Juggling complex challenges for Dunedin City Council to provide a safer environment for all modes of transport
In January 2020, Transport Planner Stephen Carruthers and Transport Engineer and cycleway specialist Jeanette Ward headed south, to work with Dunedin City Council’s Transport Group on a business case for eight new cycle routes.
This wasn’t your average brief. The Senior Project Manager of the Council’s Transport Group, Susil Gunathilake, saw this project as an ideal opportunity to upskill his team of safety engineers, designers and planners on the business case process. Susil explains:
We wanted to up-skill the DCC Transport Group staff in business case writing and design, so we saw this project as an opportunity to empower them and work with experts happy to transfer their knowledge to our internal team. The project needed to be a partnership.”
Abley saw this project as an exciting opportunity to work closely with a long-standing client. One of our core values is connection, so we relish working collaboratively, and it’s always a privilege to share our knowledge.
Eight projects rolled into one
Our task was to work with the Council’s Transport Group to develop a business case to submit to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for eight cycle routes on Dunedin’s arterial roads. The project adds 16km of cycle route, filling key gaps in the network, as part of Dunedin’s Strategic Cycle Network.
But the project isn’t only about improving Dunedin’s cycle network. Susil gives the project context:
For this project we’re filling gaps in the cycle network by building multiple cycle routes, but we’re also trying to create an environment safe for all modes of transport, creating more opportunity for cyclists and walkers. We’re also taking public transport into account and carrying out some safety improvements.”
It’s a complex project. Eight projects in one really. The project is part of our big overarching plan for improving cycling in the city but we’re considering all modes of transport. And it’s a complex environment to design for because we’ve got a lot of different types of streets, and different types of audiences for the different routes.
We choose Abley as our partner for their methodology, their experience and their team’s skills. All these things were strong. And they also offered us a very competitive price.”
Abley is on the Dunedin City Council Long Term Engineering Services Panel, and we’ve worked with the Council for many years, especially in the cycling space. Designing solutions for active, sustainable modes of transport is one of our specialities, and we’ve planned and designed cycle facilities for New Plymouth, Ashburton, Selwyn, Waimakariri councils to name a few and were part of the team who developed design guidelines for the Waka Kotahi cycle network guidance.
Meeting milestones despite the challenges
The project began with three days of workshops in Dunedin with the Council’s Transport team. We started by outlining the project challenges and defining the desired outcomes, followed by site visits. We then held an ideas workshop to create a long list of possible solutions. Next, we carried out a multi criteria analysis (MCA) to assess the options and shortlist the best ideas. The MCA included both technical and implementation criteria.
In design phase, we validate and refine the recommendations through the design process. Here’s where the project hit a small speedbump.
Initially, the idea was for Abley to lead writing the business case, working in collaboration with our team, who would write various parts of the case with Abley as a sounding board for quality control. That worked very well. At the same time, our transport safety team started work on the concept designs, with support and feedback from Abley’s cycleway experts and traffic engineers. That started very well, but midway through the project we lost a few of our staff and had some issues around resourcing. So Abley picked up the design part of the project as well, and they did a very good job.
The best thing about Abley is you can rely on them to take responsibility, own a project and drive it forward. We hit all our key milestones for the project. And when I think back to the Covid lockdown period, and our resourcing challenges, as well as the complexity of the project, things weren’t straight forward. But we managed to get things done and get the business case completed. That was a big thing for me. I think we really did a good job together.”
A holistic approach for a safer, more sustainable city
Although we were primarily focused on developing a business case for new cycle facilities, this project was also an ideal opportunity to improve Dunedin’s transport infrastructure for all users.
The cycle route designs use a range of treatments, including cycle lanes, buffered cycle lanes, sharrow markings in shared traffic lanes and shared paths. Abley’s experience developing cycle network design guidance helped us identify the right solution for each location.
Pedestrian improvements will be made along the routes, with more road crossings in better locations, and raising crossings to slow vehicle speeds. Bus stops will be relocated to be positioned where they’re most needed. And safety improvements and speed limit changes have been integrated into the business case, including reducing speed limits around schools.
This multi-modal approach has the additional benefit of packing in more improvements for an affordable cost, making this business case a strong investment for the city.
Once the designs were complete, they were subject to an independent safety audit, and the business case was peer reviewed. Both reviews went well. Next, we helped the council team estimate the costs of the project and develop a plan for funding. The business case went through the council approval process and as Susil expected this went smoothly. The business case has now been issued to Waka Kotahi for endorsement so that it can receive funding through the National Land Transport Programme. Susil’s goal is to start work on the routes around July 2021.
Abley are a good team to work with, they did a great job and I’d be very happy to hire them again. They gave us focus and energy and shared their knowledge. They took responsibility and managed everything properly. Our project had many different areas to cover, with public transport, cycling, and walking, but Abley juggled all the competing demands effectively. They managed project timelines well and we hit our targets, despite 2020’s challenges. They’re a safe set of hands, and I’m very happy.”
Senior Project Manager, Dunedin City Council’s Transport Group
The highlight of this project for Abley was working so closely with Dunedin City Council’s Transport Group.
Susil agrees. “Our team have a greater understanding of how to write business cases for complex projects. It was a good learning experience for me too. I normally deal with the delivery execution side of transport projects. I haven’t had experience before with managing business cases therefore it was a good learning curve for me, and I enjoyed the journey.”
“Abley are a good team to work with, they did a great job and I’d be very happy to hire them again. They gave us focus and energy and shared their knowledge. They took responsibility and managed everything properly.
“This project had many different areas to cover, with public transport, cycling, and walking, but Abley juggled all the competing demands effectively. They managed project timelines well and we hit our targets, despite 2020’s challenges. They’re a safe set of hands, and I’m very happy.”
If you want to use a particular transport project to upskill your team, talk to Abley about how we can integrate learning into your process. We’re committed to sharing our knowledge as part of our commitment to making New Zealand’s roads safer for us all.