In a previous life, I taught people how to find and organise information, and wrote papers that contributed to Victoria University’s PBRF ranking (that some of these papers were presented at conference locations with good cycle touring possibilities is entirely coincidental). In return, the University provided me with an office and a computer. Like many corporate computers, it took a while to boot up in the morning, applying all the security patches that central IT deemed necessary. The office had a fine view of the Thorndon Quay/ Mulgrave Street intersection that many cycle commuters from the northern suburbs pass through. So while I waited for my computer to achieve consciousness, I took to counting the bicycles that passed through the intersection, and recording them in a spreadsheet, scaling up the count to give an hourly rate. The counts are were all before 9am, generally between 8:30 and 9am.
What can we learn from this data?
Firstly – did the number of cyclists increase?
As you can see from the graph, there’s quite a lot of variation from month to month (the numbers are the average hourly rate for each month, the variation is partly due to how often I remembered to do the count). But overall the trend line indicates a 15% increase over two and a half years, or 6% per year. In comparison the Census travel to work data indicates that cycle commuting in Wellington increased by 72% between 2006 and 2013, or 10% per year – a broadly similar result. Incidentally, people driving cars decreased by 3.5% between the censuses. So although we’re not yet the Copenhagen of the South Pacific, cycle commuting is certainly on the rise in Wellington.
I was also interested in the extent to which cycle commuters are influenced by weather. I noted the overall weather (fine, overcast, wet), the wind strength, and the temperature (from the Met Service website) to see if these had an impact on cyclist numbers.
Wellington cycle commuters are a hardy breed – although there’s a bit of a fall off in numbers for wet conditions and strong winds, there are still plenty of commuters who zip up their storm trooper parkas, put their heads down, and make it to work. Temperature has little effect – even though the trend line indicates a slight relationship between temperature and cyclist numbers, the highest count actually occurred on a cool 9 degree day.
What I found really interesting was the number of different routes cyclists took through the intersection. Although it appears to be a simple Y junction, there are 10 main routes that cyclists use.
There are the obvious ones: south on Thorndon Quay (40%) south on Mulgrave (9%) and north on Thorndon Quay (6%). However Fran Wilde Walk is also popular (7% east, 5% west) – presumably as a way to get to the office buildings in the Centreport area, and to the waterfront. This is a case where a facility that hasn’t been specifically designed for cyclists is proving to be a useful bike route.
Particularly interesting are the routes going west of Thorndon Quay. 10% of cyclists position themselves in the right hand lane of Thorndon Quay, ready to do an illegal turn into Bunny St, 8% head for Kate Sheppard Place, usually negotiating the pedestrian crossings at Mulgrave St and Thorndon Quay in a rather informal manner. 5% actually head up Mulgrave Street the wrong way – usually on the footpath. 7% (south) and 5% (north) take the risk of cutting through the bus terminal. So 30% of cyclists are bending the rules to head west of Thorndon Quay.
What this shows is a need for a good cycle route across to Molesworth Street for people trying to access Parliament and government offices. Currently the strictly legal approach is to ride down to Whitmore Street before turning right. Maybe one day there’ll be protected cycle lanes on Thorndon Quay, a bike light phase at Mulgrave Street, and a protected contraflow lane connecting to Kate Sheppard Place. Then we’ll to be able to start to look Copenhagen in the eye.