The following email was sent to Councillors in response to the plan outlined in the meeting agenda here. The Council is running an Extraordinary Meeting on Zoom to discuss and vote on the Covid-19 Pandemic Response Plan. The meeting is on Thursday 9th April 2020 at 2pm and will be live-streamed on YouTube
Firstly and most importantly, I hope you and your whānau are staying safe and well at this turbulent time. Secondly I appreciate all the work you are doing to alleviate the financial and personal stress placed on people in Wellington. I count myself and my partner as very fortunate to be able to continue working almost as normal, when for some the pandemic has meant life is now anything but.
I’m contacting you on behalf of people who cycle in Wellington, and people who have tasted the joy of cycling thanks to newly traffic-freed streets. Perhaps some of you have managed to get out on the quieter streets with family. I have been out on some short bike rides and it has been wonderful to see parents teaching their kids using our cul-de-sac street to practise riding downhill, fortunately one of the less steep streets in Wellington!
These scenes are playing out in neighbourhoods around our city as more people begin to realise the value of their local areas as places to live, work and grow up in, not simply places to drive through.
More than ever we need to think about the future for which we are responsible. Council needs to be consistent with the transport, economic, zero-carbon, and liveability commitments that it has made with strong public support. This is not the time for U-turns on these core issues because of the pandemic. It’s understandable that there’ll be a degree of panic amongst the ordinary citizenry, especially amongst cafe owners and small business employers who will be hit hard. As our leaders we trust you to be evidence-led and level-headed in times of crisis.
Plan items #6, #15 – Free Parking & Retail Stimulus
The research is unequivocal: free parking does not create lively streets nor stimulate retail and hospitality. Council knows this very well, from the officers to councillors, thanks to all the evidence from offshore and New Zealand, introducing parking charges here in Wellington in 2018 did not slow down business spending:
Removing parking fees not only fails to help the cause of re-invigorating the city; it also removes a revenue source of which every cent seems crucial right now.
Your Council officers have worked tremendously hard and have conducted a comprehensive parking policy review over the last 12-18 months. The FAQ section of the LetsTalk webpage relating to the parking policy addresses this topic: https://www.letstalk.wellington.govt.nz/managecityparking/widgets/235014/faqs#40151
Free parking, even with a time limit, results in a lower turnover of vehicles and means that fewer people can use the space each day. Low vacancy rates lead to localised congestion as cars have to drive around for longer searching for a free parking space.
I can understand the appeal to get people back into the city quickly, but this approach will result in worse outcomes for all street users, creating gridlock at weekends.
Free parking in Wellington would reduce revenue and incentivise driving. Officers, consultants, and enlightened groups such as First Retail have comprehensive toolboxes of vastly more effective ways to attract people into the city which don’t involve sacrificing millions of dollars of revenue. From boosting sustainable and active travel around the city, to interim enablement of business operators to enliven streets with activations and activities. These other options have a positive return on investment and reduce congestion. They also deliver benefits for health, climate, economy and happiness.
Public Transport patronage
Cycle Wellington members support Public Transport as a great addition to getting around the city by bike, however Public Transport patronage may take time to recover as fears of virus transmission remain in people’s minds. Now is the time to bring walking and cycling forward as the best ways to get around, stay healthy and maintain distance, lowering the risk of transmission.
Plan item #17 – Get People Active
Thursday’s agenda states:
“As we move out of lockdown it will be important to encourage people to get out and about.”
We have seen during the lockdown that thousands of Wellingtonians have been getting active walking and cycling around their local areas. We would like to see the Council continue to encourage this activity by making our streets safer for active users. Offering free or discounted entry to facilities is great, but this section needs to offer real measures to make it easier to walk and cycle around Wellington. This would keep the response aligned with the sustainable transport hierarchy in the Wellington Urban Growth Plan and the Regional Land Transport Plan.
Worldwide Cities’ Response
Cities around the world have responded in different ways to the pandemic, but the following are great examples of cities that have made walking and cycling easier:
Philadelphia, USA – Closing a major route to cars to allow people riding bikes to maintain safe distancing.
New York City – Emergency bike lanes added to two busy bike corridors. Counts of people riding bikes have increased 50% over 2019 numbers. Some central city streets closed during the day to give residents space to engage in physical activity.
Bogota, Colombia – The city added 76km of temporary bike lanes to the cities existing 550km of permanent bike lanes. 22km of these new bike lanes were installed overnight (Google Translate link from Spanish) by repurposing existing traffic lanes. Leaders aim to help residents get around at a time when they are discouraging taking public transportation to reduce coronavirus transmission
In summary, we should support people who now feel safe and comfortable cycling in Wellington to continue riding, to do this we should:
- Continue the implementation of the LGWM Safer Speeds and Golden Mile improvements without delay
- Bid for funding (up to 90% co-funding!) from NZTA for the “Innovating Streets” programme to make temporary improvements to streets by opening lanes for bikes and increasing bike parking.
- Keep parking fees in place, considering the impacts on traffic congestion and the likely reduction of amenity for cycling and walking that would result
Let’s make smart investments, support all our people, and keep making our city better.