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Why Island Bay and the “Newtown Connections” matter (opinion)

Why does stuff in the southern suburbs matter when it’s not my backyard, and when there are other cycleway type projects happening elsewhere in the region to pay attention to?

Opinion by Talk Wellington, an organisation aiming to bring good quality information about urban environments and transport systems to people of the Wellington region. 

If you think that people who aren’t fit, fast and fearless deserve the option of getting around their neighbourhood under their own steam on two wheels, without being constantly afraid of being killed… don’t wait to pay attention until there’s a cycleway proposal in your suburb.

Have your say on the “Newtown Connections” – there are many good reasons why that’ll benefit you, whether you live in Kāpiti or Kilbirnie.

Island Bay is important because Wellington’s had New Zealand’s first, and highest-profile experience with an attempt to build on-road, protected, “all ages and abilities” cycling infrastructure. This kind of infrastructure is something that every town’s authorities know, deep in their hearts, they need to do, but that it’ll be hard.

As the largest, richest council in the region, smaller cities and towns watch Wellington closely.

Island Bay has become a bogeyman for people who want to turn their (or others’) communities off cycling infrastructure

It’s also become a watch word for risk-averse politicians and community leaders, both local and in other Wellington towns, who are concerned about the controversy and division that they believe inevitably results from providing all-ages-and-abilities cycleway infrastructure on streets. (And, also, for those who are perhaps just a bit lazy, or doing carefully targeted voter-care for political ends.)

But isn’t this still the case? We keep hearing more about how it’s still causing friction and

Well, no.

Has anyone noticed they’re now pretty good at it?

While the Wellington Public has been regularly ingesting a consistent mainstream media message that Island Bay and all southern suburbs are an ongoing disaster rivalled only by #bustastrophe, other councils around the region have been quietly listening and learning.

In practitioner forums, behind closed doors, other councils have continued to watch and listen to the honest behind-the-scenes stories of Wellington city’s experience with Island Bay, and have also been watching and hearing how the council has improved its practices over the ensuing four years.

Wellington city’s cycling project engagements are now among the best in the country.

Perhaps we learned the hard way – but the Newtown Connections are the first real sign of an important shift: a Wellington city transport project has asked questions of its communities that are moderately holistic, and has changed how it uses engagement feedback in design.

Instead of asking people design level questions about what they want on the roads or on the footpaths (“do you want a cycle lane or carparks?“) people were asked what they care about, and about how they wish to get around their suburbs, how they wish to enjoy their public space.

And the process then uses genuine functional priorities (how people need to be able to move around and use their neighbourhoods) to design the physical street form that delivers that.  Form follows Function. Not rocket science, and a fundamental canon of design practice!   (More on that here. We’d love it if they did some good integrated planning that incorporated landuse and all transport, but hey – this is progress!)

The locals have noticed – we all should

And it’s not lost on anyone how the various local communities’ input on the Island Bay cycleway and associated engagements has become significantly more diverse and more constructive.

The locals have noticed – and perhaps it’s mostly commentators with reckons who need to catch up.

So, rightly or wrongly many people around the region are paying extra close attention to Island Bay.  Some are continuing to use it as a bogeyman; others are using it to get more airtime for their selfish reckons; still others are using it as a barometer for how the conversations will go in their communities when or if they decide to give more road space to people cycling.

So, the Southern Suburbs’ “Newtown Connections” matters. It’s definitely worth thinking about, and having a say on.

Have your say!

There’s one more week to give your more informed view of the best way forward.

In a week where

NZTA has launched its amazing new BikeReady training system (IMO considerably more comprehensive than driver training),

Auckland’s just opened another excellent protected cyclewaycommitted to trialling car-free zones in its city centre, and heralded engagement on extensive 30km speed limits, another Picton school patrol kid has had to leap to safety as a driver barrelled through a stop sign,

…it’s time to double down on the good pro-people momentum here in the Head of the Fish.

First: have a read.

Our guest poster wrote an excellent (hilariously GIF’d) roundup here, and Island Bay Cycleway has careful, open-minded and thoughtful consideration of the options.

(We like the C+ proposal and believe it’s time for a hard but important conversation about Rintoul Street.)

Then: have your say!

Make sure you do it by next Tuesday, 11 December.