On Friday 11 April there was a Resource Management Act mandated hearing on SH 1 4-laning out by the airport.
This is a legal process and has a set format. The independent Commissioner made the process accessible to even non-professionals. He was focused, asked pertinent questions, made non-professionals feel welcome and encouraged them to participate. He was a great example of the importance of having intelligent open minded dedicated people working on behalf of the public.
First the proponent, NZTA, presents why the project complies with the RMA, attempts to define/limit that which this process may consider relevant, and refutes any of the objections and tries to address the concerns raised in submissions. For NZTA this meant a solicitor leading off with 19 pages presenting points and buttressing NZTA’s position with citations of statute and case law. This is just the lead-in to reports on the various facets of the project, which are then further supported by testimony from seven experts each presenting their own 10-30 page presentation. After only 3.25 hours they wrapped up. This can be a bit intimidating.
To summarise their arguments in the briefest of terms and addressing only the points concerning cycling infrastructure provides a good look into why change is difficult.
NZTA accepts that the current cycling infrastructure on SH 1, a 1.5m width shoulder, is inadequate. Therefore, under the rigged rules of the law passed by our honourable MPs, they are only required to replace it with something equally bad. That they have opted to provide a 2.5m wide breakdown/emergency vehicle lane on the shoulder is, therefore, an improvement. (aka We have gotten away with murder before so we should be able to continue to kill with impunity)
The project as designed does not allow adequate room for separated cycle infrastructure, such as is found on the new southern motorway extension, so such cannot be provided. To provide an alternate off-road cycle route would require going ‘outside the designation footprint’, the project’s current limited width, so is outside of scope. Therefore it would be improper for this review to consider requiring NZTA to provide cycle infrastructure that must fall outside of the footprint. (aka We have designed the project so that the problems created by the project can only be dealt with outside of the project, so not our problem)
There is no requirement in law for NZTA to provide adequate, safe, inviting cycling infrastructure. (aka Get out of responsibility courtesy of legislation which is unfit for purpose)
This could be a bit of a shock for a reasonable, but hopelessly naïve, person having read NZTA’s own objectives for the project which include:
“- To improve safety for road users.
– To promote multi-modal transport.
– Ensure that the state highway network improves both mobility and accessibility.”
But it is all a matter of context. The objectives are public relations. The real points were made at this hearing, attended by government, developers and the CDHB and Spokes on behalf of people who walk and cycle. The media did not attend. To be fair the project will offer some road safety, mobility, and accessibility improvements. Promotion of multi-modal transport is a bit of a stretch though.
The confusion arises as some of us think that government should do things right. People clearly want to cycle, some need to cycle. Government has responded by passing legislation and policies that do not achieve what some people expect and need. On the other hand the legislation clearly meets the needs of other people, people who one might imagine matter more to legislators.
This quote from the NZTA’s opening arguments is a great example of how the unreasonable is made reasonable: “A condition cannot be used to force a requiring authority to provide further cycle improvement beyond those already proposed. Amongst other things, such a condition would conflict with the Newbury principles as the condition would no longer be directed at addressing the adverse effects of the Project. Rather, it would have the ulterior purpose of forcing the Transport Agency to implement further cycle improvement projects unrelated to addressing the adverse effects by the Project. Such a condition would also be clearly unreasonable.”
Ignoring the fact that the project does create the adverse effects that necessitate providing a north-south cycle route on the west side of town, let’s ask some questions to understand what might be not only reasonable, but in the public’s best interest.
Do people ride bicycles on this route and travel north/south on the west side of Christchurch? Yes. Do they need better safer infrastructure? Yes. Have central and local government a responsibility to meet the public’s reasonable expectations? Yes. Will a public safety goal be achieved? Yes. Does the riding of bicycles contribute to the public good through improved public health, reduced pollution, reduced dependence on foreign oil, reduced road congestion, reduced roading costs, etc.? Yes. Would safe inviting cycle infrastructure likely increase the numbers of people who cycle? Yes. Does the law support people in achieving these goals? No. Is our government broken?
Can we do anything about this? Yes, this is an election year. Make sure you vote and vote for candidates and parties whose basic policies and personal integrity you trust. Talk to the candidates, you will have no better chance for a civil response as when they are campaigning. If you don’t like their answers, tell them and explain what. You won’t be likely to find an ideal candidate or party, but do vote for the ones who come closest. We just might be able to work with them. Not voting usually results in unhappy outcomes.