The Wellington City Council and Let’s Get Wellington Moving have started consultation on Cobham Drive and how to cross it, whether on foot or two wheels. At the moment, coming from Rongotai or Kilbirnie, reaching the new cycleway is perilous, to say the least. Even using the crossing with Evans Bay Parade can be hair raising, so it is reassuring to see the Council finally bowing on the issue, even more so as the new cycleway will attract more people on their bikes.
Except that the solution proposed by LGWM to implement this crossing relies on a traffic light and is beyond belief. Anyone who is currently commuting from the East would be horrified at this option or anything that could make the traffic more horrendous. We have to remember the timing of it all: at present, the bus service in Wellington is way below the one of a car, there are roadworks everywhere (for cycleways, for pipes, for office buildings), and the lack of the airport flyer means countless taxis clogging the commute. So even for a cycling advocate like me, I can’t imagine the traffic light option other than punishment, one that will only alienate more people against the Council.
Even Tamatha Paul, whose green credentials can’t be questioned, said “You don’t shift mode or shift behaviour by making something inconvenient where there are no other alternatives“. Soon, it will be hard to figure what, in the coming projects, will make the city unpassable: the trucks lining up for the Shelly Bay development, those for the Airport expansion or the queues at traffic lights! To support their recommendation, LGWM has released a document breaking down their analysis. It explains the traffic light would add up to 15 seconds to the average vehicle travel times (page 14).
Now, while the rest of the document might breathe expertise, this unsupported assumption doesn’t stack up in the real world: in the morning, when queues build-up to the traffic lights, it will be way more than 15 seconds added to each journey. I happen to have studied traffic and group motion in a previous life, and I can categorically say this number, used to determine how the crossing should be implemented, is well underestimated.
Deputy Mayor Sarah Free, once in support of the bridge option, is now supporting the traffic light because the bridge would be too expensive to build:
This kind of reasoning, however, will only antagonise the Eastern suburbs, already burnt by Shelly Bay, the silence on the Airport Expansion, the abandonment of the Regional Park, the vanishing of trolleybuses (or any sustainable public transport) or simply buses. It will also increase the antipathy drivers have towards cyclists as if the cycleways alone weren’t enough to create social tension between groups (and let’s not start on the Spatial Plan here).
More importantly, the traffic light option has already been consulted on: in this petition, +7,500 people (at time of writing) said they favoured a bridge or an underpass. The number of signees is significant and I wonder how many LGWM would need to start accepting that their preferred option is simply not wanted. Moreover, the 2019 survey organised by EMPI about the future of Miramar Penisula showed that for residents, the biggest issue in the East was traffic. Once again, it will be a test for the consultation process, and if ignored, undermine even more the faith people have in it.
The expected mode shift must be done with the community, not against it. Wellington being progressive and climate-aware, I would argue most people are in favour of the new cycleways and will welcome a safer crossing on Cobham Drive. But one shouldn’t encourage that mode shift by punishing a mode of transport. Build the crossing, build it now, but build the right one! It is fair and normal to expect that for once, things are done properly in the East, as expected by the local community. Let’s hope the City Council does the right thing, as it’s hard to imagine our Mayor was thinking about an additional traffic light when he campaigned on this:
For more on the Cobham Drive crossing, here are a few links
- Ian’s article, written two years ago, or why can’t we have nice things?
- LGWM’s technical assessment of crossing options;
- LGWM’s page to take part in the consultation about the crossing.
PS: The Eastern suburbs are the sites of major developments (Shelly Bay, the Airport, etc), which is why this is taking some space on this blog. I’m sorry to come across as Eastern centric, I’m working on it.