Editorial: Welcome movement on Wellington cycle lanes


Is cycling the new culture war in Wellington? To listen to a divided city council this week, it would seem so.

Councillor Paul Eagle, who has fought to delay the Island Bay cycleway, claimed a "silent majority" were behind him, a historically resonant choice of phrase.

On the other side of the fence, in the council majority, Andy Foster accused opponents of "sabotaging" the long-mooted plans. Many councillors commented on the anger at the meeting.

So is this it, environmentalists and bohemians against the motoring class? The city hipsters versus the roadhogs?

Perhaps. There is some underlying disagreement about the broader project that many cycling advocates are pushing – a slower, denser city with fewer cars. And there is certainly anger out on the roads, where drivers and cyclists alike find the status quo dangerous and stressful.

Yet can there really be much dispute that cyclists need at least some decent, dedicated infrastructure?

There shouldn't be. The arguments are simple and convincing. The present system is obviously unsafe. Cyclists and vehicles should not have to share busy roads where traffic moves at speed – it is a recipe for crashes and injuries.

Each is caused by someone or other – driver or cyclist – but the bigger point is that they are caused by failing roads, and they ought to be changed.

Now set that against a large pool of government money available for urban cycling projects in the next three years. Add to it the growing number of cyclists in Wellington, despite the inhospitable roads – up 75 per cent in the seven years to the 2013 census, and doubtless up again since then.

Put that together with the other "silent" group – the high numbers of Wellingtonians who say they would cycle if only it didn't feel so unsafe, among them children and older people.

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The net result is a strong case for what is only a modestly expensive piece of infrastructure.

Such reasons are why cycle lanes are sprouting in cities around the world – and not just in the utopian Scandinavian cities, but in the Londons and New Yorks and Melbournes, backed by the Boris Johnsons and Michael Bloombergs and, yes, the John Keys. (The prime minister has publicly wondered what is taking Wellington City Council so long on cycle lanes.)

So they aren't very radical at all. As soon as they are built, they tend to be uncontroversial.

Of course there will be trade-offs – lost car parks are the obvious one – and both cyclists and motorists should be prepared to lose out at certain "pinch points", depending on the particular details of each one. Sometimes those battles will be noisy, but they should not derail the projects.

So it's welcome that in the end, the council voted the objectors down and revived the Island Bay lanes, leaving only a few weeks of tweaking before a final decision in June.

The council also endorsed a blueprint for a citywide network of lanes. If government funds can be tapped, huge amounts of that work could happen in the next three years. And so it should: the case is strong, the numbers on the council are there – just – and there's no excuse for mucking around.

 - The Dominion Post

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