While the headline rates rise struck by City Councillors last week might be tough to swallow, one really bright outcome for cycling was the decision to revert to completing the Major Cycleway Programme in only five years.
Regular readers may recall that the Council had proposed to extend the original five-year timeframe out to eight years. Although some people perceived this to be due to the Council’s financial woes, the actual reasoning behind this was realising the complexity of delivering the cycleway programme to a high standard.
This however drew a huge response from the general public, particularly fuelled by the unfortunate death in April of a young Christchurch woman cycling. This response translated into a very strong level of submissions to the draft Annual Plan taking aim at the proposed extension. What was interesting was that the submissions included not just concerned individuals, but quite a number of residents’ groups and Community Boards.
The feedback was enough for Mayor Dalziel to propose reverting the Major Cycleways timeframe back to the original five years. This was duly agreed to by the City Councillors, and the decision received plaudits from the wider community.
In practice, the new timeframe technically requires the cycleways to be built in four years – the first year of the original five has just ticked over. A lot of work has been done behind the scenes, developing the detailed design principles and starting to design the first cycleways, but now it will need a concerted effort to get stuff actually on the ground.
Thirteen cycleways in four years works out to about 3-4 each year (in reality, many will be constructed over multiple years). That requires a significant planning and design input to get each one to the point that a contractor can build it (that also relies on contractors having spare capacity too). The Council itself doesn’t currently have enough resources in-house to achieve this, so it needs to either (a) take on more staff to help with the work or (b) contract some of the work out to consultants to help share the workload. Already Council has started to do some of the latter to help get some of the initial cycleways in motion.
With either option, the next challenge is ensuring that all of those working on the cycleways are able to deliver them to a consistent high standard. There are only so many local people currently out there with good expertise in the kinds of cycleway designs that are being considered, so that requires some concerted training to grow that pool (or a lot more importing of talent). The detailed design guidelines that Council are developing will help to set the minimum standards, but expecting someone to just walk in off the streets and be able to use them would be like expecting anyone to pick up a recipe book and create a cordon bleu masterpiece.
All this also presumes that the progress of these cycleway projects will proceed without a major consultation hitch; yet we know that factors like car-parking removal can threaten to derail an otherwise sound project (witness the current kerfuffles in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin). As much as the Councillors may be pushing their staff hard to deliver these Cycleway projects, ultimately some of them may rely on the Councillors themselves taking a firm stand against potentially distracting complaints.
In summary, I think it will definitely be a “stretch” challenge for all of the thirteen Major Cycleways to be on the ground by 2018. But I guess you don’t know until you try…
How should Council fast-track the Major Cycleways programme? What might hold them up?