It’s an Election Year – Meet the Candidates

 

 

Cycle Aware Wellington meeting, 2nd November 2011

Meet the Candidates

 

Cycle Aware Wellington is Wellington’s local branch of CAN, the national Cycling Advocates Network. This hard working and friendly bunch of people hold meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at the Library Bar on the corner of Tory St. Beers are consumed, minutes are taken and the hub of cycle advocacy in Wellington ticks along. This month, we had some visitors to liven things up: Paul Foster-Bell, National candidate for the seat of Wellington Central, Grant Robertson, Labour candidate for Wellington Central, and Gareth Hughes, MP for the Green Party. They came along to talk about how their parties support cycling and answer our questions.

 

A lot of the evening’s discussion was about funding for cycling infrastructure, with a few questions about possible law changes and better driver licensing laws. With Foster-Bell and Robertson both admitting they aren’t cyclists (though Robertson saying with an eye on their waistlines that “they probably should be”) they were keen to push public transport and walking alternatives as well. Overall there were no major surprises, each candidate pushed their party line and no glasses were thrown.

Foster-Bell was keen to talk about National’s NZ Cycle Trails project as an example of how the Government has been supporting cyclists in its three years in power. He also talked about support for public transport in the Wellington region. He said that cycling infrastructure was being incorporated into other roading projects, and pointed to the proposed Basin Reserve flyover as an example of this, as there is the possibility of a cycling and walking add-on. With regards to more restrictions on driver licensing laws, Foster-Bell said that the age limit has been lowered under the National government and the road toll is currently the lowest it has been in six decades. He said that he wouldn’t support the adoption of a European-style absolute liability law (where motor vehicle drivers are always legally responsible for an accident with a bicycle, regardless of who was actually at fault), as he wouldn’t want to encourage dangerous behaviour by any road users.

Hughes said that the Greens have always been champions for cycling. He said that they would dedicate more money to councils to fund cycling projects and support to have a cycle advocate on regional transport committees. He talked about the need for central government to send the right message to councils to support cycling, and the ability that the Greens have to work with different parties to achieve goals, such as their work with National on housing insulation. He’d support an absolute liability law and said that the driver licensing system is very lax. Hughes said it isn’t just a coincidence that New Zealanders don’t cycle as a way of life like Europeans do.

Robertson, who currently holds the Wellington Central seat, also pushed a strong cycling line. He said that Labour have always promoted a more sustainable transport policy when they’ve been in government and pointed to Trevor Mallard as a true force for cycling (broken bones and all). He said that the current kinds of cost-benefit analysis that are used aren’t wide enough and they need to be reconsidered to take in all the ‘externalities’ (the effects on the health budget by encouraging cycling, for example). He dodged the absolute liability question by saying that Labour didn’t have a policy on it, although he generally supports tougher licensing laws. Robertson said that he himself is afraid to cycle in Wellington and it needs to be safer for people on bikes.

So the politicians made all the right noises about cycling and sustainable transport. It’s National that have to stand by their recent decisions though, cutting funding assistance rates for councils for cycling and walking projects as well as road safety. Robertson said that they would like to see the rates go up to 75%, with Hughes saying the Greens would make it 100%. Foster-Bell stressed the development of cycling infrastructure alongside existing projects, but he was pushed on the economics of the Basin Reserve flyover. Patrick Morgan said that it was surprising that such a business-focused government was backing projects that were predicted to actually lose money (the standard cost-benefit analysis on this is rumoured to be pretty unfavourable). Foster-Bell disagreed that the project would lose money, with Patrick saying they would have to agree to disagree.

What do you think about what the politicians said? I wish that I had thought to ask a question about repealing mandatory helmet laws; it would have been great to hear how they responded. Will National’s Cycle Trails be getting your vote, or do you think they’re tourism-focused and not transport-focused? Do you trust in Labour’s pledges for active transport or do you think they’ve got too many other things on their plate?

 

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3 thoughts on “It’s an Election Year – Meet the Candidates

  1. Megan

    I don’t understand the refusal to acknowledge and respect the hierarchy of road users. Cars and buses cause the most damage when they hit things. It’s seems like such an easy lesson for most people: yield to road users more vulnerable than yourself. Drivers should have the responsibility to avoid collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. Foster-Bell’s belief that an absolute liability law would encourage unsafe road use is ridiculous. People, on bikes, foot, skateboards, scooters (and in cars and buses) value their safety; it helps a lot when cars and buses yield to them.

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    1. Isobel

      Yes, I don’t think anyone at the meeting really accepted Foster-Bell’s argument, but they were content to let it go (with at least a little eye-rolling). Someone did point out that the point of an absolute liability law isn’t to allow cyclists to do whatever they want, and that’s not what happens in countries where they have them, but I don’t think he was convinced.

      A week on from the meeting I can’t help feeling a bit frustrated with the results… Cycling shouldn’t have to become a left/right political policy. I went into the meeting (probably like lots of others) knowing that I’d like what the Greens had to say and not like what National said, and I’m sure the candidates were aware of that. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the National party shouldn’t champion cycling, right? I mean, everyone likes healthy cities and healthy people.

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  2. Simon Kennett

    Hmmm…Labour had 9 years to make some real progress with cycle infrastructure, but took too long to get the ball moving. They certainly made some progress, but you have to look hard to notice the effects on the ground.

    The NZCT project could be called a National/Greens initiative. Kevin Hague in particular is a major supporter. It is very tourism focused at the moment, but with the Network Expansion project it is going to work it’s way into urban centres. Hopefully it will be a true, NZ-wide network one day.

    I don’t think National find the economic case for cycle commuting to be very compelling. More work required there. They can see the lifestyle/health benefits of recreational cycling, but cycle commuting is still a bit too fringe. Still, even though they have cut cycle/walking funding, it’s still higher than it was in the middle of Labour’s 9-year stint.

    The Greens are always going to be the most enthusiastic supporters of cycling, but the effect of that enthusiasm is questionable if a) they remain outside the government and b) they claim that territory to the exclusion of others (regardless of their desire to be inclusive). It’s tough, but part of me feels that it is bad for cycling to be seen as a ‘Green’ issue. Cycle commuting advocacy needs to be mainstreamed more (like recreational cycling). Maybe it’s just a matter of time.

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