A journalist remarked to me on Monday that they found it strange to see John Key and I sitting together (one green tie, one blue) to answer media questions about the New Zealand Cycleway Project. My position is that when the Memorandum of Understanding with National was signed he (correctly) indicated that there were some areas of common interest in which the Green Party had expertise that National did not. Cycling is clearly one of those, and so far I have found the experience of working with him to be a positive one, where the Greens’ expertise is acknowledged and valued.
Monday’s announcement of the first seven ‘quickstart’ links in the network was a really important step and gives a glimpse of what we hope will be possible. The seven represent different parts of the country, different natural and other features, different kinds of cycling experiences (from mountain biking through to easy family rides) and different levels of difficulty. Maps and details here [PDF 2MB]
Initially these will lend themselves to “destination” cycling (i.e. you either live there and it’s your local, or you travel to get there), but as more and more links are added it should become more and more possible to join rides together, creating the possibility of much longer rides, for those whom that suits (including, yes, a length of the country ride). There’s no reason at all that already existing tracks and routes can’t be added in if they fit.
In my view it is communicating this vision of how the network will be when it is finished that is key to engage people with the project and make sure that the huge enthusiasm out there at local and regional level is well-channelled.
Right now it’s important for people to understand that if their great idea isn’t in the first seven this doesn’t mean they have been rejected. Projects only got considered for the quickstart package if they were reasonably likely to be able to start construction this summer. In some ways it’s a bit of a reward for those who had already begun work before this project came along, but many of the most exciting proposals simply will take longer to get to the implementation phase, so couldn’t be considered quite yet.
What I think is very important is to make sure that in the first 3 year period – and the PM signalled on Monday that he is thinking longer term than 3 years, and more money – that at least some of the projects funded provide the needed linkage into urban areas. The economic evaluation [PDF 1MB] undertaken of the National Cycle Network in Britain shows terrific value for money for the whole thing, but especially in urban areas where tourists and recreational riders are supplemented by people going to the shops, work or school. Benefit-to-Cost ratios for these components are a touch under 40:1, which is extraordinary. I should also point out that these areas are also those where we should expect more people to be walking too, and around half the users of the NCN are walkers.
So it was great on Monday to also hear the PM agree that he thought that links into urban areas would be an important part of our network, though of course this should not replace NZTA funding for urban walking and cycling development.
All in all a great start, and I’m proud of the role we have played to date. Proof of our ability to work with National on issues of agreement, but also of the point that we haven’t blunted our criticism when we disagree.