Take Action – Portobello Road (DCC Annual Plan)

The draft Annual Plan sets out the Dunedin City Council’s proposed annual budget for 2014/15.  Now is your chance to take action to make cycling on Portobello Road even more awesome in under two minutes!  As you may know, Portobello Road is slowly being widened, with footpaths and cycle lanes being added to improve pedestrian and cyclist access and safety.  Once complete, in 2023, Dunedin will have world-class cycling the entire length of our world-class Otago Peninsula.

Dunedin City Council is consulting on the order in which different sections of Portobello Road are done, as part of its Annual Plan process.  Under the current plan, work is being carried out in disconnected, piecemeal fashion with the final connection to the city left to the end.  Given that this final stretch of road between Glenfalloch and Vauxhall has the most traffic, the highest speeds, the most accidents, the greatest number of cyclists, and no shoulder whatsoever, we believe that DCC has the priority all wrong for safeguarding cyclists.  You can help shift the first priority to completing the most dangerous section, Vauxhall to Glenfalloch.  Click here to take action now!  Deadline for submissions is 5pm on Tuesday 15th April 2014.


SPOKES Dunedin works to make Dunedin’s streets sweet for bikes, speaking out for cycling and representing those who ride a bike or would like to ride a bike in our city.  SPOKES wants cycling in Dunedin to be safe, practical and fun, and a viable transportation option for more residents.  Please see www.spokesdunedin.org.nz for more information about SPOKES, an incorporated society registered under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908.  SPOKES Dunedin is part of a nationwide network of local cycling advocacy groups that constitute the Cycling Advocates Network (CAN).  See www.can.org.nz for more information about CAN.

This submission is focused on three topics:

  1. The proposed ordering of widening work on Portobello Road
  2. The implementation of the Strategic Cycle Network
  3. Cycling as economic development

1. Portobello Road

The ordering of works for the Portobello Road widening project requires the careful consideration of many competing factors.  There are valid reasons for choosing different ordering options, and the choice is not easy.

The optimal solution would bring forward the overall completion date by several years and we discuss below several economic factors that favour expedited completion though we recognise existing fiscal constraints.

Of the options provided in the draft Annual Plan, our position is closest to Option B.  However, we wish to propose an alternative ordering option, that attempts to find a compromise position between competing interests based on what we identify as the highest priority areas.  We suggest:

  1. Vauxhall (Burns Point) to Glenfalloch (section A in all given options)
  2. King George Street to Bacon Street in Broad Bay (identified as section C2a in Option A)
  3. Portobello Village (identified as section C2b in Option A)
  4. Company Bay to Broad Bay (section B in all given options)
  5. Broad Bay to Portobello connector (identified as section C5 in Option A)
  6. Portobello (Weir Road) to Harwood turnoff (identified as section D in all given options)
  7. Otakou Golf Course to Otakou Fisheries

There are a number of reasons behind our suggested ordering and we set these out here.

Portobello Road was not designed or constructed to accommodate the speed and volume of vehicular traffic seen today, and as a result it presents significant hazards for all users.  It is particularly unfriendly to humans outside the confines of a protective steel cage.  The road widening project will not only transform the Peninsula for those who are fortunate enough to live there, but everyone in Dunedin will be able to experience and enjoy what is one of the jewels of our city. Furthermore, it will attract new tourists to explore this significant natural asset of Dunedin.

There is almost universal eagerness to complete this project, but we acknowledge that there are differences in preferred ordering, with most people living on the Peninsula wanting their section completed first while much of the rest of the city wants safe walking and cycling access from the city outwards.  There are strong reasons for prioritizing different sections, but we find that the strongest arguments favour Vauxhall to Glenfalloch as the top priority.

From Vauxhall to Glenfalloch the number of cars per day is more than twice the number of cars passing through Broad Bay (more than 5000 vs. ~2500), and being the straightest stretch of road, vehicle speeds are typically much higher.  It is not uncommon to see people driving in excess of 80kph between Glenfalloch and Burns Point, often dangerously passing cyclists when there is oncoming traffic.  If a car hits a cyclist in this situation, even while traveling in the same direction, the probability of death (see Figure A) is significantly higher than for a cyclist/vehicle collision elsewhere on the Peninsula where speeds are moderated by curves.


Figure A: likelihood of cyclist/pedestrian fatality when struck by a vehicle travelling at different speeds.

The high number of accidents that have occurred between Vauxhall and Glenfalloch over the last five years bears out the dangers posed by higher vehicle speeds and more dangerous driver behaviour along this portion of Portobello Road in particular.  Although this stretch only accounts for 18% of the route subject to improvements, it has hosted a largely disproportionate 38% of accidents along the same length of Portobello Road.  Unlike the Broad Bay and Portobello communities, Vauxhall to Glenfalloch features neither footpaths or widened shoulders, nor alternative routes (e.g. Beaconsfield Road in Portobello).

In addition to the largest amount of vehicular traffic, the Vauxhall to Glenfalloch section also sees the largest number of cyclists on Portobello Road.  There are a large number of existing users who cycle from the city as far as Macandrew Bay – a distance from the city centre that can fit into a lunch hour, or a moderate distance for weekend cyclists.  Furthermore it can be expected that the Vauxhall to Glenfalloch section will comparatively see the largest increases in user numbers once complete.  According to studies commissioned by Dunedin City Council, the largest projected increases (see Figure B) for cycling are in the commuter and “recreational” categories (“recreational” has been distinguished from existing recreational “Roadie” and “MTB” cyclists to imply less confident cyclists, families, and tourists).

A significant percentage of cyclists in the “Roadie” “MTB” and “Recreational” categories come from other parts of the city to cycle on the Peninsula, and the density of cyclists will increase with proximity to the city centre as it currently does.  The uptake in “Recreational” cycling is therefore predicated on completion of the connection to Vauxhall.Portobello_Projections.png

Figure B: Projected weekly use by cyclists

Uptake in commuter cycling is obviously predicated on completion of the city connection, but it can also be expected that people living closer to the city centre are more likely to start commuting by bike than those further out.  In other words, there will be more people cycle commuting from the area between Macandrew Bay to Vauxhall than there will be cycle commuters coming from beyond Macandrew/Company Bay.  Thus commuters also contribute to a higher density of cyclists between Glenfalloch and Vauxhall.

The category “Local cyclists” includes school children and people getting around their own neighborhood by bicycle.  This is a smaller demographic with smaller projected increases.  While creating better walking and cycling access for school children is an admirable goal, the situation for Macandrew Bay has become that those children can walk or cycle to school until they are about 11, but then what?  With the connection to Vauxhall and the Strategic Cycle Network it becomes possible for those students to cycle to schools in the city.

The Portobello Road improvements have to date been fragmented and poorly integrated, thereby limiting their benefits almost exclusively to local residents. For example, the shared path for cyclists and pedestrians on the section of Portobello Road between Glenfalloch and Company Bay does little to assist commuters, “roadies” and recreational cyclists who are travelling from one end of the Peninsula to the other. When travelling from north to south cyclists would need to twice cross traffic flowing in both directions if they wished to take advantage of this brief length of separated cycling infrastructure. In our view having to undertake such a risky and difficult manoeuvre would negate any increased safety benefit from being able to use this segment of shared path. And when travelling from south to north along Portobello Road the current separated shared path is too narrow to comfortably accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians at peak use, no doubt due to the need to maintain sufficient space for cyclists travelling on the other side of the road. If the widening of Portobello Road is to continue in such a piecemeal fashion then interim improvements may have little benefit to the majority of cyclists already using this route, as well as to the majority of cyclists expected to make use of this route in the future (see Figure B above). For most residents and visitors to Dunedin connectivity along the whole route will be a primary issue, and connectivity will clearly favour the prioritisation of widening Portobello Road from Vauxhall outwards.

Nevertheless, we recognise the significant interest of the residents of the Peninsula in having their own local segments prioritised as well. Anecdotally, local economic benefits gained by Macandrew Bay since improvements to its segment of Portobello Road have been raised with Spokes by residents, as have the interests of parents in having safe routes for their children to get to and from school on their own. We also note the higher rate of accidents that have occurred between Broad Bay and Portobello Village in spite of the lower traffic volumes and speeds along this stretch. For this reason we ask that Council take a balanced approach by revisiting the ordering for road improvements along Portobello Road and ensuring that the most dangerous stretch of road (Vauxhall to Glenfalloch) as well as overall connectivity is prioritised from the City end, but at the same time addressing the particular interests of locals.

Most of the stretch of Portobello Road from King George St to Bacon St through Broad Bay is actually serviced by a footpath or widened shoulder, although coverage is not complete.  However, the sections of Portobello Road lacking a footpath have parallel access via either Greig Street or Margate Avenue.  There are no planned road improvements between Sandpiper Street and Bacon Street, so access to Broad Bay school will continue to be almost exclusively via Greig Street and Margate Avenue.  Thus although this section is of high priority for the Broad Bay community, it seems to be more for the amenity value rather than to address immediate safety concerns.  We note that residents between Vauxhall and Glenfalloch not only completely lack footpaths or widened shoulders (except for one ~25m stretch of footpath near Irvine Road), but also suffer substantially higher traffic volumes and speeds.

Portobello Village will also ultimately benefit from the proposed roadworks, but Portobello Village also has the advantage of existing connectivity via alternative roads such as Beaconsfield and McAuley Roads, an already widened shoulder on Portobello Road, and several existing footpaths including an off-road footpath to the school.  Most importantly, because the Portobello community has rejected any widening or boardwalk between the Portobello Boat Club and the cannon, modifications to the existing off-road footpath from the cannon to the intersection with Hereweka Street represents an amenity improvement rather than a substantial safety improvement. Because of the disconnection between Portobello Boat Club and the cannon, children going to school will likely have to continue using either Beaconsfield or McAuley Roads.  There are no planned additional improvements between Hereweka Street and Portobello school.

We ask that Council adopts our proposed ordering as a compromise position between the interests of Peninsula residents and the interests of Dunedin as a whole.

Beyond the question of ordering, we also wish to submit as to why the overall Portobello Road improvement project should be expedited. Cycle tourism in particular should be a highly motivating factor for Dunedin. The Central Otago Rail Trail contributes roughly $12 million per year to the economy of Central Otago and has been a veritable lifeline for Central Otago communities.  Meanwhile, the Otago Peninsula has been repeated recognised as one of the world’s top ten bicycle rides by leading travel guide Lonely Planet.  However, its position in this Lonely Planet listing has slipped from number one in 2009 to only number eight by 2012. To maintain the Peninsula’s brand as a world-class cycling destination and fully realize the potential economic benefits of such a valuable tourism asset requires accessible infrastructure to be in place along the entire Peninsula.  As a must-do activity in Dunedin, cycling the Otago Peninsula is an activity that could extend a visitor’s stay by several days. Thus there is a definite opportunity cost associated to a longer completion date.  If the Rail Trail is any indication, that opportunity cost could be as much as $10 million per year.

2.  The implementation of the Strategic Cycle Network

SPOKES is supportive of the goals of the Strategic Cycle Network.  The April 1st Infrastructure Services Committee report providing an update to the SH1 cycleways project mentioned the Central CIty as the next phase of the Strategic Cycle Network.  SPOKES Dunedin strongly believes that the winning strategy for cycling infrastructure development  is to improve and enhance the routes that people are already choosing to use.  Figure C shows a ‘heat map’ of cycling in Dunedin which indicates that existing users are drawn to primary corridors.  We call on the Council to adopt a winning strategy for cycling infrastructure by placing priority on the most popular routes.


Figure C: ‘Heatmap’ of cyclist’s most used routes in central Dunedin

It has been at times challenging to work with the Council on the South Dunedin part of the Strategic Cycle Network.  SPOKES wants to see logical and desirable route choices, and treatments appropriate to the on-street environment for each route.

A lot has been made of putting ‘‘Quiet Streets” in the South Dunedin packages.  A city might opt for Quiet Streets because they are a relatively low-cost investment, don’t interfere with on-street parking, usually get a decent level of buy-in from residents on the proposed routes, and let the city claim that it is ‘doing something’ for cycling.  But Quiet Streets on their own are unlikely to foment the mode shift that will justify future cycling-specific investment and should be understood as only part of a network that must also include high-level treatments on primary routes.

Copenhagen in Denmark is now a cycling success story, but in the late 1970s cycling mode share was less than 10%.  It wasn’t until “Copenhagen lanes” were built in the mid 80s that cycling really started to take off.  Before trying the Copenhagen lanes, Copenhagen first tried the ‘send the cyclists on the quiet back streets’ approach.  The result was abject failure.  Those already cycling continued using the direct and efficient main roads, while those who weren’t already cycling didn’t start.

With less than 10% commute-to-work mode share, Portland, Oregon in the United States is still decades behind Copenhagen but is a rising cycling star in the USA.  There, Quiet Streets are successfully used in Portland’s sprawling suburbs, where a grid system provides parallel sets of roads that allow straight, non-stop routes of 25 city blocks or more.  But more appropriate infrastructure on primary routes in the city centre has been in place for a number of years.  The newer Quiet Streets, comprising 10% of the total network, connect to these existing paths, cycleways, and lanes.

In Dunedin, the main roads are the only roads that connect to other parts of town.  In areas where we have a grid the grid is small, meaning a cyclist will only be able to go a few blocks before having to make a diversion or encountering a major obstacle.

Lastly comes the question of whether Quiet Streets will get more people on bikes.  Thirty years ago, Copenhagen found that people wanted physically protected cycleways on direct routes.  Last year, Dunedin City Council surveyed 503 people from across Dunedin about cycling infrastructure.  The results show that about 60% of respondents agree that separated cycleways would encourage them to cycle more, compared with only 40% for Quiet Streets.  In addition, 74% of respondents agree that the city should spend money on separated cycleways, compared with 52% for Quiet Streets.  There was broad support for the idea that separated cycleways on primary routes would be better for both cyclists and motorists, and that this is something the city should spend money on.

Cycle advocates know that “if we build it they will come,” but if we build the wrong thing they might not come.  In a world of tight fiscal constraints, building it and having them not come could set back cycling objectives for decades.  Quiet Streets must be used with caution; without connecting to high-level treatments on primary routes they will remain hidden away – out of sight, out of mind, and unused.  The Danes realized more than thirty years ago what is still true today: separated cycleways on primary routes are the gold standard.

3. Cycling as economic development

As part of the Economic Development Strategy, one of Dunedin’s key goals is to attract and retain world class, talented entrepreneurs and innovators who are able to contribute to the City’s economic development.  In this increasingly mobile and global workforce, livability and lifestyle are important factors in attracting talented people who have the freedom to live and work virtually anywhere. Technology giants such as Amazon, Google, and Foursquare have picked up on this and intentionally locate their offices in areas with good cycling infrastructure as part of their documented hiring and retention strategy.  Google headquarters even maintains its own fleet of over 1000 bicycles.

SPOKES Dunedin hosted a webinar by Denver CEO Kelly Brough on 20 November 2013 where she explained that Denver is actively investing in cycling infrastructure to specifically attract these kinds of high value-added companies.  This reflects a larger, widely recognized and well studied, demographic shift over the past 10 or 15 years as Generation Y and Millennials have entered the workforce. In deciding on today’s infrastructure priorities for Dunedin it is necessary to look beyond the status quo and reflect on demographic changes and trends that can help us become more competitive on the global market. Completion of the Portobello Road widening would make a valuable contribution to the overall livability and lifestyle choices available to Dunedin, and is worthy of high priority from Council and a quicker timeline for completion.

The Economic Development Strategy also has a target of $10,000 additional income in each resident’s pocket.  Cycling can play a key role in this and we wish to raise the value of better cycling infrastructure to Dunedin’s economy through cost savings as a motivating factor for expedited cycling infrastructure projects in the city.  We conservatively estimate that a 10% mode shift from personal vehicles to bicycles would result in roughly $9 million being retained annually by Dunedin’s economy. Currently, these $9 million are leaving New Zealand’s economy as payments that go overseas.  Please see Appendix A for details.  Cost savings such as these are another reason for expediting the work on the Portobello Road widening.

We wish to speak to this submission and look forward to discussing our submission with our Councillors.

Robert Thompson, Chair

SPOKES Dunedin

Appendix A: Cycling and fuel costs in Dunedin

Mode shift to cycling may be expected to come predominantly from the personal transportation sector, and it is sufficient to consider just the petrol costs. Although there are personal diesel vehicles, these may be roughly balanced by the fleet of petrol-driven commercial vehicles, so we may assume that, in Dunedin, diesel consumption is solely for commercial haulage and farming while petrol is solely for personal transportation.

The DCC’s recently released energy strategy estimates Dunedin’s expenditures on petrol at $203 million per annum. A breakdown of the cost of petrol is shown in the Figure. This graph shows that 41% of petrol costs are fuel excise taxes, GST, and emissions trading scheme levy. About 45% of the cost of fuel, $0.45 of every dollar or about $90 million per year for Dunedin, is the raw cost of petrol. This represents a $90 million per year drain on Dunedin’s economy that does not get returned in any form, for example through the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP). Since this money goes overseas, it is not only a drain on Dunedin’s economy but is a drain on the entire economy of New Zealand.  For every 10% shift from cars to cycling or walking for personal transport, Dunedin would save $9 million per year that would otherwise end up overseas.


Note that although New Zealand is an oil producer, the oil produced in New Zealand is generally not fuel-grade, and 85% of total domestic production is exported. Overall, domestic production accounts for less than 3% of total domestic consumption and is not refined as petrol, so it is fair to say that the entire raw cost of petrol ends up overseas. Money not spent on petrol is available to be spent in the local economy.

Note that about 24% of petrol cost, $48 million per year for Dunedin, goes into the NLTP, some (but not all) of which comes back to Dunedin through transport subsidies. Thus a 10% mode shift would reduce Dunedin’s contribution to the NLTP by $4.8 million per year.  However, the regional distribution of the NLTP is not strictly correlated to contributions, so it does not follow that a $4.8 million per year reduction in contributions to the NLTP would result in any reduction in NLTP transport subsidy to Dunedin.

This is a basic and rough examination of fuel costs alone.  Myriad substantial costs related to fleet replacement and maintenance have not been included.

This entry was posted in Action call, Economics, Infrastructure, Policy, Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Take Action – Portobello Road (DCC Annual Plan)

  1. Georgina Young says:

    Hello, I understand it from a cycling point of view but as a resident of Broad Bay this is a big issue. Connection within our community and accessibility for children and vulnerable citizens to have safe areas to walk and cycle are very important, including getting to school. The benefits for connecting communities on the Peninsula are immense.

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