Guest Post: Are Cycleways Really that Controversial?

This post was originally written by Chris on Talking Transport:

There’s a perception in some circles that the Christchurch cycleways are extremely controversial. Many mainstream media articles that mention them end up attracting screeds of negative comments – examples here and here. But how controversial are the cycleways really?

I keep on seeing data that suggests they are really not that controversial for most people. I present three of these below.

Firstly, the Share an Idea campaign was run in 2011. This was a truly unique insight into the mind of the average Christchurchian. Firstly because it attracted stonkingly big numbers – 106,000 ideas were gathered (compared to typical project consultations where you’re lucky if you get a hundred). And secondly because young people got involved. Traditional forms of consultation are usually dominated by old people, as per this quote from a Council consultation review:

The Council does not currently collect demographic data to enable it to establish a profile of residents who engage in its formal consultation programme on, for  example, the Annual Plan, District Plan Changes, and Bylaws. However anecdotally, it is observed that those currently engaging with the Council tend to be older, 50 plus, often retired, home owners – people who are “civic minded”, and have motivation and the time to attend public meetings, and write submissions.”

In contrast, the demographics were collected for people who contributed to Share an Idea:

  • 0-25 – 10%
  • 25-49 – 53%
  • 50-64 – 28%
  • 65+ – 9%

So far more younger people. The common themes that came through were:

  • People wanted a green city
  • People wanted a strong built identity
  • People wanted vibrant urban life
  • People wanted a market city
  • People wanted real transport choice

One of the most common comments was that people wanted a city that they (and their kids) could safely ride a bike around in. Depending on how you group different comments together, some reports said this was the single most requested thing. I find it quite amazing that this got more requests than other fairly important things like good housing, a successful economy, clean water, a functioning sewerage system, etc. I think it shows just how frustrated people have been that previously they haven’t been able to do something as basic as ride a bike around without fear of being killed. I suspect it also reflects the bumper turnout of the 25-39 demographic, who are more likely to ride bikes themselves, and also of an age where they may well have young children looking to ride to school/footy/music/etc.

Little River Link

Next I’ve compiled a list of the submission summaries for all the cycleways. It’s important to note that using online feedback is not always the best way to make decisions; as demonstrated by the infamous Boaty McBoatface incident, or this Facebook poll I saw a while back.

Hopefully public feedback is slightly better quality than these, but you definitely need to take it with a grain of salt. Keeping that in mind, here are the numbers for the cycleways that have been consulted on:

  • South Express had 642 people submit, 72% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), 26% did not support, and 1% did not say.
  • Quarrymans Trail had 466 submissions, 91% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), while 9% opposed it.
  • Heathcote Express received 170 submissions, 85% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), and 15% opposed.
  • Nor’West Arc had 147 submissions, 84% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), and 7% did not support the plan.
  • Uni-Cycle (just the 30km/h speed limit) had 47 submissions, 79% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), while 21% did not support it.
  • Rapanui Shag-Rock had 86 submissions, 92% supported the plan (or supported but with some concerns), while 8% did not support.

There are others too, but for some reason they don’t all seem to be up on the Council website. Still, it’s clear that the trend is for cycleway projects to receive far more submissions in support than in opposition. This is very different to most projects that get consulted on – submitting requires people to “opt-in”, so typically people are more likely to submit if they are unhappy with a proposal than if they are happy with it.

Quarryman’s Trail

All this is well and good but the proof is really in the pudding. Where we’ve built cycleways – have they resulted in more people choosing to ride bikes? So thirdly, here’s a graph showing cycling numbers at electronically counted sites on the four cycleways that have been in place for longer than a year.

This graph shows that the Uni-Cycle, Papanui Parallel and Rapanui-Shag Rock cycleways are all growing at healthy rates. The Uni-Cycle (linking the university with the city centre) has had 16% growth per annum, The Rapanui-Shag Rock numbers are lower overall, but a higher growth rate of 58% per annum. Papanui Parallel is tracking at 7% growth per annum. Only the Little River Link has not had growth (links the city centre to the western suburbs, eventually meandering its way to Lincoln). I don’t know why this is – I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts if you think you know the reason. [update – apparently the Southern Motorway construction has impacted the cycleway further out to the point where it’s almost unusable, and this is causing the lower numbers]

So to conclude, the Share An Idea campaign revealed that safer cycling infrastructure was at the forefront of Christchurch’s collective mind when thinking about the rebuild of the city. Each individual consultation has had overwhelming majority support in received submissions. And counts show that, by and large, people are voting with their feet by taking to the cycleways in increasing numbers.

What do you make of this information? Do you think the cycleways are really as controversial as some people try to make out?


7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Are Cycleways Really that Controversial?”

  1. I use the Little River Link on any trip into the city, conveniently I have an access point one block from my door. One reason it may not be seeing growth is how awkward it becomes as you near Addington. Signal crossing at Wrights Road, then Lincoln Road 90 seconds later, Barrington Street 90 seconds after that, then Brougham Street which I believe requires you to stop in the middle, in a way doubling the time to get across.
    Personally I exit the link at Wrights Road and cut through Horncastle Arena directly to Lincoln Road because it more than halves the time to reach South Hagley from that point, and there is still a painted cycle lane at least. The section alongside the motorway has always had good usage from what I’ve observed, I once counted more than 60 riders in the 7 or 8 minutes that I was on it for a work commute.

    1. I disagree with the comment above regarding the awkwardness. I have been riding the section between Barrington street and the Wigram overbridge daily for a number of years. The addition of the lights, particularly at Wrights road has made a huge difference in terms of ease and safety. Previously during rush-hour, it was almost impossible to get across Wrights road safely. Of course it would have been nice if they hadn’t decided to put a giant hill in the middle of the crossing. That being said, I often see cyclists choosing to shoot across directly across from the cycleway from Lincoln road, rather than going down to the lights.

      All of the crossings mentioned are across busy roads. Personally I’d rather wait a few extra seconds and get across in a way that is also makes it safe for my kids.

  2. Interesting to note in the case of the South Express cycleway that there were 25 identical submissions from one collective source. Each of these submissions was completely opposed to the 16km cycleway even though the perceived negative effects to them related to less than 500m of one street only.

    1. Back in the day, the same collective source had a habit of telling its members who to vote for in elections (at least in Germany).

  3. I’m not sure that any of those numbers would prove that the routes aren’t controversial – only that they are popular with cyclists. I have heard plenty of people complaining about the cycleways away from the Stuff comments, talking in such a way that they expected me to see the ridiculousness of the cycleways as self-evident. As a driver, I can see their point because many of them are very clumsy and often difficult to negotiate, especially the unpopular St Asaph St one. I think people were objecting more to the in elegant implementation than the idea of the cycleways themselves – but I’m not sure that there would be any design that motorists would accept outright. Somehow, in places like Copenhagen it looks like they manage to keep it much simpler, but that has taken time to settle in.

  4. Cycleways which seperate cyclists from vehicles benefit all surely.

    Was driving from Gasson Street north toward the CBD, cyclists on the left went through the intersection of Moorhouse and Gasson street, opposite Ara before Gordon Harris.

    There was plenty of room for me to turn into Countdown, planet of room for one or two behind me as the cyclists were slow. There was no room for vehicles turning and cyclists proceeding straight ahead …for the cars several behind us who should have stopped.

    So what did they do? cut off the cyclists.

    A scenario I’m sure many of us have seen over the years. So I ask you what can and what should I do about it, I tried to locate at least one of the cars and wanted to say something quietly, but I couldn’t identify any. Perhaps just as well.

    Surely just as happened for pedestrians and buses, cyclists must get a head start signal or maybe by spreading out the pedestrian crossing and putting huge 30k signs on Gasson Street it can be made safer.

    I’m very concerned that someone will get hurt or that cyclists will be deterred. What can I do to change this? because presently if I do nothing, I am responsible for that inaction and it must sit on my conscience.

    1. Yes, try heading north on Colombo crossing Bealey Avenue to start the Papanui Parallel. Inconsistent lights – sometimes a short red left turn arrow ( which can be ignored but vehicles ) other times, nothing. Inconsistent with south bound journey also. A dogs breakfast for everyone . I watched 4 cyclists with right of way – 3 fending off the left turning vehicle that was trying to nudge around, the 4th – a little less confident and was diverted into the gutter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *