Learning from cycleway errors

After a long year of construction, mistakes, remedial work, wasted money and public dissatisfaction the South Dunedin Cycle Network has finally been shunted down the council's cycleway queue.

In an Otago Daily Times report this month council infrastructure networks general manager Ruth Stokes said she could not say when the South Dunedin network would be completed.

The new focus, she said, was to employ the limited available resources on fixing the Portobello Rd cycleway and the central city network.

The latter would link with the council's $37million plan to upgrade the CBD, Otago Regional Council's plan for a central city bus hub, and New Zealand Transport Agency's $8million plan for separated cycleways along the city's one-way street system.

It is a fair argument the central city network should have had priority from the beginning.

Northeast Valley was another strong contender whereas the criss-cross streets of South Dunedin always looked like an uphill ride.

So it turned out.

Traffic islands built to the wrong design had to be removed.

Barriers were installed and removed.

Road markings were changed, then changed again.

Even some of the remedial work needed remedial work.

The result was last year's decision to markedly change the approach to the South Dunedin network.

Instead of the planned rollout of many routes criss-crossing the flat, the council voted to concentrate the available budget on fewer routes built to a higher quality.

The new switch in focus diminishes that certainty for South Dunedin.

What sort of cycle network the area will eventually end up with will now be decided at a later date, Mrs Stokes said.

It seems every council has an issue it is forced to continually confront over its three-year term.

For several Dunedin City Council terms the stadium debate was the touchstone.

For this council it has been cycleways, with the sharpest criticism being levelled at the South Dunedin section of the rollout.

But despite the mistakes, the wasted money, the delays and the criticisms, the council should hold its nerve on cycleways.

The sooner we get on with building them, in the right place and to the right level of quality, the sooner they can begin to pay their way.

Because, while much of the criticism levelled at Dunedin's cycleway plans has been merited, one constant refrain has not; that cycleways are nothing more than an ideological quirk of a green-tinged council.

Some of the bigger players of capitalism - the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany - are leading the world in cycleway construction.

And in New Zealand the growing cycleway momentum is being driven not by a green Dunedin council but by a centre-right National Government.

When well used cycleways mean more people exercising more, less traffic for those who do not cycle, reduced motor vehicle pollution and usage and the accompanying reduced spend on roads, fuel and car maintenance.

And, of course, safer routes for cyclists.

Cycleways are also seen by many of the world's upwardly mobile - the very people Dunedin education and industry leaders want to attract to the city - as essential infrastructure.

Of course, like most infrastructure spending, cycleways demand significant expense up front to provide their downstream benefits.

Footpaths, roads, sewers and sports fields are no different, though in cycleways' favour it should be noted the majority of current cycleway spending in Dunedin has come from national budgets not ratepayer funds.

Cycleways are here to stay, in this country and around the world, and Dunedin's completed network will add safety and value to the city.

The council must learn from the many mistakes made so far but not flinch at the challenge ahead.

Build them well, build them smart and build them efficiently.

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