Dunedin City Council seems to be facing yet another public relations disaster associated with the South Dunedin Strategic Cycle Network. Targeted consultation on a proposed shared path along Victoria Rd is now open and it seems no one is particularly happy with the plan. The proposal calls for a 3m wide “shared path” along the south side of Victoria Rd, entailing a widening of the southern footpath to 3m and removal of parking from the north side of Victoria Rd. But to be clear, this is really just a 3m wide footpath where cyclists are legally allowed to ride and the question is “is this a good design?”
Late last year, NZTA held a public consultation about plans for a separated cycle lane on the State Highway 1 one-way pair in Dunedin. They received more than 2000 submission, over 90% of which were supportive. So why was NZTA so successful while the DCC continually has even the cyclists asking “is this any good?”
The short answer is engagement. SPOKES representatives were fully engaged in developing the one-ways proposal and were able to ensure that what went out for consultation was a design that is both safe enough for everyone to use, and usable by even the strongest, most skilled cyclists. The result was not only something that cyclists could rally to en masse, but something so visionary and inspired that many non-cyclists were moved to support it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the DCC’s cycling projects, engagement with stakeholders/users has been a bit more miss than hit. For the South Dunedin Strategic Cycle Network, not only has SPOKES and cyclist engagement been rather limited, but often our feedback has been wilfully ignored, as evidenced by the network plan consultation results from June 2013.
Victoria Rd isn’t the first misstep that is unappreciated by many: closing half of the small stretch of Portobello Rd between Portsmouth Drive and the Andy Bay roundabout may be easy to do because there are few affected residences and businesses, but the outcome as it stands is confusing for both motorists and cyclists and seems like overkill. Perhaps it isn’t finished yet?
SPOKES Dunedin has been pushing for separated lanes on primary routes as the gold standard because they are sorely needed in places like the one-ways, Andy Bay Rd, Portobello Rd, King Edward St, etc. But that doesn’t mean separated lanes are necessarily appropriate or possible on every street. For example, while it may be a good idea to specially target areas around schools, we shouldn’t be spending our precious few cycling dollars building separated lanes on every low volume, low speed, residential street, such as Moreau Street.
The fact that new cycling infrastructure has to be retrofit into existing environments means that it often requires very careful thought and clever, often unique solutions tailored to each location. Out of town consultants don’t know Dunedin and often have little interest in the outcome. SPOKES has been rejecting plan after plan coming from these consultants and the city keeps paying them to come up with more ill-conceived designs. At the same time we have one or two DCC transport staff who are super excited about cycling, are cyclists themselves, and really want to get the best outcome for the city. The council should invest a little bit of money on training up some of its own people rather than wasting large sums on consultants.
Victoria Road is one of those locations that requires a clever solution and needs to be thought of as a whole. This may be an area that is suitable for trying out a “shared space.” What would a shared space look like? Well, the esplanade is already a shared space that works well, so we could extend that treatment out onto Victoria Rd in the Forbury Rd area. Get rid of the designated footpaths and road markings, use pavers and street furniture to tell the story of the street. The street environment is ‘legible’ to everyone using it and is the most successful director of user behaviour, we just need to change how it reads.
DCC needs to step back and think carefully about the whole design philosophy. It is great to consider the needs of the “interested but concerned” to encourage more people to cycle, but considering ONLY the needs of the “interested but concerned” will alienate existing cyclists. If what is built is not of a sufficient standard to be used by existing cyclists they won’t use it, leading to further animosity from non-cyclists who will say “we spent all this money on this shared path and the damn cyclists don’t even use it.” Building cycling infrastructure that cyclists won’t use may do more harm than good in terms of future funding. The design philosophy should be “safe enough for kids, good enough for everybody.”