OPINION: In February, the Christchurch City Council announced a quiet campaign to get more people to cycle around Christchurch. The campaign was aimed beyond the Lycra-clad enthusiasts who might be seen as the bulk of bike riders and designed to target "Mr and Mrs Average". The idea was to get parents, and grandparents, to do such things as ride to school with their children and get on their bikes for such mundane things as going to the corner dairy.
The council's education programme manager, Anne-Marie Kite, said at the time the longer-term aim was to create a biking culture in Christchurch. "We have got a culture . . . that the roads are for cars . . . There is a big barrier there - people's perception of cycling being unsafe."
It was a commendable notion. Christchurch was once renowned as a bicycle-riding city but despite more people riding in the years just before the earthquakes the culture generally had long since faded.
The council's campaign was designed to develop in tandem with the large-scale, $70 million network of 13 new cycleways planned to be built around the city. It reflected a commitment by the council to make the cycleways an integrated and well-used part of the city's infrastructure as the city rebuilt after the earthquakes.
At the time Kite was speaking, the cycleways were projected to be completed within five years. This week, however, the council backed off from its commitment to them by delaying their expected completion date to eight years after the start of construction. This is a real shame.
The cycleways were a late addition to the last council's draft Three Year Plan last year. They are intended to be modelled on highly successful urban cycleways in Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Guidelines for the design have recommended that in busy areas around the city the cycleways should be kept separate from the roadway, as in Copenhagen, and at intersections there should be corner islands to keep cyclists and vehicles apart, as in Amsterdam. It is an enticing vision.
They will still go ahead but the network will not now be completed until three years later than originally planned and, given the way construction of any major project goes, may be even later than that.
According to Terry Howes, acting general manager, city environment, for the council, practical delivery considerations rather than budgetary problems are behind the delay. The cycleways will be more than just lines on the road, according to Howes, but will require changes to kerb lines, intersection layouts and the like.
It is good that the council does not want to do a half-baked job. Nonetheless, by pushing out the completion date, the council risks creating the perception that it is not entirely committed to the project.
The benefits of the cycleways in making the city an attractive, desirable, healthier place in which to live and work are plain. If the council is indeed fully committed to getting more people cycling, rather than being half-hearted about it, it should make the cycleways happen sooner not later.
- The Press