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.
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.
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?