Back in 2012, NCC approved $13 million to fund school walking and cycling projects in Nelson. The funding came primarily from NZTA regional funding (R-funding http://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/planning/nltp-2012-2015/docs/factsheet-nelson.pdf).
This was an exciting time; It was a significant commitment to active transport by NCC and $13,000,000 could make a real difference to our infrastructure, surely? Encouraging more children to walk and cycle, particularly to school would have significant health benefits, reduce congestion and hopefully help reduce our long term dependency on private motor vehicles for transport in Nelson. Of course, this being Nelson, not everybody saw this as a positive step (http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/7808037/Walk-bike-package-social-engineering).
The council formed the Active Transport Advisory Group 'ATAG' to prioritise projects that could be funded via the school Walking Cycling funding package. BNB was part of that alongside representatives from NZTA, Walking, NMHDHB, AA, the police, ACC, youth council and NCC.
We were filled with optimism; It was opportunity to be part of a project that had the potential to make a difference, to make changes that would benefit people living and working in Nelson as well as future generations. The ATAG group took up a surprising amount of time with frequent and long meetings but we could see the potential of a number of major projects. So where are those projects now?
This project was aimed at providing safer cycling and walking routes for children in the Brook valley, primarily to link up with Central and St. Josephs schools but it would also link the Codgers Mountain bike tracks with the city. This was a difficult project due primarily to the unusual layout of the Brook St. and, shock-horror, it was going to require the removal of a small number of parking spaces. This being Nelson, the Brook Street Store owner launched a petition opposing the changes (http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/8721205/Parking-plans-not-set-in-stone) and other residents, who's concern seemed to be primarily the increase and behavior of mountain bikers and the lack of consultation over of the Codgers tracks, campaigned and effectively putting an end to the project.
This project started with the ambitious plan of creating one large slow speed zone that would encompass the schools and central city area making all our central city streets safer. While the project was watered down somewhat to slow speed zones (40km/h) outside schools and only at the start and end of of the school day, it is a step in the right direction.
This should have been the 'jewel' in Nelson's cycling infrastructure - A dedicated cycleway linking Richmond (and all the schools in-between) via the Railway reserve to the heart of Nelson (http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/communities/9665865/Cycle-lane-a-national-first). By the end of 2014, stage one and two linking the Railway Reserve to Gloucester St. were largely complete, albeit with numerous compromises. It certainly wasn't perfect but in the climate of the time it was viewed as a major achievement to get that far, earning it national recognition and even an award (https://can.org.nz/media/2014/best-cycling-projects-and-champions-announced). The Beatson Rd. shared path was also complete by the end of 2015.
Stage three of the St. Vincent St. cycleway fared somewhat worse though and after a significant delay the design ended up as a shared path, divided by a busy entrance, and only stretching as far as Haven Rd., significantly undermining the effectiveness of the entire route. A plan to continue the route through Anzac Park was recently rejected by Councillors and instead a 'compromise plan' that will remove much of the planting on the long south border of the park (in order to leave car parking untouched) was approved to go through for design work.
Despite a perception of being a cycle friendly city, Nelson has relatively few urban off road cycle routes. In a city where the car is most certainly king, where the removal of any car parking or reduced motor vehicle access is often met with protests and even threats of legal action, what few off road cycle-ways we have are almost exclusively shared pathways (the exception being the St. Vincent St. Cycleway above plus a short cycle-specific section at the north end of Collingwood St). As the number of people choosing to walk and cycle has increased, these shared spaces have become increasingly congested however. A plan to widen part of the Maitai shared path to better accommodate this increase and make it safer for walkers was therefore proposed by council. The initial design and extent of the widening caught many by surprise creating a backlash, particularly from a newly formed 'walking' group that campaiged to ban cyclists from the Maitai path altogether. The project has now been put on hold until after further consultation, expected to be at some time this year.
After numerous meetings and workshops, various routes through Tahunanui were proposed to make cycling safer for those living in the area or who are passing through it. Several years on, the council is still holding opendays (two more in February http://nelson.govt.nz/projects/infrastructure/tahunanui-cycleway/) and this project seems no further along.
Ah yes - Last but by no means least, the Rocks Rd. Boulevard. The project would provide a walking and cycling link to the proposed Tahunanui cycleways and the St. Vincent and Maitai routes above. Together with the St. Vincent St. cycleway, this project was a real opportunity to make a dramatic difference to our infrastructure and, by reducing motor vehicles in our city and opening up the waterfront, to the quality of life for those that live in Nelson. A spin off of that was of course some big benefits in terms of tourism.
The realisation that these projects could undermine the 'need' for the Southern Link seems to have been met with quite a panic. The Waterfront association went into overdrive with campaigns such as 'Save the Chains'. Nick Smith also went into action and despite the Southern Link project being thrown out by the environment court just a few years earlier (and found not to be justified in the near future by a recent and very comprehensive NZTA study) Smith pushed NZTA to again investigate options. This has been a significant expense, not just in terms of money but also in the enormous amount of time for everybody involved. More concerning was the linking of the Rocks Rd. boulevard to the investigation by NCC’s regional transport committee, effectively delaying projects, possibly indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.
Seen by some as the last chance for the Southern Link, it appears that every effort is being made to undermine alternative projects. In addition, and with the help of Bowater Honda (no conflict of interest there) we've seen a successful campaign for free parking in central Nelson. The effect of this was to immediately undermine what was increasing numbers of people using public transport and for NCC to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in reduced income from parking revenue. We've also seen campaigns that have pitted cyclists and walkers against each other in an attempt to undermine shared paths (http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/67561679/shared-path-conflict-aired).
If you live in Nelson, whether you're a retailer, parent, car driver, cyclist or walker... if you care about our city, if you care about our planet, you should be cross.
This year is the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle. It remains one of the most healthy, convenient, efficient and environmentally friendly forms of transport. Let make 2017 the year of the bicycle in Nelson.