How does the Draft GPS on Transport affect Cycling?

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee (left) is pleased to see some people walking and biking (albeit temporarily) on one of his new motorways (c/ Barker Photography.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee (left) is pleased to see some people walking and biking (albeit temporarily) on one of his new motorways (c/ Barker Photography.

There’s only a few days left before submissions close on the draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Transport for 2015-18 (due Monday). This is a very important document for how transport is funded and considered in New Zealand; essentially it’s at the top of the policy tree for all that we do in this space. As has already been alluded to here on our website, the draft isn’t really looking that flash for cycling…

The GPS is updated at least every three years and the current (2012-15) document is rather bereft of much support for cycling. The big mantra with the Government is “economic productivity, road safety, and value for money” – all very fine sentiments, except that the overly dominant tool that the Govt is using to try to achieve these aims are more roads (particularly the Roads of National Significance – RoNS).

Cycling got a token mention in the 2012-22 GPS – just two paragraphs out of 32 pages are devoted to cycling. And when it comes to actual funding, walking and cycling combined receive $12-30 million in 2012/13, rising to $16-$36 ten years later. To put that in context: this equates to less than 1% of all transport funding over the decade in question. It is no surprise therefore that cycling has largely stagnated in development around NZ (with just a few exceptions such as the two Model Community towns).

So what of the new Draft GPS? Well, cycling certainly gets a bit more attention; about three times the number of mentions. There are explicit goals such as “Increased safe cycling through extension of the cycle networks” and “Increased investment in cycle networks”, which seems to tie in with the current National Cycling Safety Panel effort to make recommendations in this area to Government. This all sounds rather promising, but then you look at the proposed funding band for walking and cycling – $15-33m rising to $20-$45m over ten years. That’s still less than 1% of the total funding; hardly a transformational change…

If you look closely you can just make out the planned spend on cycling... (c/ TransportBlog)

If you look closely you can just make out the planned spend on cycling… (c/ TransportBlog)

Overall this Draft GPS suffers from some very narrow definitions of key issues/solutions, and this seems to limit its understanding of cycling as a potential solution to many of the challenges outlined. While it certainly makes more mention of cycling than the previous GPS, and identifies extension of cycle networks as a key result, it then pays lip service to this by offering virtually no significant increase in funding for cycling (and walking) in the 10-year programme. Granted, there are many “process improvement” issues needed to improve cycling safety that don’t require more funding, just better practices and policies (e.g. better design audits). But quite simply we also need more “stuff on the ground” and this funding allocation won’t do it.

There are a number of other specific issues in the draft GPS that are equally worrying:

  • Throughout the Draft GPS is the qualifier “reduction of deaths and serious injuries at reasonable cost, “support a choice of modes appropriate to user needs at reasonable cost, “extension of the dedicated cycle networks… where this can be achieved at reasonable cost, etc. However this qualifier never applies to any proposals such as “completion of the RONS programme”, “ongoing investment in the SH network”. Given that road safety costs this country more in social costs each year than congestion, and road safety and cycling projects typically have greater benefit/cost ratios than major highway upgrades, it seems that this qualifier is being applied to the wrong set of objectives.
  • The Draft GPS proposes a new “Regional Improvements” class, worth ~$50-90 million a year, which “targets investment in regional route improvements that provide links to key freight or tourist routes”. It is not clear whether this new activity class would allow expenditure on cycling infrastructure if that is what the region desired (e.g. as part of a regional cycle touring network).
  • There is a target to “Enable access to social and economic opportunities, particularly for people with limited
    access to a private vehicle”. I think what they actually mean is “Enable access to social and economic opportunities, particularly for people with limited access to a private motor vehicle”. Many people have access to a “private vehicle” in the form of a bicycle; however they have limited opportunity to being able to use it for accessing the afore-mentioned opportunities. Instead, this section of the Draft GPS only talks about the ability of public transport to provide that opportunity; it should be expanded to talk about the role that cycling can play to provide transport independence (especially for young people).
  • The Draft GPS also has a target of “Increased safe cycling through improvement of the cycle lane network”. Presumably they actually mean the cycleway network; it is rather quaint to only talk about a “cycle lane network” when they have a defined meaning of on-road painted lanes. Recent discussions in NZ have clearly identified that conventional cycle lanes will only have a limited role in providing for safer cycling and encouraging cycling in NZ. It is likely that more significant gains will be provided via off-road cycle paths, separated bikeways, and neighbourhood greenways.
  • There is a statement that says “While there are health benefits associated with cycling where it increases the total amount we exercise, safety continues to be a concern, and represents a critical barrier to cycling fulfilling its transport task potential”. The tenor of this paragraph is unhelpful, as it implies that the safety concerns of cycling outweigh benefits such as health (or are at least similar). However the evidence is quite clear that, even with the current state of cycling in NZ, the health and other benefits of cycling outweigh the safety costs by an order of magnitude. It is the perceived safety that continues to be the greatest concern and this should be noted, while acknowledging the considerably greater benefits that cycling brings.
  • It is symptomatic of the current approach to cycling in NZ that the goal of “extension of the dedicated cycle networks in the main urban areas” is qualified by “where this can be achieved at reasonable cost, including impact on general traffic capacity“. This is the only place in the Draft GPS where such a capacity constraint is given, and seems to preclude any cycling improvement that involves a reduction in the number of traffic lanes or an increase in traffic delay. This ignores the fact that (1) in many cases there is an excess of traffic capacity, (2) improvement of cycling safety may provide greater benefits than the cost of reduced traffic capacity, and (3) improved cycling infrastructure will lead to a shift in travel mode that will reduce the need for the previous traffic capacity. It should be up to the specific evaluation of each case to identify the relative effects of a cycling project on traffic capacity and other impacts.
  • In the performance requirements for the State Highway and Local Road Improvements/Maintenance categories, there are no explicit stated results that aim to “ensure that all road users are safely and efficiently provided for”. This oversight is a common failing in many road projects to date that have been focused on improvements to the safety and efficiency for motor traffic, but at a cost to cycling (and walking) along or across the road corridor. Otherwise the GPS risks focusing on just improvements to “capacity or service levels”.
  • The Draft GPS has short-medium term targets of “Extension of the dedicated cycle networks in the main urban areas” and “Improvement of suburban routes for cyclists”. What counts as a “main urban area”? What are “suburban routes” and how they differ from “cycle networks in the main urban areas”? Cycling safety is a nationwide problem, so most areas nationally should be in line for some improvements (including rural areas where half of all cycle fatalities occur).
The Minister is clearly keen to open a few more cycle facilities in the future...

The Minister is clearly keen to open a few more cycle facilities in the future…

So what can you do about all of this? The simplest action would be to sign the online petition that is currently circulating around seeking to treble the proposed walking/cycling budget to $45-90 million per year. This will be sent to Transport Minister Brownlee as a formal submission on the GPS, so it needs as many signatures as possible – do now before Monday 11th Aug. Alternatively, you might like to pen your own submission to the Ministry; you could consider some of the points made here, or look at some of the excellent resources elsewhere, such as Spokes Canterbury.

Hurry – submissions are due by 5pm Monday 11th August

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