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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 2: Around town with a Tradie

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I’d like to put some cards on the table.

I own half a car. I like driving.

But there’s no way our family would buy a second one. Given all the things we could do with the thousands of dollars needed to purchase another four wheels, it’s not worth it.  Even if our income increased by a quarter or more, I suspect we’d find better things to do with the extra dosh.

That’s why I cycle to work, that, and the fact it keeps me fit.

But I’m lucky. I have a choice.  Others don’t. My partner is a musician, she needs a car. And then there are all those people who need a motor vehicle not just to get to work, but to carry the tools and materials they need for the job.

That’s the ethos of The Traffic Jam; encouraging people to think outside, and beyond, their transport mode induced bubbles.

So before you condemn those whose mode choices you can’t understand, I invite you to spend some time in their shows, or in this case, their white van.

And while you’re at it, listen out for a special guest appearance from George the Cat, who likes cars, especially to sleep on.

Happy jamm’n’…!

 

 

Gidday!

Every journey starts with a single step, perhaps some of them could do with a few more…

I’ve been a broadcaster for half my life, and a good proportion of that half has been lived in Wellington, New Zealand.

I grew up in Auckland, when the motor car was king, and the motorway was its throne.

That was all very fine in the 1970s and 80s. Then the roads began to fill up, and no matter how many more they build, the extra tar seal can’t match demand.

Wellington was held up as this country’s public transport paradise. Compact, convenient, cool. I’m sorry to have to tell you Wellington, but you’re getting more like Auckland every day.  And this is just the beginning.

There’s a tsunami of cars heading your way, thanks to motorway projects to your north.

I love driving, but I really don’t want Wellington to go through what Auckland has experienced, before it unclogs its motorway arteries, or at least builds alternatives to them. Which is why I’ve started this blog, and the podcast which goes with it.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the penny’s dropped on the people of the capital yet.

Sometimes that’s not easy, when the answer to a question on how we get around, is almost a  tribal statement.

Are you with the car tribe? Forever being made to feel responsible for the planet’s downfall? Are you that cyclist copping abuse on the road, or perhaps in online comment forums? Are you a a public transport user? Simply ignored (until recently)?

I’m all of those, and you can add in ferry and walking as well. I could be suffering from naivety, but I’m after the common ground, because it is, literally. We’re talking about shared public spaces. They don’t need to be a battleground.

So, in the hope of a little more informed debate, and a little less tribalism, here is Episode One, of The Traffic Jam.

It’s about the buses.

Welcome aboard.