Flashback Friday: Do cycleways = extravagance?

Christchurch City Council is starting conversations about their updated Long Term Plan, and already there have been some rumblings about possible financial struggles. Predictably, cycleways are one of the possible candidates for the chopping block, although I’d be surprised if they really get much support for that. Still, it’s interesting how often (in Chch and elsewhere) cycleways are seen as “nice to have” rather than an important part of our transport network. Back in Feb 2018, I was musing about this very question…

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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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