Our Long Term Plan Submission and the Struggle to Connect Our Network

This article was originally published as part of our May newsletter.

The Road to Nowhere is a concrete arch bridge set in lush native bush in Whanganui National Park. Built in 1935/36, the hope was that vehicle access would connect new settlers to the Mangapurua area with the Whanganui river highway and beyond. Due to the unsuitability of the land for farming, construction of roads to the bridge were halted as people left the area. The bridge now stands alone, a symbol of broken dreams for returned servicemen, but a popular cycling and walking destination.

Bridge to Nowhere. Photo from the Department of Conservation.

The bridge remains absent of cars, not because the bridge isn’t functional, but because it leads to nowhere – much like many city cycle lanes.

Retrofitting a city that has built streets for cars for more than a century is difficult. We are desperately playing catch up, reprioritising space to connect communities but only at the rate that political will and funds allow. It is not uncommon to be happily biking along then find that the lane ends suddenly. Gaps in the network are common at major intersections, outside shopping centres, around bus stops, not to mention busy urban streets where lanes can be completely absent. The bridge does not work if the roads do not lead there. Our cycle lanes will not work if they do not connect together. Despite advocates like you, I and passionate council staff, we still have a disconnected system where many of us do not feel safe. When surveyed, approximately 60% of the community say they would get out on a bike if they felt safe doing so.

Bike Waikato is committed to advocacy for safer streets for everyone – and that includes being a voice for everyone who wants the option of using a bike to get to school, work, or play. That is why 2024 has been a busy year for our committee, representing members in submissions to central and local governments. As well as a change in policy direction at a national level, some local elected members are looking for an excuse not to invest in cycling infrastructure. At our verbal submission for the Hamilton City Council Long Term Plan, we were asked why we should invest in cycle lanes when there has been a 0% increase in people biking. This claim (by Cr Wilson) is completely unsubstantiated. He went on to question the claim that the majority of the community support cycling and would get out on a bike if they felt safe doing so, despite this data and more coming from Hamilton City Council’s own strategic documents.

We all know more people are biking, especially with the uptake in e-bikes. However, we do know that perception of safety is key to getting people on bikes – and when the network is incomplete – when the bridge has no roads – the risk is perceived as too high.

If we stop work on the Biking plan and shelve projects like the long anticipated School Link, we will be left with under-utlised pieces of infrastructure instead of a well connected network that people feel confident will get them where they need to go. Councils are deliberating their Long Term Plans in June, and later this year we’ll receive news from Waka Kotahi about other funding for cycling programmes. We will continue to advocate when we can and want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has made a submission either to the Government Policy Statement on Transport earlier this year or to their local council Long Term Plan. 

If you have identified any gaps where you like to ride we would love to know about it and help work with the Council to get it improved under our Ungapthemap program. If you’ve done the Bridge to Nowhere cycle trail, we would love to hear about your experience. 

The network is on its way, but there is still a long way to go. Map from Hamilton City Council.

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