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.
The council meeting tomorrow is a big one. It's got an agenda that runs into over 400 pages and nicely timed to be on the run up to Christmas (http://nelson.govt.nz/council/council-structure/council-meetings-2016/).
At this meeting councillors look set to vote to urge NZTA to build a highway, while at the same time they will dither over whether to build another crappy stretch of cycleway (currently to nowhere) on what should be a major cycle route (but hey, what's the point, we're going to build a new highway, right?). Oh yes, and they will also look at banning cyclists from a stretch of the Maitai. To us, it's clear that our views, and the views of many Nelson ratepayers, are not being represented in council.
It is for this reason and after much debate, BNB decided we wouldn't submit on any of these topics. We've repeated our message enough times to council and council staff and our views are well known. Council meetings like this are in general dominated by the same people; primarily those same names you see at the bottom of angry letters to the editor. Without fail we see the Tim Bayley - Cynthia McConville tag team (it would appear it's Tim's turn this time) for example. Similarly the faces of BNB have become well known and easy to ignore.
Any conflict between cycling and walking is great for selling newspapers and it also serves other agendas, but it undermines our efforts to create a healthy, sustainable, people-focused city. It's important therefore to look at the bigger picture - to look at what is really behind this conflict.
The Maitai walkway is a special place for many reasons - it's one of Nelson's biggest assets for cyclists and walkers, for young and old and for locals and for tourists. It's possible to cycle from the marina all the way up the Maitai for several kilometres off road (with the only road you need to cross being Trafalgar St.).
As people become more aware of the health benefits of cycling and walking, as well as the consequences of a car centric city, we're seeing increases in the numbers of people using active transport. As the numbers have increased, we've seen pressure put on the Maitai route and similar areas. This is primarily because our infrastructure hasn't kept pace with this growth, nor has it catered for the needs of different cyclists. Unfortunately, in our city every car park space is sacred, and the Southern Link is seen as the solution to everything. The aim of creating a healthy sustainable city in line with the 2060 strategy, where the needs of pedestrians and cyclists aren't sacrificed to the ‘needs' of cars, has been stunted, and our city is being increasingly left behind.
So what do we do ? We think it's time we reclaimed our streets. It's time to stop fighting over the scraps and realise that our city is becoming increasingly car-focused and unsustainable in it's current form. It's time we looked at and learnt from other cities and towns that have been able to transition to active and public transport. Places where the commitment to 'public space' means something more than being committed to car parking spaces and roads. It's time that our council worked for all of us.
We need you to step up, get involved, and fight for the future of Nelson! We have hundreds of people on our mailing list and our Facebook page has over 1800 ‘Likes' and while not everybody will agree with all our views, we assume that many of you do. We don't have the money to put full page ads in the paper so we need YOU to get active and help get the message out. Write to the mayor, write to your your councillors, spread the word through social media, talk to your friends and of course get out on your bike.
While the revolution may not be televised, fortunately the council meeting on tomorrow will be. If you can't make it there in person try and watch it on-line (https://www.youtube.com/user/NelsonCouncil) and when you hear our councillors and our mayor speak, ask yourself if they are representing your values and your views. If not, let them know - they have a legal responsibility to represent us.
Over the past few years we've seen projects that could have helped increase the number of cyclists either delayed, shelved completely or seriously compromised to the point that they have become almost pointless. We've had to fight for every scrap of infrastructure and now we're increasingly having to fight just to keep the infrastructure we have.
The proposed banning of cyclists from stretches of our shared paths is not going to hurt mountain bikers, it's not even going to hurt many of the confident cyclists you see out and cycling now, it's going to hurt the 'interested but concerned'; those that are not even cycling yet. It's going to hurt children, it's going to hurt the elderly. It's going to hurt the parents that want to ride with their sons and daughters. It's going to hurt those that want to ditch the car and commute to work.
For those paying attention, it won't come as a surprise that those that have been vocally opposed to cyclists are some of the same people that have been campaigning for the Southern Link. While we allow the Southern Link and those supporting it to dominate council decisions and while other countries instead focus on cycling infrastructure and on reducing inner city traffic, Nelson is going to be increasingly left behind.
Tourists, with the expectation of an environmentally conscious, cycle friendly city are going to be increasingly disappointed, but even if tourism doesn't concern you, perhaps your quality of life does. While we drag our feet we will continue to have more traffic on the roads, higher rates, more pollution - a dirtier, noisier and less healthy city.
What can you do ?
A particular lobby group has been publishing a list of 'Facts' through Facebook and on flyers, so we thought we'd see how well these facts stood up (note that we haven't missed any out, these are as they are numberd on the flyer):
Fact 1. "Surveys consistantly find that over 60% support for the southerm link..." - Simply not true (they're not off to a good start here) - The only statistically valid, randomly-sampled survey of people in Nelson on this issue was done at the request of NZTA and showed that the majority of people wanted options other than the Southern Link (https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/NSLI-Public-Engagement-Summary-Report-Final.pdf).
Fact 2. "Freight volumes are forecast to increase 68% across the Top of the South by 2042" - True, but this is only a current prediction and the main growth in freight is expected to come primarily from Marlborough (https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/draft-south-island-freight-plan/docs/draft-south-island-freight-plan.pdf). Heavy goods vehicles account for only 6% of vehicles on Rocks Rd. and NZTA are hoping to lower that through the MAX50 trucks for example - yes they are bigger, but only very slightly. They can carry an extra 6 tonnes of freight because they have an additional axle to spread the load meaning they have 'no additional wear on roads per tonne of freight' (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/commercial-driving/permits/high-productivity/50max/). NZTA's aim is 'more freight with fewer trips'. Additionally, freight volumes at the port have been pretty flat and NZTA states in the NZTA Strategic Case document "There is no indication of any significant growth occurring in recent years".
Fact 3. "Nelson's rate of population growth is 8% and 2nd only to Auckland" - The 8% figure is between the 2006 and 2013 census. The annual average grown this just 1.1%. Additionally, because the Nelson and Tasman population sizes are actually quite small, the growth in numbers is also very small. Crucially though, this recent growth is made up almost entirely of those aged over 65 (the growth of the older population in Nelson Marlborough is the highest of any DHB in NZ), an age demographic whose travel patterns are very different to commuters and younger residents. (refs; What We Can Learn From the 2013 Census, Nelson Marlborough District Board, 2013; Nelson: Census 2013.A summary of key Census results. Nelson City Council, 2014). Additionally, despite our record regional population growth, vehicles on Rocks Rd has been on a declining trend for the last decade: there are now 2000 fewer vehicles/day around rocks road than in 2006 (see graph here from the NZTA Strategic Case document).
Fact 4. "More than half Nelson's population growth (55%) is occuring in Stoke" - Quite true, check out the massive expansion in retirement villages in Stoke. "Almost half (46 percent) of Nelson’s residents aged 65 and over live in Stoke, where they make up 22 percent of Stoke’s population” (Nelson: Census 2013.A summary of key Census results. Nelson City Council, 2014). A new inner residential zone would allow higher density living close into town, so people wouldn't be forced to live further out as they are now.
Fact 6. "A well designed Southern Link route will include an adjacent cycle way..." That may be the case, but we already have a cycleway and we want to keep it the way that it is. The Southern Link would remove a green cycling/walking corridor into the city and put a highway next to three schools, several day care centres and introduce a significant amount of pollution into airshed A which will affect thousands of people. An ‘adjacent cycleway’ isn’t just a loss of the existing facility, it’s a degrading of the level of service. The proposed replacement would be beside a state highway carrying logging trucks - which will now be climbing a hill, meaning more noise and pollution than on Rocks Rd.
Fact 12. "A pro-link council will make it easier to obtain Government funding for the new arterial route" - and the evidence? Claims made without evidence are by definition opinions, not facts. A pro-link council could make it difficult to implement alternatives that could negate the need for the link such as clearways.
Fact 14. "Rocks Rd. is the minimum 3.5m width allowed for a state highway..." yes, that’s why a widened footprint with improved cycle lanes and wide shared path is currently proposed (with SH in place, see point 6). Additionally, the width of the caridgeway varies hugely. There are some places where indeed a generous shared path would be able to be built entirely on the existing caridgeway, but some of it would have to be built out over the sea. This is not difficult as Connollys Quay (the fishing Platform at Magazine point) has shown.
Fact 15. "A well-designed and purpose built arterial route will be safer because there will be fewer intersections..." The route from Annesbrook roundabout to the port via Tahuna has just one set of lights, the route over the Southern Link would have to have at least 4 (Toi-Toi, Glouster, Halifax and QE2 drive).
Fact 17. "The number of traffic movements on Rocks Rd. doubles during the summers' logging..." We're not sure where this 'double' figure comes from and we assume it's made up since the graphs that NZTA published in the Southern Link Business case document (see below) don't indicate anything like that. In any case, the vast majority of traffic on Rocks Rd. is cars (6% is freight). In summer there is a big increase in tourists and people going to the beach. This will still occur whether we had the Southern Link or not and could be (and should be) easily catered for with a dedicated 'beach bus'.
Fact 18. "Air pollution levels in the Victory airshed have reduced..." - We are barely meeting the terms of current National Standards for Air Quality. But the really important point here is that the standard is wrong and under review. The Parliamentary Commision for the Environment says we should be concerned about long term PM 2.5 exposure, rather than short term PM10.
Below is the graph from the Parlimentoy Commision from the Environment report on Air Quality in NZ 2015. This is an important document as she is independent from government and from spin!
The graph attached is a screenshot from page 29 of the report, the only thing I've added is the underlining and arrow under Nelson (Airshed) A.
A couple of things to note about this is that Nelson (airshed) A (Victory) air quality is substantially worse than anything shown here for Auckland or Christchurch.
Lastly to quote from this study:
The WHO is clear that the long-term exposure guidelines are more important than the short-term exposure guidelines because the health impacts on the population are much greater.
“When evaluating the WHO Air Quality Guidelines and interim targets, it is generally recommended that the annual average take precedence over the 24-hour average....”42
In addition, it is now widely accepted among air quality scientists that PM2.5 concentrations are a better indicator of health impacts across the population than PM10 concentrations. This is because the smaller particles are, the more damaging they are to human health.43
It follows that although all four guidelines are important, the most important is the guideline for long-term exposure to PM2.5."
So the PCE couldn't be more clear long term PM2.5 is the most important measure and Victory is 40% over this gudieline (A note here the NZ Standard for Air Quality is in terms of SHORT term PM10,s, there is no NZ standard for PM2.5, shot or long term - the PCE says there should be - the finer particles (PM2.5 is Particulate Matter 2.5 microns or smaller, PM 10 is 10 microns) are much worse for your health, not just lodging in the airways, but the ultrafine particles (PM1.0 and below which make up some of the PM) can even penetrate the gaseous membranes in our lungs and get into our blood.
It also needs to be noted here that the source of the particulate matter is important - The Envir. Court 2004 into the Southern Link was presented with evidence (attached below) that the "nasties" adsorbed to the surface of the carbon particles were a factor of 10x worse from diesels than they are from woodburning. This is not to suggest that woodsmoke is benign, just that diesel PM is much worse. The Envir. Court didn't rule on this particular bit of evidence, saying they weren't provided with enough information (at that time) to show the suspected worse health outcomes from the greater PAH numbers.
It's the crude but seemingly effective mantra of modern politics and we're seeing this tactic being used constantly by those arguing for the Southern Link.
So lets look at some of the key phrases we hear repeated a lot.
There seems to be little argument about this from many people, but we don't agree. Yes we have traffic queues at peak times, particularly during school term times, and we've had significant traffic queues during the recent storm-water upgrades and Rocks Rd. cliff stabalisation. By world standards, and even New Zealand Standards, Nelson does not have a congestion problem though. Additionally, if you do consider that a slightly longer journey time is a problem, then the chances are you're doing OK because for an increasing number of people there are much more pressing problems, such as how they're going to feed their family, buy a house, get a job or afford the heating bill. If there is a problem here it's that we have a broken system that puts profits and self interest over the wider needs of the people and over the environment. Congestion is a symptom of a system that removed railways, underfunded public transport and cycle-ways and instead built roads. Most countries throughout the world now recognise that this was a major mistake and they are putting in measures to undo it and re-address the balance.
If we polled cyclists and asked if we should build a new highway or put more money into cycleways and public transport we'd expect a biased response. We accept that. Similarly, if the AA does a poll or Nick Smith does a poll we have to accept that there will be a considerable bias. The NZTA Southern Link survey didn't have a bias though, right ? Not true, without even going into the way the survey was presented, there is a heavy bias towards the people that consider that we have a problem to solve (see above) and also feel strongly enough to respond. We also have to consider the fact that the real costs of the Southern Link are not known (financially, socially and environmentally) and while these are expected to be considerable, it would have been difficult for people to factor those in. The closest we have to a sample of public opinion is the telephone survey which contacted 500 people at random. Even this will have a bias towards those at home with landlines (and therefore younger people have a lower representation), however this did indicate that most people do not want the Southern Link, which is even more significant when you consider this survey was taken during considerable and ongoing congestion caused by the Waimea stormwater upgrade.
Many people, including some who are opposed to the Southern Link, are mistaken in thinking that we've had an increase in vehicles and freight on our arterial routes and that this is causing an increase in congestion. NZTA's own figures over the last 6 and 10 years respectively show that there has been no significant increase in vehicles or freight. This isn't steady growth, it's no growth.
OK, so ignoring the question of whether we have a congestion problem or not for a moment, and lets assume we do. A new highway, an additional road that will carry more vehicles, will only shift the problem. Even worse, it's likely that it will exacerbate the problem by increasing the amount of cars that enter our city or queue at the end of the Richmond deviation. Additionally, unlike motor vehicle volumes, the number of people cycling or using public transport is steadily increasing and creating a new highway that encourages more private vehicle use is likely to undermine that. Urban planning specialist Lewis Mumford famously wrote that increasing capacity for cars was "Like the tailor’s remedy for obesity – letting out the seams of the trousers and loosening the belt – this does nothing to curb the greedy appetites that have caused the fat to accumulate."
In the run up to the upcoming elections, be very wary of any prospective councillors using these phrases and challenge them. Be even more wary of anybody who's fallback response is along the lines of "we just need it" or "just get on with it".
Let's make sure we have a council that is made up of people with a real, sustainable vision for the future of Nelson that will have long term benefits for everybody, not just a few.