Archive for December, 2019

If "cycleway" was the answer, what was the question again?

As we conclude the second decade of the 21st century, let me review Dunedin’s major project of the decade, the great cycleway network. 

Background: In line with a national and international trend, increased use of bicycling was being strongly promoted by the cycling fraternity in Dunedin as a preferable alternative mode of transport to private motor vehicles.

The rationale behind the cycleway project was in three parts: a) Increasing cycling in Dunedin will help reduce the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution as our contribution to the global fight against the greenhouse effect and sea rise.

b) That the existing situation which integrates cyclists and motorists is so dangerous for cyclists that it discourages recreational cyclists from using their bikes for commuting. A safer cycleway would, in the DCC calculation, lead to 10% of residents (13,000) choosing cycling as their primary means of commuting.

c) The central SH1 carriageway should be for the passage of traffic, not for stationary parked cars. Removing the parked cars on one side of the SH1 provides ample space for a cycleway thereby safely accommodating all moving traffic. Car park buildings are a far more efficient design for parking than along the SH1 route.

I am not a cyclist (hills and weather) and consistently challenged the logic behind the project but, in the end, the politicians managed to get their ‘public consultancy’ process to agree with them and they did what they always intended to do. Now that the cycleways are well up and running right through the centre of the city it is appropriate to review. So as I recall :

In Dunedin city, the elected councillors began with a cycleway network around the southern suburbs of Dunedin city. The objective being that within ten years, 10% of residents would choose cycling as their primary mode of travel.

The next priority of this plan was to create a separated cycleway along both of the one way streets in Dunedin which are also the State Highway 1 bypass for heavy transport vehicles and cars avoiding the main street. This is now done and as a bonus the recently introduced e-scooters were allowed to share this space, a privilege denied to the mobility scooter users.

At the completion of the project (at least I hope it is the end) I would like to review the situation:

a) It is far too simplistic to put forward cycling as a solution to pollution. The Netherlands is the planet’s poster-country for cycling with a total of 16,500,000 bikes representing an exceptionally impressive 98% of population. And yet on Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index ranking  for average exposure to PM2.5 (dangerous fine particles in the air) the Netherlands ranked 152nd worst out of the 178 countries; New Zealand ranked #1 for clean air in the same survey. If our cycleway logic was based on being a contribution to the planet’s reduction in carbon in the atmosphere, then it was a pathetic gesture in the true sense of the word.

b) The need for investment in cyclist safety quoted the three cyclist deaths over the last 16 years which have occurred on the State Highway 1. Two were in collision with large trucks, one of which was at the intersection of Anzac Ave with SH1 another was a cyclist swerving to avoid a collision and the third was when a motorist mistakenly turned the wrong way at an intersection. The cycleway was proposed as the solution to avoid accidents. Three fatal accidents in sixteen years, while tragic for those involved, is hardly an epidemic; and nothing will ever prevent genuine accidents.

Subsequent to the completion of the city inner city cycleways, a 2019 survey published in the ODT 14/12/19 showed that cyclists are the largest source of vehicle accidents presenting at Dunedin Hospital ED, with e-scooters, the other user of cycleways as the second highest category. If safety was the objective, the cycleway solution has been a failure and the reason was always obvious. As with the Dunedin experience, the national statistics show that over 70% of cycling accidents occur at intersections where safety is dependent on all road users obeying the road rules.

As for the assumption that the cycleway would result in 10% of commuters (13,000 people) adopting cycling for commuting, that is as wrong as it could be. The official NZTA cycleway statistics, published in August 2019 showed: a) Great King St,  the jewel in the cycleway crown running through the heart of the university precinct, recorded a zero increase. b) The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway: a 7% decrease. c) Daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; that of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, lets be generous and say there were 65 cyclists on average a day during that month.

c) The DCC observation that car park buildings are a more efficient parking option than roadside parking on SH1 may be valid, but that is purely academic since they have not built, nor do they have even preliminary plans to build, any car park buildings to replace the parking space conceded to the cycleway. The impact has only being to push commuter parking further out from the city and create a new residential parking problem. 

In summary, the Dunedin cycleway ‘project of the decade’ has made zero impact on both local and global carbon levels; has not increased use of cycling nor made it a safer option; and it has not provided more efficient parking solutions for motorists. All of these outcomes were predictable and publicly predicted at the time that we were being ‘consulted’. So as we sign off the decade, we can only ask,’if cycleway was the answer, what on earth was the question?”

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Build it and they will come.

The Dunedin City Council is betting another $60 million on the gamble that nearly half of us will switch from cars to buses and bikes within five years. But is that sending good money after bad?

The DCC 2013 Transport Strategy document sets their goal that, by 2024, 40% of us (51,000 people) will be commuting either by bike, bus or on foot as our main mode of transport (P.30 Strategic Approach-Overview). The proposed $60 million conversion of the Central Business District’s main thoroughfare into a single lane for motor vehicles and a dedicated cycle way to allow a larger pedestrian zone is the next stage to prepare the city infrastructure for this target(click to enlarge).

On foot realistically means those residing in the inner city, mainly students plus a few inner city apartment dwellers. Cyclists would primarily be those living on the flat suburbs and connected by the cycleway network from South Dunedin to North and around the harbour. The bus network has the greatest catchment area of all the hill and outer suburbs of the city.

The DCC transport survey of 2013 found that 14% (18,000 people) walked to the city as their main mode of transport. That is unlikely to change without a major jump in student population.

DCC Cycleway proposal had a target of 10% (13,000) using bikes for commuting. So that leaves a balance of 16% (20,000 people) as the DCC target for bus commuters.

In August 2019, after the route changes were made and bus hub completed, ORC General Manager Operations Gavin Palmer issued a media release stating patronage on the Dunedin network number of trips was now 2,500,000 pa for the year ended June. Converting that to equivalent regular commuter numbers you have to halve the figure because it includes the return journey for the same passenger. Then divide that by 260 (5 days a week for a year) and we currently have 4,800 full time commuter passenger equivalents pa. That figure reasonably aligns with the DCC 2013 transport survey above that says 4% (5142) use the bus to commute; however it also shows that no growth has been made in the past five years).

Also in August 2019 NZTA released the results of the cycleway usage. The jewel in the cycleway crown, Great King St running right through the heart of the university precinct records a zero increase. The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway recorded a 7% decrease. The daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; the peak day in the survey was 236. That of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, let’s be generous and say there were on average 65 cyclists in July rising to a peak of 120 cyclists on the best day of the survey. NZTA concede that these results are ‘not startling”; that is an understatement.

Apparently the DCC is still confident, despite these actual results, of achieving their Transport Plan Goal since they have recently committed to the pedestrianisation of the CBD project. So we need to review the logistics they face in this challenge.

With the bus target of lifting from 4800 current regular commuter equivalents to 20,000 within five years, those additional 15,000 passengers will have to be transported from their suburb to the city during the 7:00 – 8:30am peak departure times. With an average 20 minute trip from terminus to CBD, that would require over 160 buses on the road during that peak time service. And again on the afternoon return journey. The good news is that they would have to be running convenient 10 minute services to achieve that; the bad news is that at any one time there would be 50 buses trying to get into the CBD bus hub which has only ten set-down bays.

And with cycling, the DCC still have to achieve a growth from around 120 cyclists on the best day of the current survey to a regular daily figure of 13,000 by 2024. And in addition to the increased usage, they would have to build bike parks to accommodate these 13,000 bikes within convenient walking distance to their individual destinations. And in addition the streets would still have to cope with the other 60% of residents in cars as well as delivery vehicles, emergency service vehicles, work vehicles and out of town vehicles.

The redesign plan for the CBD area is so the DCC can have the appropriate infrastructure in place for when the 13,000 cyclists and 160 buses carrying 20,000 people start arriving daily into the CBD Bike Park/ Bus Hub. The current Councillors are so convinced that this 2024 vision will be realised that they have now endorsed a budgeted $60 Million project to convert our main street to a town plaza in preparation for it. That is a big gamble based on the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy.

The DCC people involved are betting their jobs and their reputations on it, but of more concern is that they are using ratepayer money to buy the chips.

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twas the night after Christmas…..

and Santa was lost. Over the side, the compass was toss’d. “We’ll go up through the clouds, til we find the north star; then dasher and dancer will know where we are.”

 

Let me suggest that it was no coincidence that right after last Christmas an urgent meeting of geophysicists gathered to update the World Magnetic Model. As you no doubt know, the magnetic north is not located at the same place as the geographic north so navigation systems need to know exactly how far apart the two points are. As it turns out, the magnetic North Pole had moved further away from where we thought it was and that is no small matter for navigators and so the urgent meeting was called in January this year to correct our calculation model.

The unpredictable wandering of the North Pole has occupied the imaginations of scientists and explorers ever since it was first accurately located in 1831 by James Clark Ross in the Canadian Arctic. But in the mid-1990s it’s speed accelerated from around 15 kilometres per year to around 55 kilometres per year. By 2001, it was in the Arctic Ocean. It is currently on track for Siberia. Likewise in our part of the planet the magnetic south pole has now moved off the coast of Antarctica and is now even outside the Antarctic circle.

The iron core in the centre of the earth generates our planet’s magnetic field; if the inner earth motion changes, it affects the direction of the magnetic field. In 2016, Satellites tracked an acceleration of the magnetic field beneath South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. 

Scientists are trying to understand just what is going on deep inside our planet and what affect various scenarios might have on earth’s magnetic field. It may be a result of geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, or it might be a result of hydromagnetic waves deep within earth’s core. 

But what scientists can tell us, from study of magnetic minerals in the ice core, is that it is all quite natural. Over the eons the poles have completely reversed on average every 2 – 300,000 years; the last reversal was nearly 800,000 years ago so they are saying we are actually well overdue for another switch. They also calculate that the process of reversal took over 20,000 years to complete so we do get time to change the order of the N-E-W-S letters on our compasses.

But here is a thought. The earth’s magnetic field is one of the two powerful forces in our atmosphere, the other being gravity. In theory gravity is over 100 times stronger than magnetism but, for my money, if you pick a nail up from the floor using a magnet and it stays stuck to the magnet you would have to think that magnetism has won that arm wrestle. That’s all by the by; the main job of the magnetic field is to shield our planet from excessive galactic cosmic rays. So the real question is, could a shifting magnetic field have an effect on climate and weather patterns? Heatwaves, winds, storms, deluges, tidal surges, arctic ice-shelf calving; that sort of thing? It’s worth thinking about. Certainly there are some Danish scientists giving it very serious thought. Danish astrophysicist Henrik Svensmark, professor in the Division of Solar System Physics at the Danish National Space Institute in Copenhagen, has been researching the link between galactic cosmic rays and earth warming for decades. In 1997 his study was published with the conclusion that: During the last solar cycle, Earth’s cloud cover underwent a modulation more closely in phase with the galactic cosmic ray flux than with other solar activity parameters. Further it is found that Earth’s temperature follows more closely variations in galactic cosmic ray flux and solar cycle length, than other solar activity parameters. The main conclusion is that the average state of the heliosphere affects Earth’s climate. More recently this claim has been supported by two Danish geophysicists, Mads Faurschou Knudsen and Peter Riisager using data drawn from stalagmites and stalactites found in China and Oman to compare our magnetic field with that of 5,000 years ago. The results of the study have been peer reviewed and published in the U.S. scientific journal ‘Geology’. 

Anyway, the increasing shift of the North Pole is a geological fact that nobody can deny and so there will have to be far more regular meetings of the people who are required to keep our navigational systems in working order. They will, of course, have to meet pre-Christmas just so Santa can set the auto pilot control and get home quickly after a busy night. As it happens the carbon alarmists also favour a pre-Christmas conference, so maybe the geomagnetic mob can make a big annual conference-style event of this and the two groups can join forces. The additional numbers might increase the incentives that big cities are prepared to offer to get an economic injection of 30,000 people, all on expense accounts, turning up a few weeks before Christmas.

Maybe they will fight over bragging rights as to whether it is man’s industrialisation or earth’s magnetic field that is having the greatest impact on the climate or maybe they will collaborate and decide that man is somehow affecting the earth’s inner iron core by mining coal and drilling for oil. Who knows? Not me, I am not a scientist I am just a Joe Blog and I am hoping Santa will bring me an Akubra and a pair of Redbands. Adapting to the environment has been the sapiens mantra for 200,000 years and so I will be tending my lettuces while the Court of Canute is ordaining their reincarnated Joan of Arc to lead us against the forces of the nature.

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