Episode 1 of Planning for Walking and Cycling in New Zealand, a serialisation of Roger Boulter's book

Roger Boulter’s recent book draft (on www.boulter.co.nz) won a 2020 WSP Golden Foot Award. This post, the first of several, outlines a background and introduction.

Planning for Walking and Cycling in New Zealand’

Roger Boulter was given his first official role in planning for cycling in 1982, in the UK. In 1995 he migrated to New Zealand.

He’s an urban planner by professional training. This is useful for understanding the human side of planning for these forms of transport – matters which express themselves in qualitative information such as personal perception rather than technical, numerate, ‘data’.

Appointment in 1990 as Birmingham City Council’s first full-time ‘Cycling Officer’ led on to involvement in national-level research, and helping write the Local Government Associations’ first guide on planning for cycling, Taking Cycling Seriously, on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

In New Zealand, Roger’s past also brought him onto national-level working parties, and in 2000 authoring a grant-funded study, Into The Mainstream, of what a national cycling strategy might look like. Together with Reena Kokotailo’s National Pedestrian Project, this strongly influenced the 2005 National Walking and Cycling Strategy Getting There – on Foot, by Cycle.

Along the way, Roger represented New Zealand on the Australian Bicycle Council, and served spells on the Executives of both the Cycling Advocates’ Network and Living Streets Aotearoa, and on the Board of (the mainly sport-based) Bike NZ (now Cycling NZ) in its formative early period.

Planning for Walking and Cycling in New Zealand is not about how to design a cycleway, but about why after over half a century of doing this, New Zealand cycling is still very much minority transport with traffic danger still a significant issue. It also looks at the nature of walking, which has always been central to cities’ reasons for existence, and a key source of their well-being, yet how planning for this has been vastly neglected among New Zealand officials.

The book looks at values conditioning transport planning’s origins; effects of massively influential fight-backs by lay people from both 1960s New York (Jane Jacobs) and 1970s Netherlands (‘Stop de Kindermoord’); and why ‘integrated’ transport planning has failed to face the most important decisions (and therefore continues to give disappointing outcomes).

Since 2014 in New Zealand a big surge of official support for cycling – but not walking – has seen cycling advocates pitted against walking advocates (who before had generally been allies) over issues such as ‘shared paths’ and footpath use (including by e-scooters etc). The book ends on a positive note, however. Attitudes to the car, public transport, cycling and walking have each changed massively over the past 20 years, in ways which suggest that putting walking and cycling centrally in transport planning may be on the right side of history.

Why plan for walking and cycling?

Transport planners used to regard planning for walking and cycling as a joke. Transport planning, as we know it, arose from the 1930s and 1950s to accommodate rising car numbers. Cycling was assumed as likely to die out as more and more people could afford cars. Walking was taken for granted or seen as a children’s road safety problem.

Yet the test of good planning is whether it works for people, and walking and cycling are the most human-scale forms of transport. From the 1960s their importance came to be recognised. Cities, after all, arose so that large numbers of people could interact face-to-face, and this happens most efficiently on foot (or on bikes).

We may think that today we plan for ‘all’ forms of transport, and initiatives such as the Government’s One Network Road Classification seem to explicitly do this. However, early 20th century ideas embedding the priority of providing for cars remain strong, and stating the requirements of different forms of transport together (as this exercise does) may still leave walking and cycling inadequately provided for.

An enormously influential push-back against classic transport planning (based as it was on analysis of traffic and other mass data) came from 1960s New York, and brought to the fore the human aspects of urban planning, in which foot-based activity was central. This was followed by a major re-orientation, from the 1970s onwards, of Netherlands transport planning priorities, the fruit of which was the very high cycling levels for which that country has been well-known (which isn’t because the country’s flat).

Planning for cycling in New Zealand, however, was tagged onto road safety innovation from Australia, and so never achieved anything like the radical success seen in the Netherlands. Adding a ‘bike plan’, ‘cycling strategy’ or a ‘cycle route network’ onto fundamentally unchanged transport planning gave disappointing outcomes in both usage and crash/ injury terms.

Putting walking and cycling centrally in a changed transport planning approach is not as unrealistic as it may seem. Attitudes to the car, public transport, cycling and walking have changed massively over the past 20 years. What’s more, the Dutch have already shown success is possible.