Making cycling something that everyone can relate to and do.

 

Motorway

Would you like more lanes with your motorway, madam?

It is no secret that this blog has at times been openly critical of some aspects of the way cycling advocacy is approached. Nonetheless, the intent of this blog has always been about wanting to engage in a meaningful conversation. To present different views and interpretations that may not be appreciated or understood fully, yet. While no one likes to be criticised, including myself, I feel that it may be helpful to spell out that it is never my intention to make it a personal issue. For me, it has always only ever been about looking for the most effective ways of getting more people using bikes for short utility trips. And for what it’s worth, I am trying harder these days to be better at using criticisms that I receive, as an opportunity to strengthen my argument.

And I believe that my views do actually reflect the views of some people, and have in fact, lifted the level of conversation and understanding. That has to be one of the real values of the internet; the democratisation of ideas. I also believe that organisations will be better off if they are open to differing viewpoints – echo chambers and all that. Reasoned, critical voices need to be encouraged. As well as being critical, I believe that I have offered authentic and well argued alternatives. And on that matter, if you do support the ideas being presented on this site, or if you are mildly curious, why don’t you try approaching your local advocacy group and let them know.

One aspect of advocacy that I have been critical of has been around the nature of the relationship between advocacy groups and the national transport agency. It is a sensible and pragmatic approach to get a bike lane attached to a new motorway when it is being built. Of course, cycling needs all the help it can get. So while I am pleased to see the latest Auckland motorway project being given the thumbs down by the advocates, the potential for the relationship to be compromised should be a concern. Financial and political autonomy would be the dream scenario. Cycling for the people, by the people.

This leads me to another aspect of advocacy in which my thinking diverges critically from what is currently on offer and to which I have tried to offer clear and reasoned arguments for an alternative approach. NZTA and advocacy groups seem intent on selling cycling to enthusiastic sports and recreational cyclists; to convert these cyclists into everyday commuters. I have argued repeatedly that this strategy is of limited value. Or at the very least, it ignores a whole swathe of the population who will never ride like that. The growth market in cycling is in riding a bicycle; a comfortable, slow bicycle, for short, utility type trips. Like they do in Japan. Riding a bike is achievable to a whole lot of people if we think of the bicycle as replacing walking, not driving.

I accept that this is a slightly different goal than what we are currently being presented with. The goal that I believe we should be striving for is an inclusive and more specific one. It will make cycling available to young and old, male and female. Not just more cycling, but more people using bicycles for short, utility trips. It is a goal that will require our attention being focused on making our cities less car friendly. That’s a big target and will need to be broken down into smaller, manageable goals. I just find it hard to accept that it is wise to be relying on an organisation that loves cars that much, as the best source of advice on making cycling a real thing for everyone.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Minding the gap: real and perceived.

Path1

Mind the gap!

So there I was. Crossing the enormous intersection and just about reenter the bike path on the other side when a cyclist under took me. There wasn’t much space. You can see from the image above that the curb cut is narrower than the bike path. I let out a ‘yelp’. I got a fright. She turned back and gave me an earful. She saw me with headphones in my ears. Funnily enough, I could hear her telling me whose fault she thought it was. She may have also been telling me that I should have had a helmet on my head. But by that stage, she had already put quite a distance between us.

You see, I prefer to ride like a #wheeledpedestrian. Slow, steady, no sweat. In contrast, the cyclist in this story and the few I see on the bike lanes that I use everyday, are just that, cyclists. Fast commuters and sporty types. And increasingly, on e bikes. Riding fast over long distances seems to be symptomatic of bike cultures that exist in sprawling cities dominated by cars. My preference to shrinking the journey would be to use my bike to connect me to a fast and efficient transport network. Park n ride. But we don’t do that kind of civility just yet.

Path2

Mind the gap here too!

Of course, speed is at the core of the issue. I was in fact, being my usual cautious self. Slow and steady. That’s an intersection that requires one’s undivided attention. The reason I didn’t see the cyclist on this particular occasion was because she was out of sight, right behind another cyclist. As I watched them ride into the distance, my first thoughts were that they were friends, riding together. But finally I came to the conclusion that she, on the e bike was trying to match the speed of the sports cyclists. This was not the first time such a thing has happened. Nor, I imagine, will it be the last. I am constantly on high alert for the ‘threat’ of the silent and swift ‘predators’ of the cycle paths. The paths are often narrow. The image above shows how overgrown they can become. Sometimes they are covered in glass. Sometimes they have pedestrians on them, walking three abreast, with a dog. They are contested spaces.

As they say, speed kills. And as I say, it will take more than just bike lanes to make a cycling culture that is embraced by a broad membership of society.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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And into the vacuum rode “bikeability”.

bikeability

A nightmare called “Bikeability”.

I used to believe that a cyclized city was just around the corner. I really believed that it wouldn’t be long before bicycles would feature prominently in a city’s transport landscape.

And then nothing.

And then the internet comes along and I see for my own eyes what cyclized cities look like and I converse with experts from these cities.

And then I quit my local advocacy group in frustration.

And then I hear Peter Zanzottera and Dr Hamish Mackie telling me that “bikeability” will be the game changer.

And then I say to myself, “aren’t you glad you retired“.

“Bikeability has taught cycle skills to 2 million UK children.” goes the sales pitch. Yeah, and how has that translated into people riding bikes in the UK? “Not so well”, was the reply. They have also chosen to ignore the contradictory research that says this programme will make no significant improvement to ridership rates. As if you needed research to prove it. The evidence is in the cities and towns devoid of people on bikes.

And the thing is, the very act of categorising an activity as something that needs to be taught creates a perception that it is complex; that it is not a normal, everyday activity. Riding a bike is not complex. Learning to ride a bike is not in the same category as learning to swim, as I have heard some cyclists claim it to be. I see evidence of this on a daily basis, in my capacity as a primary school teacher. I would even go so far as to suggest that bikeability and the notion that cycling needs to be taught operates as a barrier and red herring, in the same way that the helmet law does. Calm the streets, people! And then watch your city flourish. Unfortunately, that’s a much tougher proposition and focussing on teaching people to ride bikes simply delays the prospect of any serious change happening.

Either the good folk at NZTA are taking the piss, or they really are ignorant. I think I know the answer to this. There has to be some quid quo pro deal going on here between NZTA and the advocates. Seriously. Who needs enemies when you have allies like this? As I have said before, an effective advocacy organisation is one that is financially independent.

If you want to be good at something, you employ experts. Hey, just across the channel, there is a small country punching above its weight in terms of cycling rates. And don’t believe the line that it is a culture or language issue. The problem for NZTA is that the Dutch would tell it straight. They know what needs to be done. NZTA need a much more benign message. Something that they can work with to allow their motorway building programme to continue uninterrupted.

I’m not actually that surprised by this nonsense. It’s prevalent throughout society and organisations. “Wilful blindness” is all around us. It’s easy to recognise. This is what it looks like in the education sector.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Bikes, coffee and friendship

Done! And I’d like to think that it’s my best yet. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. At the end of the day I really just wanted to provide an antidote to that dreaded ‘Bike Warrior’.

Without wanting to patronise the intelligent readers of this site, the point of this video was…

I wanted to tell a story – about the potential role of the bicycle in our cities.
I wanted to convey – freedom, the buzz of city life, a to b transport, ease, coolness, simplicity.

Imagine you are off to meet someone for a coffee at a cafe…

It’s empathy that we so desperately need in this world. And as we know, narratives are a good way of achieving that.

Finally, a big shout out to my bike model and friend Emilio.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Riding a bicycle in Japan looks like this

I have commented before on this site that capturing images of people riding bicycles in Japan is akin to shooting fish in a barrell. Bicycles are an integral part of daily life in Japan. All members of society are represented. There’s the 80+ year old gentleman riding to his chess club at the local community centre, the school students travelling to and from school, the young children hanging out in the afternoon, the mums transporting their young child and groceries home, the stylish teenage girls socialising at a restaurant, the elderly women doing the shopping.

The bicycles are similar in style – practical, comfortable, easy to ride. Apart from extensive bicycle parking provision, infrastructure for riding bicycles is largely absent. People on bicycles seem to be treated as fast moving pedestrians. In many cases I watched people on bicycles following desire lines. It was not unusual to see people riding contra-flow. Unfortunately, like everywhere else in the world, the car is the dominant urban force in Japan. But despite this, it is quite remarkable that city streets are relatively congestion free and people on bicycles are ever present.

I also noted that some of the tourism focused cities in Japan offer bicycle rentals. I captured one of those experiences and turned it into a short video. You can check it out, here.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The science of promoting a cyclized city.

Through the arch

What lies beyond?

I voiced an observation on this site recently that the main focus of cycling advocacy seems to be based on campaigning for separated cycle paths. I also tried to point out that while that kind of infrastructure is essential in certain environments, there is also a range of other goals that need to be achieved before, or at least in conjunction, with this goal – to create a demand for those facilities. And there are a whole range of strategies that need to be employed in order to achieve those goals. They are strategies that focus on making it better for everyone to get around. Everyone except motorists, that is. Note how this target, as well as being the antithesis of the status quo of transport policy and city building, is also broader and more inclusive than ‘getting more people riding bicycles more often’.

I have also argued before, that the ‘more people riding bicycles more often’ goal, is too broad. That not just any kind of riding will do. There is a need to be more specific, more targeted. It’s the #wheeledpedestrian variety in particular, that our cities need. Bicycle advocacy seems to pride itself on being a broad church – of cyclists of all varieties. Because, of course, all cycling is good cycling. But I believe this position is problematic. It seems to rely on the assumptions that the people who currently engage in sports and recreational cycling:-

  • will be the next converts into slow, short distance, transport cycling,
  • understand and/or support the idea that moving people takes priority over moving cars,
  • are best placed and/or have the necessary skills to sell the vision of cities for people.

Years of experience in the classroom have informed me that it is direct, explicit, positive modelling that changes behaviour and produces the best results. I have also discovered that I am most effective in the classroom when I follow the research and choose to ignore the perceived wisdom of the crowd. It doesn’t win popularity contests but it is essential if we are to make any significant and timely progress. The Emperor may not exactly be naked but the spandex he’s wearing is not very flattering . Because positivity without an effective message will only ever be positivity without an effective message. There is a science to creating a cyclized city. Just like there is a science to designing bike lanes.

So please, keep cycling like you do, but start promoting cycling like a pro.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Thanks Max Key – for being an ass.

Hmmm

Seems obvious, really.

I’d like to suggest that Thursday 27th October 2016 become a permanent marker of the health of cycling in Auckland. The day the NZ PM’s son inadvertently made the world a better place by being an ass. I want it to be like a digital time capsule. I want it to be a point in history that we can use to measure any future success against. The day that we will look back on and marvel at how enlightened we have since become.

I also want it to be the day the NZ Police realise that motorists using a phone while driving are the real problem and should be the focus of their attention and that a #wheeledpedestrian riding without a styrofoam hat is the least of their worries.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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The easy 3 step plan to get more people riding bicycles more often.

Nice bike stand, but where's the bike?

Nice bike stand. Now we just need bikes to go with it.

So you really want to know how to get more people riding bikes more often? Then read on…

  1. Set an achievable target. Eg. We want the council to commit to a cycling mode share of 5% of all trips that are less than 5 km in 5 years. This goal needs to be targeted in locations/suburbs where this rate is most achievable. This would provide a successful ‘fail fast’ model and will allow for other groups/locations to piggyback off any successes.

2. Run promotional campaigns. Eg. We want the council to commit to an ongoing cycling promotion campaign that;

  • highlights cycling as an easy and attractive way to travel, and show the enormous health and economic benefits of cycling to individuals and society, and highlights how safe cycling is.
  • highlights the enormous health and economic costs of motoring to individuals and society, and highlights how dangerous driving is.

 3. Build infrastructure. Eg. We want the council to build the necessary push and pull infrastructure that makes cycling more attractive and driving less attractive. All infrastructure that will help achieve the goal are on the table. You can put Policy into this category here too, if you like. Policy to remove parking, reduce speed limits etc. All the things that will help achieve step 1.

Of course, the building of cycle paths is just a part of step 3. A part of step 3. Sorry to be repeating myself. For me, step 3 suggests a broad range of infrastructure and policy options that will need to be implemented in order to help tame The Death Star. And as you may have guessed, it’s at step 3 where things currently start and stall. Steps 1 and 2 are the foundations of step 3. Building “political will” is what some people like to call it. And interestingly, achieving steps 1 and 2 will require a broad range of skills. Less engineering, more communicating and selling. There’s no conundrum in getting bicycle infrastructure built, as I have heard some say – simply start at the start.

Unfortunately, there is no short cut to cycling utopia.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Slow Down

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

A long time ago, I drafted this blog post but never officially published it. It was a story I picked up from the local community newspaper. Two mothers were concerned that cars on the residential street they lived on, were traveling in excess of 80kph. The speed limit is 50kph and the street is in a school zone.

“They fly through here. I don’t let my girls play out the front – I won’t even let them go to the letter box”. The street is used as a ‘rat run’. The women were planning to approach Auckland Transport to see if there was anything that could be done. I think the street has had speed bumps installed since then. I wonder if that made a difference.

At the time of writing it initially, I was not confident enough in my convictions to publish it. That’s since changed. I think it is no longer heresy to suggest that it will be demand and traffic calming rather than design and bike lanes that will make the biggest contribution to getting more people riding bicycles. Below, is the remainder of the original post. I have left it as I originally wrote it (apart from the inclusion of a link to a recent Wheeled Pedestrian post). Why? Because I have being going through the site’s archives recently to see if I have strayed from my original intentions. And I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised to see that my original observations and beliefs still hold true. However, being confident in my convictions is one thing. Convincing others of the merit of these convictions is a completely different matter. When you are in a hurry, progress is a relative thing.


It went like this…

A similar scenario plays out throughout Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The Death Star, revealed in all its glory. And in the context of promoting cycling as a serious transport form, it should be clear by now, that cycling will remain the preserve of the ‘brave and fearless’ while this dominant car culture remains unchallenged. These mothers won’t let their children out on the front lawn, let alone ride a bike.

So while quality separated cycle lanes is what’s required to get people riding bikes, it is not going to make any significant difference until the issues of speed, that these two mothers are concerned about, are addressed fully. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that addressing the issues of speed need to take place before the introduction of cycle infrastructure. Or at least they need to happen in tandem. Because regardless of the quality of a cycle lane, it is the element of subjective safety that will determine whether individual members of the public will feel safe to use the infrastructure.

That’s why the ‘build it and they will come’ approach needs to be taken at face value. Any quality infrastructure needs to be matched with a high provision of subjective safety. A significant reduction in speed will go someway to addressing that. In The Netherlands, the ‘Stop the Child Murder’ Campaign was the precursor to the bicycle infrastructure and culture that the country is now renowned for. Until something similar happens in New Zealand, our dreams of a cycling revolution will remain only dreams. If cycle lanes are built, they will remain largely empty.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The Death Star

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

“The Death Star is the codename of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon. A weapon capable of destroying entire planets. The Death Star is an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation.”

The reign of the ‘Death Star’ continues. Unrestrained, unscathed, and as deadly as ever.

A range of strategies are going to be needed if we are to ever disempower the ‘Death Star’. Strategies that will discourage driving and encouraging people to take public transport or ride bicycles. Strategies that will increase the demand for traffic calming. Issues such as speed, urban sprawl, parking and infrastructure will all need to be brought to the public domain.

Responsibility for the obscenely high number of traffic deaths and injuries also needs to be placed firmly where it belongs. There real economic and social costs that driving has on our communities needs to be on the agenda. I suggest we copy the anti-smoking lobby and start by placing health warning labels on all cars and trucks.

E003111

Lethal weapon

To grow cycling numbers to a significant extent, the ‘Death Star’ needs to be defeated. Every journey starts with one step. Who is prepared to take on this noble cause? Who will take on the responsibility of reclaiming our cities from the tyranny of the motor vehicle?

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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