By Paul Callister, 3 October 2022
Kāpiti consists of a series of villages and towns linked by the main state highway and the main trunk railway line. Many of the settlements were originally built near or around a railway station. The flat topography, transport layout and generally good weather means that most areas of housing are within relatively easy biking distance of shops and transport hubs.
Could our villages lead the transformation in Aotearoa New Zealand away from car dependency to a cycling friendly society? Could we match the rates of cycling seen in Holland, and increasingly in cities such as London, Paris and New York? Towns and cities all over the world are being redesigned to encourage safe cycling. But in Holland it was not always like that. The campaign for safer cycling began in the 1930s.
In 1930, B. Duyts, an accountant from the Dutch village of Loosdrecht, decided he had had enough. For years he had petitioned the municipality to improve the cycling route he used every day for getting to work, to no avail. There was an improvised path, but it was in poor condition, alongside a sand road; heavy lorries carrying tree trunks made it unsuitable for cycling. A well-paved separate cycling path, inaccessible to motorized vehicles, would make his commute safer and more pleasant. If the government would not build it, Duyts decided he could do it himself. He organized some neighbors and together they asked the town for a small subsidy to purchase paving material and wooden poles. They then improved the path by paving it and used the poles to separate it from the road, preventing cars and lorries from swerving onto the cycling path. Duyts even placed signs at the beginning of the path banning motorized vehicles.
While these campaigns started early, it took many decades of lobbying and even protests to convince local authorities and the Dutch government to support the widespread cycling infrastructure.
Even by the mid-1980s, the roads of Holland looked more like New Zealand streets.
We can clearly learn much about the engineering technicalities of building safe cycling infrastructure from the Dutch and other European nations.
But, more importantly, do we have the will to make the transformation needed in urban design and in the design of our transport system? Can we grow our towns on the coast by the projected 32,000 people while reducing transport emissions?
We now have a major reason to support cycling. In May 2022 the government issued its Emission Reduction Plan. This requires a 41 per cent reduction in transport emissions by 2035 from 2019 levels. A key goal is to reduce the total distance travelled by the light fleet (cars, vans, utes) by 20 per cent by 2035. This will involve significant effort by individuals, businesses, NGOs but especially the council. This will require KCDC to substantially improve infrastructure for safe walking and cycling.
Making cycling to schools is a very important part of the emission reduction plan. The plan suggests setting targets for active travel to and from schools and start work with schools to implement active transport plans around them. The plan recognises a need to Improve walking and cycling infrastructure to and along school routes, in schools, and in surrounding neighbourhoods as well as implementing safer speed limits around schools.
In our district there are four main types of cycling. These are short trips to shops, to school or to other local facilities; longer commutes to work, be it to a workplace in Kāpiti or to a railway station; recreational cycling; and mountain biking.
Kāpiti is reasonably well set up for recreational cycling and mountain biking. There are great mountain bike tracks in Whareroa farm. And there is a protected cycleway linking towns across the district, with a section through Queen Elizabeth Reserve. Much of the core cycle network was paid for by Waka Kotahi as part of expressway building. But where the cycleways intersect with Kāpiti’s urban roads many of the crossings feel unsafe for cyclists and walkers as they give cars priority. An example has been the recently improved Poplar Avenue crossing.
But outside this network cyclists have to generally share roads with cars and trucks. Many cyclists feel unsafe on these roads. Research shows a perception among parents that our roads are too congested and “dangerous” for their children to ride on; and there is no safe off-road alternative. Traffic has been increasing in the district and vehicles have got larger.
This is one reason why very few people cycle to work or to attend educational institutions. According to data from the 2018 census, just 1.6% of respondents cycled to work compared with an equally low figure of 2% across the nation. Cycling to an educational institution was better at 8.6% compared with a national figure of 3.6%. However, in many European nations these figures are much, much higher. In Ghent, by 2019 35% of local trips were by bicycle.
There is much good information being produced about the benefits of cycling and how to create safe cycling networks. An example is the New Zealand report The Shared Path. This report discusses low traffic neighbourhoods. In Kāpiti, some streets already have elements of low traffic neighbourhoods. This is a street near the current airport (below). However, they are very uncommon.
When housing is eventually built on the airport land, will be a great opportunity to make sure cycling is at the core of its transport network linking to Coastlands, schools, the beach and the railway station.
While outside the direct control of KCDC, schools have undermined walking, public transport and cycling by providing free car parks. Historically, many students cycled to school.
One impediment to cycling has been overcome through technology. E-bikes are transforming cycling. Research from the UK suggests that in small urban centres if local authorities support the uptake of e-bikes, especially through the provision of safe cycle networks, this can lead to significant drops in car use. So many people now e-bike to Paekākāriki cafes it has created a bike parking problem.
And if people want to bring their bikes out from town to cycle our trails, a type of green tourism. there is the low emission option of using the train.
There are groups in Kāpiti that support safe cycling. A key group being Kāpiti Cycling Action, of which I am a member. According to its strategic plan Kāpiti Cycling Action is committed to working with Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, NZTA Waka Kotahi and other bodies to promote the development of a cycling infrastructure that allows all members of the community to choose cycling as a transport medium to and from wherever they wish -schools, stations, shopping precincts, recreational areas and community centres.
Advising the council directly is the Cycleways, Walkways and Bridleways group. This is now shifting its focus from recreational cycling to cycling as transport.
With vision, backed by bold action, the new council could ensure we become the Holland of the South, supporting cyclists young and old. Children could safely cycle to school, we could shop on our bikes, we could ride to the railway station, we could safely ride to Saturday markets. We would be healthier and we would be reducing emissions.