Do cycleways = extravagance?

There’s a worrying trend starting to appear in conversations around Christchurch. Any time that a city agency (City Council, Otakaro, ECan, you name it) is seen to be doing something new, problematic or contentious, social comment seems to very quickly to point to the new cycleways (or particular locations like St Asaph St) as examples of wasteful expenditure on something that isn’t warranted and doesn’t work.

This isn’t just the usual ranting that many of us have put up with for years about the perils of “cyclists” (you know, how they break rules, don’t pay, wear lycra, etc). More recently it has morphed into a focus on value or need of the cycleways themselves. And now it has transcended to become a cliché to refer to when grumbling about other things…

Yes, “cycleways” seem to be the current byword for everything that’s wrong in our fair city. It usually goes something like: “just like the overpriced, under-used cycleways, the Council’s latest proposal to do XYZ is another folly by Councillors – fix the roads in the east first!”

Sometimes, it’s just a snide passing comment, while grumbling about some other proposal that doesn’t take the writer’s fancy. Perversely, including a cycleway also get suggested as a way to make something happen that is perhaps mired in red tape – because apparently cycleways just get rubber-stamped without any delays…

Even when a project has nothing to do with the Major Cycleways (in this case a standard street reconstruction with a pretty basic painted cycle lane included), suddenly about 90 of the 154 reader comments are about cycleways (probably not helped by the reporter putting “cycleways” and “parking” in the same sentence, despite their lack of connection…).

Meanwhile, a recent Facebook post by the City Council for a survey about opinions on living and working in the central city suddenly got hijacked by a side-discussion about the horrors of cycleways.

Part of this seems to stem from the traditional view of Council just sticking to its knitting of the “three Rs” of roads, rubbish, reticulation (of water) all while maintaining the “two Rs” of reduced rates. So anything that goes beyond that mandate (be it libraries, festivals, social housing, etc) gets seen as not “core business”.

There is also this persistent belief that cycleways are not efficient use of money, or not “important” enough to prioritise. This is despite the considerable evidence both locally and elsewhere about the economic value of cycleways in general, and of these Major Cycleways in particular, typically with far greater return on investment than things like new roads or car-parks.

That’s not to say it’s all sweetness and light when it comes to implementing our cycleways. I can certainly think of plenty of examples where I disagree with the design or implementation decision they have made (and have said so here), and there are sections where we will need to come back later and improve them. But to dismiss the cycleway programme entirely would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The crazy thing is that all this is happening at a time when suddenly there are people cycling everywhere around the city. This was very noticeable in the last week as school resumed and heaps of parents and kids starting joining the fray (wait for all the tertiary students to return in the next few weeks too). I really wish that the City Council would get on with publishing some of the automatic count data they are now getting from the new cycleways, just to shut up some of the naysayers who “never see anyone cycling” (a link to the live data would be even better again…).

While the rebuild and roadworks continue to be a fairly large part of the city (including the Major Cycleways projects), I suspect that we will continue to hear from the grumblers about the expensive/disruptive/dangerous/pointless/{insert adjective here} cycleways. The best defence is to have the ongoing evidence showing how the cycleways are attracting new riders, supporting businesses, and keeping everyone safe. If you are finding them a help and not a hindrance, you can also do your bit to counter the doom-and-gloom merchants by reporting on your own experiences.

In that respect, City Council needs to do its part to collect the necessary data and generate these good news stories, and the media needs to do a better job of reporting the benefits and the fun as well as the bad. Then maybe “cycleways” will turn in a by-word for what’s good about the city…

Have you noticed negative comment about cycleways? What do you make of it?

12 thoughts on “Do cycleways = extravagance?”

  1. CCC should also point out that a major expense of the cycleways is road resurfacing, underground utility upgrade/repair, intersection upgrades, etc.

    All this with NZTA picking up nearly 2/3’s of the cost. Cycleways are a win win for Christchurch. Too bad the local rag and Neanderthal business interests can’t figure this out.

  2. I am starting to think that a good many Christchurch residents suffered serious damage to their brains with all the quake shaking we had. Either that or the lithium from my ebike battery has somehow leaked out and is rapidly destroying my brain. There is just so much anger and hatred and no logic to it all. If you cycle on the roads motorists hate you, they drive within inches of you, they swear at you and honk at you even if in the middle of a cyclelane. Even the cops are now hating cyclists and are dishing out $150 tickets to cyclists for “obstructing traffic”. If you are in favour of cycleways they hate you and say its a waste of money. They hate cycleways because they lose a few car parks, but surely every cyclist means one less car park needed somewhere. Is that not simple logic ? Or am I just plain stupid? Lots of pedestrians and joggers seem to hate us too and or are really badly brain damaged. Why else would they walk four abreast or on the wrong side of the shared cycleways or have their dog lead stretched across the entire width of a shared use cycleway? Don’t even mention St Asaph street to me, I am never going there again. Out for a relaxing Sunday ride and come down there and a car is parked ON TOP OF THE RAISED MEDIAN a woman is sitting in the passenger seat with her door sticking out over the cycleway. I stopped to take photos of the car when the driver comes back he asks me WTF I am doing. I politely said to the guy that by parking on that raised median he is obstructing turning motorists view of the cycleway, he is really angry and shakes his fist two inches from my face telling me he is going to punch my lights out and TO GET A LIFE! I kinda thought I actually had a life and just wanted to keep it for a bit longer. I won’t post the photos of the car and the driver right in my face here, as knowing my luck I will get sued for libel or something. I do still love my e-bike, but am seriously thinking that maybe rail trails my be the only place I will ever feel safe enough to ride it.

    1. Dont give up the biking! Its a pure joy to get around the inner city on an ebike.. faster than a car, usually easier to find a park. Forever hopefull that the minority anti cycling drivers will see the light… or at least stay out of the cycle lane.

  3. I think you just need to look past the vocal minority who have nothing better but to hang out on facebook and stuff all day. In reality most people do not mind the cycleways, even if they dont use them.

    The truth and facts are just inconvenience for this grumpy minority, who conveniently ignore the cost of roads and parking in general. Maybe they should actually get off the couch jump on a bike and give it a go! In a few years it will all be done and the fuss will be gone.

    Love your work on this blog guys, especially the recent post with the guy counting the bikes. So interesting and useful.

  4. I see it as a lot of noise (bread and butter of the press and facebook perhaps). Noise can be damaging though but unless you can battle it with facts (I can see real value in publishing live cycling stats), you are probably best to ignore it and get it on with the cause. Any new person on the saddle is a potential ambassador for cycling. To me there is no doubt that Christchurch has become more bike friendly over the past few years. There are more people cycling because the infrastructure is improving. But there is still heaps to do, there are many streets which are not bike friendly at all and many parents still think the streets are too dangerous for their kids to cycle on. At the moment I am reading the highky recommended “The Big Smoke” ( which explains the story of our urban centres. One chapter highlights the introduction of the motorcar and explains that the first motorists were not regarded very favorably in New Zealand. It took years to shift this general perception and when motorists finally acquired their status of ‘king of the roads’, it killed the streets as pedestrians, riders, hawkers and orators had to make way for cars. There are many people who acknowledge that driving is not the only answer. Pre-quake Christchurch was optimised for driving but was struggling regardless. In Auckland billions have been spent on motorways but it still seen as a very congested city. There is a undeniable mood for change but for many people it will not happen overnight. But a new well designed cycleway in their neighbourhood or a close mate, nephew, colleague, son or daughter who takes up cycling might make all the difference. If you build it, they will come still applies…

  5. There is floating around the internet the story of how Amsterdam changed from being car dominant to cycle led.
    I Can’t help but think that much of the angst created here in Christchurch (and other cities in NZ?) is that designers have leapt to the last chapter, and not read the story.
    It has a taken a generation for change to be ingrained. Yes there was a few sweeping changes, but most was incremental.
    Perhaps, if the designers adopted a more incremental approach, particularly outside the city centre, there would be less antagonism?

  6. I think a major issue that ICycletoworkbutimnotacyclist points out, that I have noticed, is that the design has skipped quite a few chapters of the “How to Improve Cycle Numbers in Your City” handbook.
    I use the new cycle ways every day, and I think they are mostly excellent, but the one part that has been left out in this transition is the educational campaign for motorists. Often motorists are confused (yes, some are lost causes who are just stealing our air, and are never going to get the chip off their shoulder) as to what to do when they encounter a bike lane, other times they just turn left without looking (as happened to me on a fateful afternoon last September), or they run a red arrow because they didn’t realise a new cycle-priority light had been installed.
    People have been driving in the same car-centric way on the same car-centric roads for years, and suddenly they have been changed to bring bikes into the picture, and motorists start freaking out because they don’t know what to do. Historically, CCC has done some very weak cycle safety advertising, such as “See the person, share the road”. It needs a focused, hard-hitting advertising campaign aimed at places where people have to see/hear them, such as radio or, preferably TV. Social media doesn’t work for this because the only people who will click on the link are those in favour of, or those totally opposed to, cycleways.
    The only other option is to learn by experience, and (although that woman will definitely check over her left shoulder next time) I can tell you first-hand, it’s pretty painful.

    Otherwise, I think it’s an absolutely fantastic system, and seeing the peloton roll off at the traffic lights on Antigua Street at 5pm on a weekday makes me really happy.

  7. Maybe if they had built a cycle way along the river out to beach we all could have enjoyed it.But they didn’t.
    I am having trouble renting houses on cycle ways. My tenants like visitors and service providers to have access to their properties and pick units elsewhere. A lot of people are making a big sacrifice for the very few. What gets me is that despite all the complaints it will be years and thousands of dollars before we will stop building and start dismantling them. Millions of dollars wasted. Businesses down sized and relocated. accidents frustration and anger, all because our council would rather wait till they are voted out of office than risk admitting they have got it wrong.
    I guess that’s democracy
    One car families are a thing of the past, now even school children have cars. The future what ever it is will not be cycles.

    1. How many houses do you own? What proportion are located on cycleways? You must be very rich if that makes up a statistically meaningful sample.

      By the way, a study in Sydney found that properties on, or near, a street where a cycleway and traffic calming was added increased in value by about 10% compared to the general area.

  8. Basil , take a look at the Major Cycleway map ( google CCC major cycleway ) . A route to New Brighton is certainly on the ‘ to do ‘ list and should be operational in the next five years or so. The cycleway programme is absolutely huge for a city of our size and there is no way it could be implemented overnight. The routes are rolled out in terms of a priority of need , with the idea of favouring the important commuter routes. In the meantime you can ride a bike pretty easily to New Brighton using the track built alongside the Avon River from Avonside Drive to the Estuary. Enjoy.

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