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Bikelash as city council quietly scraps plans for NZ's first 'contraflow' bike lanes

Off the table: a proposed "contraflow" bike lane on Wellington's Cuba St would have let people ride both ways along part of the one-way street.

It was touted as a New Zealand first – "contraflow" lanes that would have allowed cyclists to ride the wrong way up one-way streets in central Wellington.

But a public backlash from residents has led Wellington City Council to quietly shelve its plans.

The lanes were planned for Cuba and Willeston streets as part of a push to improve connections and make it safer and easier to get around Wellington by bike.

Scrapped: plans for a contraflow bike lane in Willeston St have been quietly shelved, without explanation.

The lane in Willeston St will would have made it possible to ride from the intersection of Willis St, Customhouse Quay and Lambton Quay to Victoria St. The lane in Cuba St would have allowed cyclists to ride both ways along part of the one-way street.

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A traffic resolutions report, prepared for the council's city strategy committee on Thursday, says the lanes have been removed from the schedule – but with no explanation as to why.

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Wellington city councillor Sarah Free says the council still thinks contraflow lanes could be a good idea, but there was enough feedback to drop the plans.

The paper says that, after public feedback, five of the 30 traffic resolutions had been withdrawn or deferred. Of the five, only Willeston and Cuba streets were labelled as having "public objection".

The council received 52 submissions for and 24 against the Cuba St lane. It received 56 submissions for the Willeston proposal and 20 against it.

The majority of all the submitters questioned the logistics, raised safety concerns, and commented on the lack of data for the proposal.

First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson says contraflow lanes are not the best solution for Cuba St.

About $1.5 million from the Government and city council was set aside to make inner-city improvements as part of the Government's Urban Cycleways Programme and the Wellington City Cycleways Programme, while the city awaits the outcome of the Let's Get Wellington Moving project.

The deadline to spend the funds is the end of this year. 

It is understood that alternative plans from Let's Get Wellington Moving were the reason for not continuing with the Willeston St contraflow lane.

Paul Barker, the city council's network improvement planning manager, said there was "mixed support" for the contraflow plans, which were off the table while the council did "more work".

He said the council needed to work through some of the issues, but would not say what those issues were.

Councillor Sarah Free, who holds the public transport, cycling and walking portfolio, said that, in essence, the council still thought contraflow could potentially be a good idea, but there was enough feedback to drop the plans.

"This is an opportunity to slow down and explore it in more depth, and talk to businesses on Cuba St, who might have their own ideas about what could work."

Chris Wilkinson, managing director of retailing consultants First Retail, ​ said there was a general recognition from businesses and property owners that ways of improving connectivity on Cuba St needed to be looked at, but the cycling contraflow lanes were not the best solution at this stage.

"We would like to see a stakeholder-led consideration of the precinct's needs now and in the future – especially with growing educational and residential uses that will increasingly influence the way this area shapes."

By its nature, Cuba St's lack of formality made it an eclectic and vibrant place, he said. "It's understandable people were challenged by defining cycling spaces."

A type of contraflow cycle plan for the pedestrianised lower Cuba St, to make it a fully shared space, would be discussed at Thursday's council meeting. It would modify existing entry restrictions to allow cyclists to access Cuba St from Wakefield St or Civic Square.

Public feedback on the plan for the current one-way shared space showed 54 people were in favour of the proposal, and 19 were against.

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