Immediately north of Christchurch, our nearest neighbours Waimakariri District are also getting into the cycling swing of things. While many people have been focused on the many cycleways happening across Christchurch, the Govt’s Urban Cycleways Programme is also delivering some cycle facilities north of the Waimakariri River as well. With that in mind, the District Council has decided to review its existing 2010 walking and cycling strategy, and the revised draft strategy is currently out for consultation.
Waimakariri District is one of the fastest growing districts in the country and its proximity to Christchurch results in a lot of traffic congestion. Notably, it features a number of small towns all within cycling distance of each other (and Christchurch). So a lot of previous planning has been around the creation of cycle-friendly links between Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Woodend. Until recently there wasn’t a lot of central government support for funding cycleways in small councils like this, but the Urban Cycleways Fund and associated changes in Govt policy have now reinvigorated the opportunities for getting more cycleways delivered.
The Council have set the following vision for their strategy: “Waimakariri residents choose to walk and cycle. The environment is friendly, safe and accessible for walkers and cyclists.” While I’d rather that they talked about people walking and cycling, the overall sentiment is a pretty good one to work from. It’s interesting that there are no specific goals going with this vision to help measure the success of the strategy – how do you know when you’ve achieved this vision?
The strategy then identifies four key priorities of “Inclusive Infrastructure”, “Community Connections”, “Safe Travel”, and “Healthy Lifestyles”. Inclusive Infrastructure includes the following main objectives:
- Providing / advocating for new and extended on-off road walking and cycling infrastructure: The Council has Activity Management Plans for Roading and Greenspace; it’s important that they consider the ability to provide walking/cycling facilities in their future plans. As well as pathways and cycleways, that also includes things such as directional signage, drinking fountains, lighting and bike parks.
- Providing cycle links between the District’s main towns: The Rangiora-Kaiapoi and Rangiora-Woodend routes have 3.5m shared pathways planned for them in the 2017/18 year. It’s not clear yet when other possible inter-town links might be developed however, e.g. Pegasus, Woodend and the new Ravenswood development might need good connections.
- Supporting the cycle link project between Kaiapoi and Belfast: For far too long there has been discussion around providing a safe cycling connection across the Waimak River. There is some tentative indication of funding in 2017/18 (with the current idea being a ‘clip-on’ cycleway built onto the motorway bridge), but the challenge has always been getting Waimak DC, Christchurch CC, and NZTA all in alignment to get it over the line – I’m still not convinced yet that it’s a realistic happening.
- Integrating walking and cycling into public transport planning: Bus routes out to the Waimak District already have bike racks on them, but there are also plans to create “Park & Ride” centres in the district. It’s not clear whether they would also encourage people to walk up or “ride and park” their bikes, rather than just driving there.
Community Connections covers the following areas:
- Ensuring walking and cycling linkages are provided in new urban subdivision areas: There are a lot of new developments happening around the District, and the planning stage is the ideal time to get walking/cycling provision right, e.g. links through reserves. This means that the District Plan and other Council planning/design guidelines need to adequately consider them – a good idea, although checking that developers and contractors comply with the guidelines is also necessary.
- Working towards safe and convenient walking and cycling within and around smaller settlements and rural areas: The Waimak District has a lot of smaller communities set amongst a predominantly rural backdrop. So it’s important that the active modes are well catered there as well, e.g. near rural schools, and where people go for rural rides. The strategy is a bit vague on exactly how it might do that though, e.g. what about opportunities for cycle tourism?
- Promoting walking and cycling as a way of making connections with others and the natural environment: The strategy is keen to support the development of local walking and cycling groups, which is a great to build enthusiasm. It’s also looking to improve provision of information about walking/cycling networks, e.g. signage and online information.
Safe Travel has a number of focuses:
- Providing safe walking and cycling access to and from schools: There is a desire to increase the amount of active travel to school. Achieving that includes developing school travel plans and addressing any issues and barriers to walking and cycling near schools.
- Ensuring walking routes are usable for people with restricted mobility: Many footpaths and crossings are not easily used by people with wheelchairs, vision impairments and the like. So the plan is to upgrade existing footpaths and to ensure that the relevant guidelines also reflect best practice.
- Supporting programmes that improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists: Programmes are proposed to improve road user behaviour, such as “share the road” and visibility campaigns. For a small council like Waimak, perhaps it would also be feasible to adopt a “Vision Zero” approach to walking and cycling fatalities in the district – that will need more than a few marketing promotions to achieve though.
Finally, Healthy Lifestyles deals with:
- Working with organisations to develop sustainable travel plans: The intention is to support workplaces, schools and communities to develop and implement travel behaviour programmes that encourage more walking and cycling. Don’t under-estimate the financial resource needed to make this work effectively though; it’s not necessarily the “cheap option” compared with infrastructure.
- Promoting walking and cycling as a healthy lifestyle choice: Working with the Canterbury District Health Board and community groups, the health benefits of walking and cycling can be highlighted.
- Promoting walking and cycling opportunities: Again, this is largely about good supporting signage and public information, so that people know where good walking/cycling routes and facilities exist.
The Strategy includes an Action Plan of first tasks, although it’s rather light on things beyond 2017/18. While I get that not much can be locked in until the 2018-28 Long Term Plan is finalised, it would be useful to see a few more indicative (or at least aspirational) time-frames for getting some future projects completed (some likely costs would also be helpful). After all, it’s a draft strategy for public consultation – so how else will anyone be able to indicate support or otherwise for committing funding?
What I’m also not seeing much of in this strategy is a focus on providing for easier walking/cycling within towns; flagship inter-town cycleways are all very well, but most cycling trips are shorter than that (and walking ones definitely less). The other glaring omission was the complete absence of acknowledging the role of traffic speed and volumes in affecting people’s likelihood to walk/cycle (and their safety when doing so). Treatments like lower speed limits and neighbourhood greenways could be a key part of improving cycling provision in the district but it doesn’t show up at all.
Consultation on the draft strategy closes on Monday 7th Nov, so if you’re interested in biking in the Waimakariri District have your say.
What do you think of the draft Strategy? Are there other things that should be considered or prioritised?