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)

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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’!

 

Episode 6: In Search of Boxman

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 4: On your Onzo.

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The stats for the first month of Onzo ridership in the capital are out, with over 24 thousand trips registered with the dockless bike app.

During the initial two weeks, the Onzo app and its fleet of two hundred green, black and yellow bikes (which remind this writer of the classic Raleigh 20 of his youth) accounted for just shy of 14,000  trips.

That figure dropped to 10, 470 for the second half of the month.

Perhaps the novelty value and initial publicity, which came with the October 7th launch, had worn off. I also recall some rather ordinary spring weather over that period.

If we take the second half stats as being more realistic, it appears Onzo is most popular during the morning commute, with over a thousand trips between 8 and 9am. But even after dark there are Onzos on the road, with 41 trips picked up in the hour before midnight.

And when the sun shone on a “can’t-beat-a-good-one-in-Wellington” weekend, the Onzos were out in force, and not just on the waterfront. I noticed at least a half dozen (relatively) neatly parked outside an Aro Valley drinking establishment.

My  Onzo experience was largely positive. I found the app easy to use (once I’d worked out which way to point my smartphone to scan my cycle) and the bikes simple to ride. They are trundlers, not speeders and for that reason, are well suited to shared paths, especially our wonderful waterfront. The front basket proved most useful for my recording equipment, with plenty of room left over, if I’d decided to buy a few items from the shop.

On the road, their slightly cumbersome steering and lack of acceleration hampered my ability to pedal it with the motor traffic. Oh, and the lack of gears also limits them to the flat for most users (I did see one bloke walking an Onzo up Raroa Road).

If I was to use the app just once, the initial $14 to download it (plus the $2 spent hiring a couple of Onzos) would struggle to compete with an inner city Uber trip, but based my weekend experience, I would Onzo again if my own bike wasn’t available.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bikes handled after a month of dockless ridership in the Capital. None appear to have gone into that great trolley park in the harbour just yet, although I discovered a few folk are taking Onzos home and keeping them for themselves (#Onzo shows on map, but is behind a locked door). Something for Onzo to consider as Wellington’s six month trial continues.

One thing I failed to find was a bell. Its location wasn’t obvious to my untrained eyes. Turns out it’s a twist grip on the right handlebar. Thanks to all those who pointed out my mistake. I’ll be sure to use it next time!

As for unclaimed Onzos getting in the way of pedestrians, I found most were parked in a considerate manner, and when I did find one stuck in the middle of a footpath, I moved it myself (it didn’t seem to mind).

On the basis of my observations and experience, I’d expect Onzo ridership to rise with the temperature, as Summer approaches. We might even need more bikes.  At the end of last week , 181 of the 200 initial bikes were in service. A drop-off of 19 Onzos a month isn’t sustainable, especially if their popularity increases.

But I’d say this to businesses worried about cycle-paths driving away customers in cars; build them, and the Onzo-dollar might come your way instead.

 

 

 

 

Episode 3: Pedestrian at Best.

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They tell me Wellington is a very livable and walkable city. Let’s set aside the city’s outer suburbs for this discussion. That’s for another day. But, thanks to geography, the central city is a compact little number. Whether it’s making the most of its geography is another matter.

Last week, I went for a walking tour with Ellen Blake from Living Streets Aotearoa. We started where a lot of visitors have started over the years, at the central railway station. Our plan was to make our way, via the “Golden Mile” (who gave Lambton/Willis/Manners/Courtney that name???)  to Tory Street, then down to Te Papa and the waterfront.

You’ll notice a lot of background noise. Some of it’s traffic, some of it’s wind. Not ideal, but does add to the realism. This is Wellington on a typical day.

Interesting thing about the waterfront, which I regard as one of the finest promenades in the country, if not the world (of course I’m biased!). It isn’t easy to access on foot from the city itself. In fact, you can’t even catch a bus to it!

There is plenty of parking at Te Papa if you want to go by car.

Speaking of which, my colleagues at RNZ have been looking at the latest market trends in private motor vehicle demand. Wouldn’t like to meet one of those running a red light when the green figure is flashing, or parked on a footpath (and in a lot of narrow suburban streets, the footpath is the go-to  option for wide vehicles).

Ellen has a bit to say about the latter issue. I’m planning to do a podcast on the former; I often observe pedestrians waiting (when they have the cross now sign in their favour) for cars running red lights. Why do so many pedestrians look so resigned to their fate?

But that’s for another Traffic Jam. For now, I invite you to download, sit back and let your imagination do the walking.