The focus of this submission is primarily Nelson City Council’s role in providing cycle infrastructure and planning around transport behaviour.
Nelson City Council is investing in developing a range of cycle ways, lanes, and trails as part of urban and reserve/forest-based cycling facilities. This submission strongly supports this investment by Council.
In the past cycling may have been viewed as a low volume recreational or transport choice. More recently, increasing numbers of Nelson residents are using Council cycling facilities and so removing pressure on the roading network. This is confirmed by the 26% rise in people biking to work in Nelson (2006-2013 census figures) compared to a national increase of 16%. Significant growth like this underlines the considerable potential for cycling in Nelson as a community, tourism and wider transport activity.
Bicycle Nelson Bays shares the view of a recent Nelson Mail editorial that: “The more our local councils build facilities catering for two-wheelers, the greater the numbers that will use them. This in turn means: extending the life of existing road facilities, including parking; reducing peak-time traffic snarls; potentially healthier and happier people …and citizens generally in closer connection with their community.” (28 March 2014)
Broadgreen Intermediate gives a glimpse of what’s possible when good, safe infrastructure is provided that allows Nelson children to make their own way to and from school; 60–70% of students regularly cycle to school in fine weather, and around 50% on wet days. The implications for freeing up parents’ time and money - and freeing up roads at peak times - are clear.
These are very measurable benefits, but not necessarily captured by Council performance measures. Council does however have performance measures like:
“Minimised social and economic costs of crashes on the transport network: The social cost for Nelson’s worst 10 intersections was $6.7 million in 2012 compared with an average of $4.4 million for the previous five years.”
This performance goal is therefore not achieved, but achieving it will be directly related to the walk/cycle to schools projects. Research out of Christchurch has looked closely at the role of parents’ daily ‘school run’. What is well established is that a large proportion of peak period traffic (and congestion) is made up of ‘school run’ vehicles. What has been less clear in the past is the role of this pattern in vehicle accidents. The Christchurch research has established that although overall vehicle accident rates are declining in NZ, the school run times of 08.00-09.00 and 15.00-15.30 are the times when vehicle accidents are increasing (this increase isn’t occurring in the later 17.00-18.00 rush hour period).
As we have argued in the past, these walk/cycle to schools projects are therefore a critical social, community and economic investment for Nelson. Funding for these needs to be protected - and in time added to - so that routes to schools are made safer and more effective, and are spread more widely across Nelson.
The new segregated cycle path is an excellent start in providing a safer route into the CBD from the south for current and potential shoppers, commuters, school children and recreational riders. However, Bicycle Nelson Bays has submitted to council in the past that best practice for this type of design is to have cycle-priority crossings where possible on such paths. This would bring the facility into line with the design used on the rest - the majority - of this route through Stoke. Applying the current inconsistent design approach means this route will be less safe - and less used. We therefore urge Council to allocate funding to address this necessary improvement work.
We are pleased to see that the Railway Reserve to CBD cycleway has further funding allocated in 2013/14 to extend this facility nearer to a complete connection into the CBD; incomplete cycle routes are like incomplete roads - they discourage use. The removal of the Halifax Street cycle lane from 2014/15 projects is supported by Bicycle Nelson Bays only if an adequate alternative approach can be identified and planned for as soon as possible.
We note that this project has been renamed from the “Rocks Road 4 metre shared path project” and this renaming suggests a more flexible and realistic approach. As Bicycle Nelson Bays submitted to last year’s Annual Plan, an off-road Rocks Road cycleway has the potential to create a stunning facility, but we recognise the project is not without considerable political, engineering, funding and safety challenges. Extending the timing of this project also therefore seems prudent.
From the outset it has been clear that a good deal of work would be necessary to make even the current path adequate for the existing number of (minimal) users - in a number of places it’s not easy for pedestrians to pass each other and some pushchairs/buggies won’t fit on the footpath. There would also seem to be a good deal of remedial/maintenance work needed for the road and safety fence. We urge Council to retain a focus on the viability and funding of a Rocks Road walk/cycle facility as a separate issue to the remedial/maintenance work identified by this project.
We also urge council to be clear about what it is aiming to achieve on this project. Countries like Holland and Denmark, and increasingly in the US and Australia, are not gaining road network efficiency through increased cycling by building race-tracks for cyclists. The past image of cycle commuters as a ‘hard core’ riding at high speeds and where necessary sharing space with vehicles on the road is not Council’s target for future cycling growth. The numbers of these cyclists is always likely to be small. The real potential for cycle commuting involves ‘ordinary people’ riding ordinary bikes at a leisurely pace. This fact - evident wherever a modal shift has been successfully achieved - must be factored into council’s approach to Rocks Road.
Bicycle Nelson Bays has consistently supported Council’s commitment to providing public transport as a transport alternative that increases the efficiency of our roading network. We note Council’s aim of “public transport services that meet the transport needs of the community with an equitable sharing of costs, fare recovery ratio 2012-2015; 30-35%.” Since “the fare recovery ratio in 2012/13 was 63 percent” we would question whether this ratio means that fares are higher than they need to be. This is important if Council want to develop a more sustainable public transport model, since lower fares will induce more demand and build a habit of use. We would also encourage Council to continue to ask Tasman District Council to reexamine it’s position on supporting public transport.
Council has achieved a great deal in the past through progressive improvements to infrastructure, and the current package of projects with a substantial R-Fund contribution looks to be creating a major step-wise increase in cycling behaviour. There is good evidence for the economic wisdom for this investment.
Our concern is that such projects may outstrip the wider strategic context for cycling - Council’s ‘map’ of what it wants to achieve in transport and recreational cycling. The existing Cycle Strategy was written in 2006 and was expected to run through to 2010. (The same situation applies to the 2005 Pedestrian Strategy). Eight years ago the progress that is evident now had not occurred - and neither had the predictable consequences.
One of these consequences is that pressure from successfully increasing cycling numbers on council facilities (mountain-biking or road/cycle path cycling) will involve a transition period where conflict between users also increases. This has been apparent on the roads, cycle paths, and MTB trails. Similarly predictable is that providing a high quality surface on the St Vincent St cycle path while not upgrading the adjacent footpath results in pedestrians voting with their feet/pushchairs/mobility scooters and moving to the new cycling facility.
Taking a strategic approach to planning for cycling doesn’t mean having a current Cycle Strategy, it means adopting an approach that looks for these predictable phases and consequences of change and plans for them.
We would go further and suggest that Council adopt a ‘transport strategy’ - an approach that no longer separates out driving, parking, cycling, pedestrians, and public transport as if each of these were isolated engineering challenges. All of these activities are a part of our daily habits of transport. In the real world these activities are all closely inter-connected; changing aspects of one of these is very likely to impact on the others.
As Nelson City Council continues to look for ways to make Nelson a more liveable, vital and sustainable (including economically) city, Bicycle Nelson Bays looks forward to working with Council on the vision Nelsonians have mapped out for this city in the Nelson 2060 document.
We would be grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this submission at the public hearings.