Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no doubt that the number of people riding bikes around Whanganui is increasing.

We're seeing a new breed of cyclist - one whose priority is leisure, health, transport or all three, with no lycra in sight.

Many of them are getting off the road and on to the growing network of shared pathways around the city.

We caught up with Whanganui District Council's senior roading engineer Brent Holmes and active transport facilitator Norman Gruebsch to find out why so much money is being poured into shared pathways and cycling, who's paying and what's next.

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Millions of dollars are being spent on shared pathways in Whanganui and Holmes says there's a misconception that ratepayers are stumping up for the cost.

The reality is that the work wouldn't be happening on such a scale - or perhaps at all - if it wasn't for external funding.

The same goes for the Let's Go Whanganui programme, which promotes active transport such as cycling, scootering and walking, and Gruebsch's position which is funded by NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).

The Government's push to get more of us out of our cars and reduce carbon emissions by using alternative modes of transport underpins the council's 10-year Active Transport Strategy, adopted in 2017.

The strategy focuses on the need to improve connectivity and mobility through an interconnected roading network that prioritises active transport modes such as walking and cycling.

It aligns with the objectives of the Government's National Policy Statement on Land Transport towards sustainable and safe transport modes, and addresses current and future transport demands.

Its vision is "A walk and cycle-friendly district that provides healthy and sustainable travel choices for commuting to everyone", with the goals:

• We will be better connected
• We will have effective and safe active transport modes
• We will be well-informed about active transport
• We will have a strong walking and cycling culture
• We will be a walking and cycling destination

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Brent Holmes (left) and Norman Gruebsch on Te Tuaiwi shared pathway which runs past their office in St Hill St.
Brent Holmes (left) and Norman Gruebsch on Te Tuaiwi shared pathway which runs past their office in St Hill St.

In 2015 the Government invested heavily in active transport through the Urban Cycling Programme (UCP) fund.

Whanganui District Council received central and local government approval to do $3.3M of works between 2015 and 2018 to improve active transport in the district.

That work included construction of the City to North Mole and Te Tuaiwi (The Spine) shared pathways, both of which are yet to be completed.

The Government is continuing to invest in active transport and the council is now working on its programme for the 2018-2021 funding period.

The map shows the cycleways and shared pathways plan for the 2018-2021 funding period.
The map shows the cycleways and shared pathways plan for the 2018-2021 funding period.

Holmes says the main focus recently has been on Te Tuaiwi, with the rail corridor section between Whanganui Intermediate School and London St now under construction by local contractor Loaders.

In May attention turns to London St with work beginning on the shared pathway to Grey St and then another section along London St that will link up with St John's Hill.

Work on the Whanganui East shared pathway is scheduled for the next financial year.

As an aside to the shared pathways programme but a key link for the network, the council is working with KiwiRail on a renewal of the Aramoho Rail Bridge pedestrian and cycleway.

"We all know what a derelict eyesore that is at the moment," Holmes said.

The solution is likely to be some type of composite clip-on structure.

With parts of the shared pathways using the rail corridor, planning and construction involves working closely with KiwiRail to determine safety requirements, Holmes said.

Here's an overview of the work that's happening or planned for the current phase of the shared pathways programme:

Te Tuaiwi


The final stage of Te Tuaiwi (The Spine) shared pathway is expected to be completed in August.

Te Tuaiwi passes several schools and aims to provide a safer route through the inner city for students and other users.

The final stage will involve building a three metre wide concrete pathway alongside the rail line from Nelson St to London St (State Highway 3).

A protective barrier fence will be built to separate pathway users from the railway line and KiwiRail will install protective pedestrian measures on intersections.

The overall budget is $1.075M, with an 85 per cent subsidy from NZTA.

Contractors at work on Te Tuaiwi shared pathway along St Hill St in March 2018.
Contractors at work on Te Tuaiwi shared pathway along St Hill St in March 2018.

London St (southern end of Great North Rd)


Design work is under way on the proposed London St shared pathway, a concrete pathway that will run from the Splash Centre to Great North Rd. The project has a budget of $515,000 with a likely NZTA subsidy of 80.5 per cent.

The first stage goes from the Splash Centre to Grey St on the western side of London St, with design work completed and a safety audit done.

Holmes says it will make it easier and safer for children and families to access the Springvale Bike Park beside the Splash Centre.

The second stage runs from Grey St and links to the end of Te Tuaiwi shared pathway at the bottom of St John's Hill. Design work is 80 per cent complete and a comprehensive safety review is being done.

London St (northern end of Great North Rd)


Design work will start in May on a 2.3km section of three metre wide concrete pathway from Victoria Ave to Kaikokopu Rd, sweeping around to meet the Aramoho Rail Bridge.

It will link St Mary's School and Cullinane College to the shared pathway circuit.

The budget of $930,000, with a likely NZTA subsidy of 80.5 per cent, takes into the account the pathway's location alongside a rail corridor and the need for protective fencing.

Whanganui East


The existing footpath between the Aramoho Rail Bridge and Georgetti Rd will be upgraded to, in most places, a three metre wide concrete shared pathway.

Between the Dublin St Bridge and Kowhai Park, the existing road along the riverbank will be used, with road marking to show the shared pathway.

Horizons Regional Council will allow the shared pathway to be built along the top of the stopbank between Nile St and Georgetti Rd. This part of the pathway will be 2.5 metres wide.

The budget is $500,000 and the expected NZTA subsidy is 80.5 per cent.

Tawhero


Construction of the 1.1km section of shared pathway is due to happen in the 2019/20 summer.

It will run from London St to Smithfield Rd, down Brooking St through Gonville Domain and on to Alma Rd where it will link with Abbot St to join Gonville into the shared pathway circuit.

Holmes said the exact route has not yet been determined, with the detailed design to take into account any obstacles on the proposed pathway.

The budget is $250,000, with 80.5 per cent subsidy.

Springvale


This section relies on completion of the Fitzherbert Ave extension through to Mosston Rd and may be pushed out to the next three-year programme, Holmes said.

Former Whanganui mayor Annette Main and Tristan Harris officially marked the start of work on the City to North Mole shared pathway in 2016.
Former Whanganui mayor Annette Main and Tristan Harris officially marked the start of work on the City to North Mole shared pathway in 2016.

There's also the matter of the incomplete City to North Mole pathway, which forms the last part of the Mountain to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono national cycle trail.

Its route around the port area is still to be determined. The preference is to keep the pathway along the waterfront, rather than taking it inland, but that goal will depend on the redevelopment of the port.

Planning is getting under way for the next three-year block of shared pathways work, Holmes said.

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So they're building it - but who is using it?

Anecdotally, we know that there are heaps more people out cycling but there isn't much data at this stage.

Gruebsch says the council currently has one trip counter on the City to North Mole shared pathway.

Over summer it records about 12,000 cyclist and pedestrian movements per month. Unsurprisingly, numbers decrease in the winter months, with around 8000 movements recorded in June 2017 and 2018.

To get a better handle on use of the shared pathways, the council has ordered more counters, with two additional stationary counters to be installed. There will also be a mobile counter that can be moved to various sites.

With the Government's focus on using alternative modes of transport, cycle education for the younger generation has become a priority.

The Let's Go programme has been operating in Whanganui for two-and-a-half years. It's funded by NZTA and the cycle skills delivery component is contracted to the Whanganui Multisport Club.

Gruebsch says Let's Go has worked with the majority of Whanganui schools and 4500 students (two-thirds of Whanganui's student population) have gone through the basic skills course.

In Term 4 last year, 230 Whanganui Intermediate School students did the second level course which involved them cycling on the road. They used Te Tuaiwi shared pathway as part of the programme.

Whanganui is currently being assessed for accreditation for Bike Ready, the national cycle education programme.

If it fulfils NZTA's requirements, Whanganui will be the third area accredited under the programme.

Bike skills for young riders take on more importance as families increasingly leave the car at home and bike to the park or other activities.

On the shared pathways, they're using the space with other cyclists, pedestrians, mobility device users, dog walkers, skaters, people on scooters - and maybe soon people on e-scooters.

While the focus has largely been on the cities dealing with the furore over Lime Scooters, other e-scooter outfits are also establishing themselves.

Holmes says the council has been approached by an e-scooter company and will run a trial soon. However, there are no bylaws or policies governing the operation of e-scooters and it will take time for those to be put in place.

"We need to think about the speed limit, where would they be parked, whether they are suitable for shared pathways," Holmes said.

"Once Wellington and Auckland and other places iron out some of the issues, we will pick up on that. We're waiting for further advice."

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Let's get back to the question of the dollars and who's paying.

People ask Holmes why the council has gone with concrete, instead of cheaper asphalt, for the shared pathways. The answer is because NZTA is paying the upfront capital cost.

Te Tuaiwi has an 85 per cent subsidy from NZTA, with the other projects landing an 80 per cent subsidy.

"The actual cost to ratepayers is quite a small cost," Holmes said.

"We also have local people employed to build the infrastructure. We have external dollars coming into the city to pay contractors to put in the facilities. Every contractor in town has had a share of this.

"The work also futureproofs us against the Government mandate for alternative modes of transport. The Government is saying 'lower carbon emissions' - but here's their money to do it."

The external funding has been the catalyst for the council's support of the shared pathways programme, Holmes said.

External funders are paying for more than the infrastructure.

Whanganui has one of the highest Bikes in Schools ratios in New Zealand, with eight schools now benefiting from the programme.

Gonville, Mosston, Churton, Rutherford Junior High, St Marcellin, Tawhero, Westmere and Keith St schools have received NZTA funding ranging from $2000 to $10,000 and assistance from the Bike On Trust.

The schools receive a fleet of bikes, helmets and a storage facility with tracks built on the grounds.

"The kids cycle, run and walk on the tracks every day," Gruebsch said.

"It's becoming an everyday activity."

Students at the opening of the Bikes in Schools track at Keith St School in March 2019.
Students at the opening of the Bikes in Schools track at Keith St School in March 2019.

Another initiative, the Cycle Forward programme for people with arthritis, is having its national trial in Whanganui. It has been funded by ACC for three years.

"Cycling does wonders for arthritis," Holmes said.

"It's not just good for the environment but good for your health spend."

Holmes says many people had "drifted away" from cycling, partly because bigger vehicles on the roads were a safety concern, but more shared pathways were encouraging people to get out on their bikes.

"Our road toll is horrific and some of those are cyclists," Holmes said.

"If you put people on a shared pathway, they might fall off and skin their knee but at least they won't be hit by an SUV. Everyone on a shared pathway seems to be in a pretty good mood - people are using it to relax."

People can do basic mechanics on their bikes courtesy of a station outside the i-SITE Visitor Centre.
People can do basic mechanics on their bikes courtesy of a station outside the i-SITE Visitor Centre.

The council has installed more bike stands around town, there are more water stations and people can do basic mechanics with gear provided outside the i-SITE Visitor Centre. More directional signs will be provided to guide people on the shared pathways.

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What is a shared pathway? The Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 states: 'A shared path means an area of road, separated from a roadway, that may be used by some or all of the following persons at the same time: pedestrians, cyclists, riders of mobility devices and riders of wheeled recreational devices.' (Traffic Control Devices Rule, Part 2: Definitions)


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