Month: April 2014

Cities for people: in need of a new narrative.

 

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Have you ever had that awful sinking feeling when being told that a street is too narrow to accommodate cycling but not too narrow to park store cars? At present, this problem seems insurmountable. But the day will come when we will be looking back and laughing at the such ludicrousness. (Attitudes to tobacco comes to mind). In the meanwhile, we can help speed up the arrival of that day. We can start a new conversation about how that public space needs to be divvied up more equitably and economically.

Just take a look overseas and you will see that the world is changing. Cities used to be ranked on their car parks and motorways. Now they are being measured by their livability. It’s no coincidence that the cities around the World that are at the top of the livability stakes are the cities that are full of bicycles; people using bicycles to get about their business. In those cities, ‘moving people’ now takes precedence over ‘moving cars’.

A new narrative is begging to be told. A narrative about creating ‘cities for people’. Of course, that’s a very radical departure from the ‘cities for cars’ paradigm that we currently live in. It won’t be easy to make the transition. Cars are in our DNA. (Well, since the post-war oil boom, that is). But the health and wealth of our communities depends on making some serious and necessary changes.

Clearly, there are conflicting views around the role of the car in our cities. But we should not shy away from this conflict. We need to deal with it positively and constructively. It’s a pro-people approach, rather than anti-car. If we are to make any significant progress towards achieving the vision of providing ‘better cities for all’, we can not ignore the present unsustainable reality. The quality of the conversation needs to be raised and expanded upon. As tough as that may be.

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

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The problems of a sprawling city

 

Where do you live?

A grassy patch to call my own.

I want to live in a city that allows me to:

  • live, work and play in close proximity,
  • have easy access to inexpensive and efficient public transport,
  • replace the car with a bicycle for short trips.

Urban sprawl creates:

  • barriers to social interaction, leading to isolation,
  • limited mobility options and dependance on the motor car.

It’s called, “Density Done Well“.

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

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Do you want to go for a bike ride?

There are lots of reasons to ride a bike

I use my bicycle whenever I can; as a substitute for the car. It serves a purpose. It’s great for short journeys. A to B. I dress for the destination, not for the bike ride.

It probably keeps me fit. But fitness is not the reason I use my bicycle. Remember, “no sweat”.

Using a bike is good for the environment. But that’s not my primary motivator, either.

Cost is a big factor. We are a one car family. Keeping just one car on the road feels like an exercise in avoiding falling into a massive financial black hole.

Being immune to the unpredictable traffic congestion prevalent in the city is also a pretty big factor.

And there is a ‘feel good’ factor associated with transporting oneself by bike; that sense of freedom and independence. I caught the bug as a child and it never went away. The kids of today don’t know what they are missing.

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

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Speaking up for our most vulnerable.

Slow down.

Better cities for all.

6 year old Emma wrote me a note. In the note she thanks me for having ‘a nice and kind voice’. The best part of being a teacher is developing positive relationships with students. In all likelihood Emma won’t remember learning to read and write but she will remember her friendships and her interactions with others.

It’s a weighty responsibility working with people who are vulnerable and so dependent on the adults around them. So it probably comes as no surprise when I respond ‘quite strongly’ to stories of our most vulnerable being victims of a transport system that takes no prisoners. Victims like Shayna-Grace. This “perfect little angel” was hit by a car as she was crossing a pedestrian crossing on her way to school. The driver didn’t stop.

When will the outrage start? Do we just have to accept that our young and vulnerable will always viewed as collateral damage to an ingrained ‘car culture’? Isn’t it about time we started addressing this culture of speed and the resulting carnage? I want to ask our politicians, councillors, traffic engineers, doctors, teachers, principals….how is this allowed to happen? What is being done to ensure our roads are made safe for everyone?

A strong social contract that prioritises the well-being of our children is long overdue.

‘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.

I’m a ‘Slow Zone’ supporter

Show you care

Social Contract: Change will be built on solid grassroots support.

For many years, I have been witness to the chaos that takes place at the school gate twice a day, as a result of children being delivered to and from school by car. And while the extent and implications of this problem are generally accepted and acknowledged, it is safe to say that little has changed.

The thing is, I used to believe that getting children to travel to school independently was actually a piece of ‘low hanging fruit’. I am embarrassed by my naivety. Over the years I have spoken to many parents about it and my impression is that it is not a high priority. Given the current economic and social climate we live in, I am not surprised by this apparent lack of interest. The families who do use some form of active transport seem to have made a deliberate choice, they are choosing to ignore the prevailing market forces.

Nor are schools going to be leading the charge to address this issue. I have spent many years witnessing the thinking and actions of my colleagues. And personal experience tells me that any government agency ‘safe-travel’ initiatives, in their current format, simply maintain the status-quo. “Ok children, we are here today to teach you how to put your helmet on correctly”. Wrong audience, wrong message.

Of course, to make it safe for children to travel to school independently, we will need to employ effective and proven technical solutions. Solutions that eliminate traffic and reduce traffic speeds. Solutions that not only make it safer to walk and cycle but actually make it feel safer. But before then, there is a need to connect with those parents who are currently driving their children to school.

Because only genuine, community-led, grassroots campaigning will bring about effective and long lasting improvements. A strong social contract that prioritises the well-being of our children is what’s needed. A vision for ‘better cities’ will be not be led by engineers, bureaucrats or politicians. It will be led by members of the community. Small steps, small successes, inspirational stories, replicated.

‘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.

First steps to creating better cities.

 

Unlocking freedom and well-being.

Unlocking freedom and well-being.

Democracy is failing us. It’s getting in the way of us creating better cities. Our cities are over run by cars. The addiction is real. We must mend our ways. But we remain stuck.

Research presents compelling reasons to change. Working models exist for us to emulate. But we remain stuck in a netherworld between evidence and democracy.

So how do we break this impasse?

A new narrative is required. Something greater than ‘more cycle lanes!’ ‘Better cities!’ sounds closer to the mark. People skilled in selling an alternative are needed.

New organisations that can create a new and normal path to ‘better cities’ are required.

Forging new organisations that will be able to match and eventually shift the inertia will take some effort. No doubt.

These organisations will require people that are politically savvy, be able to articulate what ‘better cities’ look/feel/sound like, and engage support from people at a community level.

Giving children the ability to get to school safely and independently would be a good starting point, I reckon.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bike’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

Find me on Twitter @wheeledped