck in a jam, keep thinking.

Episode 10: Operation Human Shield

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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’!