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We probably shouldn’t be surprised that the number of cyclists using Christchurch’s cycleway network has flatlined since the Covid pandemic, but does it mean it’s time for a bit of a re-think as to whether we need more of them? I think a re-think is definitely needed.
Here’s what’s being spent: $301 million on 101-kilometres of cycleways. The Christchurch City Council’s putting in $114 million, the Government’s putting in $187 million.
There are 13 cycleways all up. Four of them are completed, four are partially completed, one is being built, one is at the detailed design stage and there are three others. All of this is due for completion by 2028.
Data gathered over the past six years using 32 high-tech sensors which count passing cyclists, has found that initial growth in cycleway usage hasn’t continued.
Here’s an example of one, known as the Papanui Parallel, which runs from Northcote to Bealey Ave. It was the first major cycle route in Christchurch.
In the 2018/2019 year, on average, 207 cyclists used it each day. The highest number of daily users since then has been 222, but in the 2021-2022 year that’s dropped to 196, which is below what it was in 2018/2019.
A lot of numbers are being thrown around and different bits of analysis are being bandied around but the overarching message is this: we are spending a truckload of money on cycleways but the number of people using them isn’t increasing.
The city council is putting it down to changing work habits since Covid, with more people working from home, which may be true.
But, either way, it’s time isn’t it that we had a good hard look as to whether the development of more cycleways in Christchurch should continue at the rate it has.
When you think about it, the “Build it and They Will Come” mentality which seems to go with cycleway development is the complete opposite of how Waka Kotahi decides whether it’s going to spend money making roads safer.
It waits until road deaths or injuries on a particular stretch of road have reached a certain number before it thinks it’s worth spending money on improvements.
With cycleways, though, we spend truckloads of money and then hope people are going to use them. And, as we’re seeing in Christchurch, we’re building them - but the people aren’t coming.
As I’ve said many times, I’m not against making it easier for people to get around using bikes. But I don’t think the over-engineered cycleways being built here in Christchurch are what’s actually needed.
I ride a bike to work now and then and the main road I use doesn’t have a cycleway. Not even a white line with green asphalt.
And, for me, if the Council did go and build a flash cycleway on that road, it wouldn’t make me any more inclined to get the bike out first thing in the morning. It just wouldn’t.
Chances are the 196 people who do use the Papanui Parallel each day, for example, would be cycling anyway.
And, going on the numbers which came out over the weekend, there are plenty of other people just like me, because they’re telling us that the cycleway network is doing nothing to get more people using bikes.
City councillor Mike Davidson chairs the council's urban development and transport committee and he’s a big fan of the cycleway network.
Here’s what he’s been saying about growth in the number of users flatlining: “I have no doubt that the investment in cycleways will pay dividends in the future. It is important to create transport options that are safe.”
Which is all well and good, but surely it raises the question whether the Christchurch City Council should be pressing on and not using these numbers as a bit of a wake-up call.
I don’t think it should press on blindly - because there’s still $261 million to be spent. And I’m told about $100 million of that will be city council money.
Now, later this week, the Council is going to decide whether it spends another $150 million on the stadium project. And it’s going to do that with some understanding of where the community sits in relation to the expenditure.
As we know, record numbers took part in the consultation process on whether theCouncil should be pouring more money into the stadium. And, on the back of the data which came out over the weekend showing that use of the cycleway network has flatlined, I think the Council should be asking us what we think before it pours another $100 million into more cycleways.
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