Cycleways, and more interference from Wellington

What?

I have no idea why traffic lights are being controlled from Wellington. Dunedin mayor Dave Cull, who also heads Local Government New Zealand, has been trying to promote Bringing government back to the people – LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative start Project Localism.

The increasing number of cycleways and traffic disruption in Dunedin, and a dwindling number of car parks, are not particularly  popular in Dunedin.

The cycleways themselves are not particularly popular either.  From my observations some seem to be rarely used, and others seem to be used only occasionally, although cyclist numbers do seem to have increased a little (from hardly any to bugger all).

Traffic jams being ‘controlled’ from Wellington are also going to be unpopular.

‘Labour Cycles’ transport policy

This popped up on Twitter:

Warnock may be a bit optimistic thinking that ‘everyone should be able to sign up to’ those statements. The second statement seems ok, but the first is political tosh and the third is very party specific.

But it turns out that Labour Cycles is a UK Labour thing:

Labour Cycles is a group of Labour members and representatives committed to ensuring that everyone has the ability to be involved in active travel.

We want to see a national manifesto that delivers high quality protected cycling infrastructure across the UK and an increased share of the UK transport budget.

Most people already have “the ability to be involved in active travel” – called legs. Cycling is another way of being active when travelling, but “high quality protected cycling infrastructure across the UK” is an extremely lofty aim.

However this sort of idealism may be seen more here, with the Greens being keen on promoting safer cycling infrastructure.

Recreational cycle trails around the country are becoming very popular.

The difficulty is in shifting commuters from cars to cycles.

A lot has been spent in Dunedin on installing cycleways  on main thoroughfares. Initial designs proved to be dangerous – placing cramped cycle lanes beside heavy traffic on urban state highways was a crazy approach. So they are scrapping that approach and spending a lot more money separating the cycle lanes.

This will be safer for cyclists, but there is scant sign of people taking to biking in any numbers. I occasionally see a cyclist or two on the main cycle lanes in Dunedin. People are sticking to cars, and now have to compete with fewer car parks as these are converted into cycleways.

It isn’t as simple as putting in safer cycleways – I have biked to work in the past, but apart from a bloody big hill to contend with now I don’t have showering facilities at work so it isn’t practical for me to cycle, even when the weather is ok in the summer.

‘Build them and they will come’ has not worked when it comes to cycleways.

Mayors divided on regional fuel tax

Dave Cull, Dunedin mayor and also president of Local Government New Zealand, has suggested that a regional fuel tax ”might” be something that could be used outside Auckland, both other Otago mayors have different ideas on raising more money.

ODT: Regional fuel tax might work: Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says a fuel tax such as that proposed for Auckland may be something that could raise money for infrastructure in Dunedin, but mayors in the rest of the region have not supported the idea.

Mr Cull pointed to the Port Chalmers cycle/walkway as one project a regional fuel tax could help pay for.

He said such a tax was appropriate for funding transportation infrastructure, but other mechanisms would be more appropriate for other needs.

”Across the country there are instances where there are transportation infrastructure needs, and there’s even money within the NZ Transport Agency available, but there’s not sufficient resource in the local body to match the funding, so nothing happens.”

The cycle/walkway to Port Chalmers was an example where a lack of resources was the problem.

”That would be a candidate for that sort of funding.”

”It’s about all road users contributing to make the whole system safer and more efficient.”

It seems to be more about trying to find ways of funding projects without having to keep raising rates so much.

The amount of money spent on cycleways and the disruption to traffic is already a contentious issue in Dunedin. Hundreds of car parks in or near the CBD have been removed or are planned to be removed to make way for cycle lanes on streets, including on both main streets running right through the city.

There is low usage of the cycle lanes. I was talking to someone yesterday who was parked for half an hour on state highway one during the busiest traffic time of day, and they saw three cyclists. I daily drive on streets where all car parks have been converted to cycle lanes that are only occasionally used by cyclists, most days I see none.

I think that fuel is already quite a bit more expensive down here. Slapping a tax on it to fund pet council projects would likely be very unpopular.

Other mayors in the area want more money other than from rate hikes but not from a fuel tax.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult…

…said the fuel tax might work for Auckland but not for Queenstown, which had 5million visitor nights and just 16,000 ratepayers.

”Large numbers of people fly in here on aeroplanes, arriving on tour coaches, so their ability to contribute to our economy is limited through a petrol tax.”

Instead, he wanted a visitor levy, something he had said before ”constantly”.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan…

…said the area’s fuel was already more expensive than Auckland’s, so he did not support a fuel tax.

Paying for expensive infrastructure was a problem.

The planned Cromwell wastewater treatment plant had a budget of $10 million and the Lake Dunstan water supply project would cost up to $17 million.

”We’ve got 20,000 people living here; that’s pretty tough.”

Using a fuel tax to pay fore waste water treatment and water supply would be ridiculous. Cromwell is increasingly popular for tourists, and also operates as a satellite town for Queenstown and Wanaka. It is also the centre of a thriving wine region.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan…

…said local government ”needs something”, but he did not support a fuel tax.

The issue Clutha had was paying for infrastructure related to its tourism industry, which was ”not as advanced as most”.

The area had a declining and ageing population and the council could not keep going back to them for more money.

”It just seems so simple to put a tax on for tourists when they come in. We need it, and we need it now.”

Clutha District includes the Catlins area that is increasingly popular for tourists (for good reason, it’s a great area to visit).

However all these areas have different situations and needs.

Fuel is already taxed heavily in New Zealand:

  • 59.524 cents – National Land Transport Fund
  • 6 cents – ACC Motor Vehicle Account
  • 0.66 cents – Local Authorities Fuel Tax
  • 0.3 cents – Petroleum or Engine Fuels Monitoring Levy
  • 9.9726 cents GST on the above taxes

We pay a total of 26 cents GST on $2 of petrol (diesel is taxed differently).

Just under a half of the cost of fuel is tax already.

From the AA:

It is now government policy for all of the petrol excise tax motorists pay to be directed to the National Land Transport Fund for investment back into New Zealand’s road and transport system. The AA lobbied hard on behalf of motorists for many years to have all the taxes devoted to road building and maintenance, road safety education and enforcement, and subsidies for public transport.

Previously, about 19 cents per litre of the tax motorists paid on petrol was diverted by the government to non-road and transport related projects.

For far too long there has been significant under-investment in the nation’s road and transport network, and tax diversion has been unfair and at the expense of motorists.

Motorists must not be selectively taxed or treated as an easy source of tax revenue to pay for projects that would be more fairly funded by other sources such as rates or general taxation.

We don’t support regional petrol levies that unfairly target motorists to subsidise the transport decisions of others. The future funding of public transport must not be another tax on motorists added to current taxes and charges, but has to be independently justified in terms of defined benefits to motorists.

Back to Cull:

On the Government’s commitment to reviewing local government costs and revenue, Mr Cull said LGNZ had been saying the revenue stream from rating property was not sustainable.

Perhaps it is extravagant spending wishes of councils that is unsustainable.

One could cynically suggest that mayors and councillors want to divert attention from them raising rates far more than inflation.

Our fuel is already taxed heavily. Perhaps mayors need to look more at user pays – but that’s never likely to happen for cyclists.

There’s a good case for some cycleways. A recently partly built harbour side cycleway here in Dunedin is popular and well used – mostly recreationally. One problem is the escalating cost of extending this all the way to Port Chalmers – estimates have over doubled.

Were initial estimates hopeless, or do rules and regulations and ideal requirements blow out the costs? There are suggestions that cycleway construction is lucrative because councils pay whatever it takes. The Dunedin Council wasted half a million dollars on a poorly designed cycleway that had to be redesigned and is still hardly used.

Getting sensible mayors, councillors and planners may be more important than finding ways to hide how much we are increasingly taxed and rated.

Talking of rates – they are about $2000 a year for an average house in Dunedin – how does that compare to elsewhere?

Extending Central Otago cycleways

The rail trail cycleway through Central Otago, from Middlemarch to Clyde, has been hugely successful, for cyclists, for tourists and for rural towns that had previously been struggling.

More trails have also been established, the Roxburgh Gorge trail south of Alexandra, the Clutha Gold trail And Queenstown trails.

The Government has just announced funding to supplement local funds that will link these trails, making an extensive cycleway network.

The most significant of these extensions will link the current rail trail terminal at Clyde via the Cromwell Gorge to Cromwell and on through the Kawarau Gorge to the Queenstown trail.

The Cromwell Gorge trail has been considered for some time. I was involved in a small way in checking it out about 1998 but it was then put in the too hard basket.

Stuff: Central Otago multi-million dollar cycle trail project gets financial backing

A $26.3 million project to connect Central Otago’s trail network and create 500 kilometres of continuous trail network will be a “game changer” for the region.

Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key announced at a function in Bannockburn on Sunday the Government would commit around $13 million towards the project, with the Central Lakes Trust contributing $11.15m and the Otago Community Trust contributing $2m.

“The proposal to create a 536kim continuous cycle trail network by linking four existing Central Otago Great Rides – the Queenstown Trail, the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail – is the type of enhancement to the Great Rides we want to encourage.”

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This also shows a proposed trail from Cromwell to Luggate and presumably on the Wanaka and while that would be worthwhile I don’t think it will be as scenic a ride as the gorges.

Once this network is complete there will be one major missing link – Middlemarch to Dunedin. I don’t know if anything has been considered there but it would be challenging, the railway line is still used and the existing road is very up and down.

 

Transport and roading problems

Dunedin hasn’t just been having problems with hospital food, there are ongoing problems with transport and roading.

The city’s transport group manager has just resigned, five months after replacing the previous manager who resigned while on holiday amidst controversy over a botched cycleway project that had to be redone at considerable expense.

This picture of mayor Dave Cull was posted on Facebook yesterday:

ODT: Second manager departs

The Dunedin City Council has lost its second transport group manager in less than six months.

Ian McCabe has resigned, citing personal reasons, just five months after replacing Gene Ollerenshaw in the role in November last year.

Staff in the council’s transport department have been in the spotlight over mud-tank maintenance failings, which followed the botched roll-out of South Dunedin cycleways.

An election is coming up with current mayor Dave Cull standing again, but he must be under pressure. This was posted on Facebook in the weekend:

CullCycling

Mud tank maintenance (or rather, the lack of maintenance) has been a big issue since the South Dunedin floods last year.

But cycle lanes promoted by a green leaning council are an ongoing issue and have been of great annoyance to many people.

Some cycleways have been popular, like the peninsula paths on widened roads and the west harbour walkway/cycleway from the city to St Leonards is well used, to a large extent by recreational users.

Botched South Dunedin cycleway project that blew up when it was discovered fire engines were hampered by redesigned intersections.

But cycle paths tacked on to central city streets have also been very contentious. Car parks on both sides of Anzac Avenue were converted into cycleways that are hardly used – I use Anzac Avenue almost daily and while cyclists can be spotted occasionally they are rare.

More contentious is the proposal to convert car parks along both one way streets through the city (state highway 1) into cycleways. Safety of cyclists is important, but so is the needs of motorists.

The green council seems to think that if better cycleways are provided the city’s commuters will suddenly start biking to work. Some of them may, some of the time.

But the weather in Dunedin isn’t always perfect for cycling, and there are days, especially during the winter, where the bike lanes will be virtually empty (already that’s true of many days) and the traffic will clog up more than ever.

Making the centre city more cycle friendly is actually likely to be counter-productive to green ideals – people are more likely to drive their cars to retail options outside the CBD that still provide good parking.

I hope the city council manages to recruit a new transport manager that understands all of this.