How bicycle-friendly is this community?

The League of American Bicyclists, an organisation similar to CAN, publishes an annual list of “Bicycle Friendly Communities” rated Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum according to how bike-friendly they are. The communities themselves apply for BFC status. Here’s the League’s explanation of how it works:

Applicant communities are judged in five categories often referred to as the Five Es. These are Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation & Planning. A community must demonstrate achievements in each of the five categories in order to be considered for an award. Communities with more significant achievements in these areas receive superior awards. Filling out the BFC application is an education in itself, as communities see where they are lacking in each of these categories.

The starting point for a community to apply for Bicycle Friendly Community status is to fill out a questionnaire, so I decided to fill out the questionnaire for Wellington city from a transport cycling perspective based on my personal experience. I don’t have any experience of cycling in the Hutt, Porirua, Kapiti or the Wairarapa so it would be great to get comments about how these areas rate in response to particular questions.

I also have very little knowledge of the region’s official cycling plans & policies (although I did do a bit of reading while filling this out). If you know of any policies that relate directly to the questions, especially if they contradict or alter my comments, please do let me know.

One more point. Many of the notes accompanying the questions are US-specific but I have included them anyway because they provide good examples of how these things work in practice.

This is a long post. Get yourself a cup of tea.


ENGINEERING

Communities are asked about what is on the ground; what has been built to promote cycling in the community. For example, questions in this category inquire about the existence and content of a bicycle master plan, the accommodation of cyclists on public roads, and the existence of both well-designed bike lanes and multi-use paths in the community. Reviewers also look at the availability of secure bike parking and the condition and connectivity of both the off-road and on-road network.

Q: Does your community have a comprehensive, connected and well-maintained bicycling network? Yes/No. A comprehensive, connected, and well-maintained bicycling network enables cyclists to get wherever they want to go through a mizture of on- and off-street accommodations.

A: No. The maintenance is generally good but comprehensive and connected are at the bottom of the list I’d use to describe what we have. And that’s just Wellington city. The results are even more dire for the Hutt, the Wairarapa, Porirua & the Kapiti Coast.


Q: Is bike parking readily available throughout the community? Yes/No. Many Bicycle Friendly Communities are making efforts to increase availability of bike parking through requiring racks in new construction and even lowering parking minimums for businesses that offer bike parking.

A: No.

But it’s getting better in the CBD. There are bike racks popping up around the place and they’re of that good design that lets me park my step-through bike easily (with no top bar it’s hard to balance it against a vertical pole). I would like to see more targetted placement though. For example, Lambton Quay is a nice street to ride on and has tons of destination shops and the bike racks are heavily used. In contrast, Willis Street is horrid to ride down – I just won’t – and you can’t ride down Manners Street from Willis to Victoria most of the day, but there’s a long row of bike racks at Perrett’s Corner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see them there. I think that more bike infrastructure encourages more people to ride. I’m just not sure that banging racks in any old where they fit is the best use of the limited cycle infrastructure budget at present. But that one is definitely open to debate.

I haven’t seen much bike parking in the suburban centres I’ve visited.


Q: Is there a Complete Streets ordinance or another policy that mandates the accommodation of cyclists on all road projects? Yes/No. Complete Streets ordinances require that all modes of travel – including bicycles – be accommodated whenever a new road is constructed or an existing one is rebuilt. Learn more at completestreets.org.

A: I’m willing to bet there’s not. There’s not even a single Roading policy at WCC; the policies are spread across a number of documents. There is a Transport Strategy, but that’s too high-level for what we’re looking for here. Greater Wellington also has a Land Transport Strategy. As part of that there is a Cycling Implementation Plan, but as they say:

The lead agency for each action varies depending on responsibility. They include Greater Wellington, territorial authorities, New Zealand Transport Agency, NZ Police, schools and other agencies such as Regional Public Health. The effectiveness of the plan relies on a commitment from all key stakeholders. Local councils, in particular, will have a vital role in improving the cycling network.

In other words they have little control over the implementation and the outcome. The Super City idea is starting to look more attractive.

UPDATE: The WCC Cycling Policy notes the opportunity to introduce shared cycle/bus lanes as part of the priority bus lane roll-out currently underway. If I have to share a lane with traffic I would definitely prefer that traffic to be buses. Even though bus drivers and bike riders haven’t had the best relationship in the past, having to contend only with professional drivers trained and willing to be careful of bikes is an attractive proposition. (I’d still prefer designated cycle lanes where possible).


EDUCATION

The questions in this category are designed to determine the amount of education there is available for both cyclists and motorists. Education includes teaching cyclists of all ages how to ride safely in any area for multi-use paths to congested city streets as well as teaching motorists how to share the road safely with cyclists. Some things that reviewers look at are the availability of cycling education for adults and children, the number of League Cycling Instructors in the community, and other ways that safety information is distributed to both cyclists and motorists in the community including bike maps, tip sheets, and as a part of driver’s education manuals and courses.

Q: Is there a community-wide Safe Routes to School program that includes bicycling education? Yes/No. Safe Routes to School is a federal-level funding program to encourage youth to bike and walk to school through infrastructure changes and education.

A: No. Obviously Safe Routes to School is not available here; I’m not aware of any central government programme of a similar nature and Google didn’t turn up anything. I could not find any region-wide school-specific programme on the Greater Wellington site. WCC has a number of things (the Cycling Policy, the SaferRoads project etc) that overlap this area but I didn’t see anything specific to schools.


Q: Are there bicycling education courses available for adults in the community? Yes/No. The League offers the Smart Cycling program through League Certified Instructors in communities throughout the country. Find an instructor or class in your area!

A: Yes. The caveat here is that these courses are sporadic and are provided by a variety of organisations ranging from WCC to Frocks on Bikes. I’d like to see regular courses provided through a single agency with the programme accessible on the web. Bike Wise has a ‘coming soon’ marker on this. I also rather like the idea of League Certified Instructors. I don’t know whether this is within the Bike Wise mandate but I would rather hope it would be. If not, perhaps CAN would be suitable.


Q: Does your community educate motorists and cyclists on their rights and responsibilities as road users? Yes/No. Much can and should be done to further educate motorists and cyclists on how to properly share the road. In addition to signage, communities are offering instruction through traffic ticket diversion programs and Public Service Announcements to name a few.

A: Yes. But I don’t think we do a particularly good job of this. For one thing, the message comes from all over the place and isn’t entirely consistent. It can be a very good thing to have a message come from a variety of sources, but at present all the sources are saying something different or have a different focus. I’d like to see key messengers – the Police, councils, CAN etc – agree on perhaps two or three key messages and promote those consistently and often.

This includes driver education, something we know we’re pretty useless at when we look at car accident statistics. In fact we can tell this from just being on the roads, regardless of what vehicle we’re using that day. Don’t think for a second that it’s only the other drivers who are aggressive, it’s us too because that’s the way we learn to drive in this country. You might think you’re a nicer driver than most of the people you share the road with, but it’s relative. Our baseline sucks.


ENCOURAGEMENT

This category concentrates on how the community promotes and encourages bicycling. This can be done through Bike Month and Bike to Work Week events as well as producing community bike maps, route finding signage, community bike rides, commuter incentive programs, and having a Safe Routes to School program. In addition, some questions focus on other things that have been built to promote cycling or a cycling culture such as off-road facilities, BMX parks, velodromes, and the existence of both road and mountain bicycling clubs.

Q: Does your community have an up-to-date bicycle map? Yes/No. Bike maps are critical to safely navigating a community that doesn’t have a fully developed bike network and encouraging people to get to where they want to go by bike.

A: No. But it’s not bad. The Journey Planner is only as current as the information it receives; for example so far only WCC has provided it with bike parking locations and of course that doesn’t include non-WCC racks. And as I’ve said before, the Journey Planner has its limits, one being that you can’t easily get a good overview of the network. But it’s still a pretty useful tool and you should take a look if you haven’t already.


Q: Does the community celebrate bicycling during National Bike Month with community rides, Bike to Work Day or media outreach? Yes/No. National Bike Month and Bike to Work Day are celebrated by hundreds of communities across the country. Learn more on how to promote these activities here.

A: Yes! The Wellington region has a variety of events organised by the Councils and the community, including cycle skills courses, Go By Bike Day, the Mayoral Challenges and Love to Roll. See the Bikewise Wellington list or go to our What’s On page for a calendar of events.

Of course, there’s room for a lot more activity in Bike Wise month, so get organising! 🙂


Q: Does the Community host any major community cycling events or rides? Yes/No.

A: Yes. The Mayoral Bike Challenge, the opening of a leg of the Great Harbour Way, Frocks on Bikes rides. But there’s not that many and they’re not all that regular.


Q: Is there an active bicycle advocacy group in the community? Yes/No.

A: Yes.


ENFORCEMENT

The enforcement category contains questions that measure the connections between the cycling and law enforcement communities. Questions address whether or not the law enforcement community has a liaison with the cycling community, if there are bicycle divisions of the law enforcement or public safety communities, if the community uses targeted enforcement to encourage cyclists and motorists to share the road safely, and the existence of bicycling related laws such as those requiring helmet or the use of sidepaths.

Q: Do law enforcement officers receive training on the rights and responsibilities of all road users? Yes/No.Local law enforcement has a tough job. Officers’ training is available and critical in protecting your rights and keeping roadways safe for all users.

A: No idea. I have heard from friends about their experiences with police appearing unwilling to prosecute when they have been on the receiving end of dangerous car-driver behaviour and I’ve also heard good stories of officers addressing situations of cyclist stupidity politely and without going overboard. But as to their training I have no idea.


Q: Does your community have law enforcement or other public safety officers on bikes? Yes/No. There’s no better way for law enforcement to get better hands-on experience than policing from behind the handlebars. These officers can also manage crowds and congested downtowns better as well and their equipment is cheaper than an outfitted cruiser.
A: No. I believe Nelson has one. I’m all for this, though. I found cops on bikes friendly and approachable when I lived in Sydney, and they can respond very quickly and go places that police cars can’t.


Q: Do local ordinances treat bicyclists equitably? Yes/No. Equal treatment through city policies and ordinances is critical in ensuring cyclists rights to the road.

A: No. Not according to the criteria for equal treatment outlined in the link above, of which there are many. We score OK on some points but overall we don’t make the grade.


EVALUATION

Here the community is judged on the systems that they have in place to evaluate current programs and plan for the future. Questions are focused on measuring the amount of cycling taking place in the community, the crash and fatality rates, and ways that the community works to improve these numbers. Communities are asked about whether or not they have a bike plan, how much of it has been implemented and what the next steps for improvement are.

Q: Is there a specific plan or program to reduce cyclist/motor vehicle crashes? Yes/No. From targeted enforcement or redesign of intersections with high crash rates, your community should be striving for safer streets.
A: I don’t know the answer to this one. Greater Wellington’s aim is to have  fewer than 75 cyclists injured within the region each year; that is presumably not limited to cyclist/motor vehicle crashes as in this question. I haven’t read the part of their Cycling Plan which apportions responsibility for this aim so I don’t know what steps are being taken.



Q: Does your community have a current comprehensive bicycle plan? Yes/No.
A: Yes.  As mentioned above. There’s also a WCC Cycling Policy, although of course a policy isn’t a plan.


Q: Is there a Bicycle Advisory Committee that meets regularly? Yes/No.

A: Yes. WCC meets with a bunch of representatives from various parts of the cycling community.


Q: Does your community have a bicycle program manager? Yes/No. Along with the need for advocacy groups, communities aren’t just becoming bike-friendly magically. They require proper planning, city staff to manage implementation of programs and accommodations, and a cyclist-driven constituent oversight to see the plans are followed through.

A: Er. WCC has three staff who are specifically tasked with cycling-related things and they do some very good work. I doubt that their mandate or influence would reach the League’s expectations though, and when I met with the manager I got the impression that cycling is just another element to be balanced in the mix, that it isn’t and probably won’t be a priority. In fact he foresaw a continued increase in car journeys into the future, which tells me quite a bit about the current operating mindset at WCC. I reckon he’s wrong though, and I even offered him a $10 bet that by 2015 we’d have fewer, not more, car journeys in Wellington. But he didn’t want to take me up on it, so perhaps he’s hedging his bets on that one.

So there you have it, folks. A not unexpected result but not entirely doom and gloom either. I like having a set of benchmarks to measure our situation against and to direct my future efforts towards.

So what do you think?

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4 thoughts on “How bicycle-friendly is this community?

  1. Megan

    Great post! Looks like there’s quite a bit of work to do and opportunity for further investigation and education. My question is how interested is Wellington in becoming a bicycle-friendly community? As you wrote, policies are not plans. I want to know more about the mandate of those three staff charged with cycle-related issues…

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  2. Lisa

    That’s a good question. I think there would be a fair proportion of people here who, if you asked them that exact question, would answer that they didn’t care. But if you asked the same people ‘Do you want your kids to be able to bike to the beach/school/their friends houses?’ they would be well and truly on board.

    And for me that’s the crux of it. I don’t think we do a good job of marketing the virtues and benefits of a bike-friendly community. And it’s there for the selling. I reckon cycling is one of the only things that can be marketed as both sexy AND family friendly!

    No-one will do it for us. It’s up to us.

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  3. Megan

    And hopefully the WCC and Regional council will hear the call. In a quick review of the WCC cycling policy you posted, approved a month earlier than the region’s cycling plan, the council states that the “travel demand management in the city is to encourage walking and public transport as the foremost modes of transport but recognises some people prefer to cycle.” The council says it will aim to support these people but their priorities are focused elsewhere. I’d like to see the council recognize that cycling is not some outlier and limited option, but a viable alternative to car transport that merits increased promotion, safety education and supportive infrastructure.

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  4. Lisa

    Well exactly.
    And not just a viable alternative but a preferred mode of transport. There’s a reason other cities around the world are putting so many resources into cycling infrastructure, safety and promotion. It is my experience that local authorities will only spend millions when there is a good business case for doing so. Clearly there is a good business case.

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