Month: May 2014

Getting better value from the consultation process.

Making it possible for students to travel to school independently should be a top priority.

Making it possible for students to travel to school independently should be a top priority.

In my previous post, I argued that Janette Sadik-Kahn’s use of the phrase ‘tipping point’ during her visit to Auckland was more likely to be a reference to the growing sense of anticipation amongst those advocating for change. The conversations are getting better, that’s for sure. But it’s going to take a while before we actually get to experience safer and more sustainable streets in all our communities. Every city needs an organisation like TransAlt, campaigning for that goal.

So what is the next step? How do we convert the growing awareness and enthusiasm for change, into real progress and improvements in our city? Most of the conversation to date are still taking place between advocates, enthusiasts and public servants. But as soon as possible, the public at large are going to need to be convinced of the need for change.

Consultation is the process that is used to engage with the public when change is being considered. But it is becoming increasingly clear that it’s a flawed process and in need of improvement. That’s because the change that is so desperately needed at a community level will rarely be accepted by individuals who feel they are being asked to make unreasonable personal sacrifice. So inevitably, the consultation process simply ‘goes through the motions’ and we are left with the status quo.

I see the consultation process everyday, in all its badness, in an education setting. Here’s the scenario. A school that is operating to ‘best practice’ seeks input/suggestions from its parents/community. Even if the received suggestions are well intentioned, it does not necessarily mean that they are sensible or practical to implement. That’s because the majority of parents are unlikely to be familiar with best teaching practice or the realities of day to day life in the classroom. My local bike mechanic would never seek my advice on how to fix bikes or run his business. And he would be wise to be to take care in implementing my advice, if I did provide it.

In this scenario, the onus to justify the suggestion needs to be put back onto the source of the suggestion. That is, the person or people making the suggestion, need to be fully informed and be prepared to do a form of ‘due diligence’. That would obviously require a better understanding of the context within which the suggestion is required to be implemented.

The converse of the above scenario should be applied when improvements need to be made in the way we run our city. For example, it is imperative that children should be able to walk or cycle to school. The benefits of this, to the individual and the community, have been quantified and far outweigh the interests of individual motorists to be able to, for example, drive at high speed past a school or have parking provision directly outside the school.

Allowing this altered form of consultation to take place does have an element of risk attached to it. The current government is a master at this exploiting this risk. It is how it has been able to fast-track its motorway building programme. “We know what’s best for you and we are so confident that you will love it/us/the new motorway, that we will start building it tomorrow. You can thank us later.” The risks of this happening at a local level can be safeguarded by initially undertaking smaller projects on a trial basis in order to build up community support.

The barriers to change within the effected community will be plentiful. The majority of the public will all have reasons to be resistant. There is a fear of the unknown. There will be a range of reasons presented to retain the status quo; stories of personal hardship, brought about by the proposed changes. But the consultation process will be impervious to all this. That’s because the sales job will be excellent; the economic and health benefits will be presented and it will have been done well in advance so all the effected parties will have time to grasp how important it is to make the requested changes.

If all the messaging is about healthier, wealthier and more sustainable streets in our communities and it is clearly articulated, change will come about more easily. It’s a job for artists and story tellers. The engineers will have their turn later on in the process.

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

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Tipping Points, Boosterism and Next Steps.

Not all cycling is about sports and recreation.

Not all cycling is about sports and recreation.

Janette Sadik-Kahn’s use of the phrase ‘tipping point’, during her visit to these shores got me pondering. While there is clearly an increase in the number of people riding bicycles (albeit small in terms of mode share) I think she was actually referring to the noticeable growth in confidence amongst those campaigning to create ‘better cities for people (not cars)’. It suggests that these ideas and messages are being validated and the people promoting them in this part of the world are feeling energised and invigorated. It can be encouraging to connect with people from other cities in the world who have first-hand experience of the significant changes taking place in their own city. It’s a cause for celebration. In this context, we are at a ‘tipping point’.

But in terms of actually seeing physical/cultural change happening, it is clear that we still have a long way to go. It is perhaps, the speed in which the change takes place that is up for negotiation.

Years of experience in the classroom have taught me that while positivity is essential ingredient to creating behavioural change, it needs to be supported by pragmatism and the setting of precise goals. In terms of cycling, there is little value in claiming that ‘cycling’s booming’, when it clearly is not. Such ‘boosterism’ simply allows those people and organisations responsible for increasing cycling numbers ‘off the hook’. I wonder what the current growth target for cycling ridership in Auckland is. I recall a time when it was 0%. Surely, the setting of a mode share target needs to be the most pressing first step.

So how do we take things to the next level? What do we need to do in order to start seeing some real change taking place?

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

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Creating streets for people is an economic imperative.

Can Janette Sadik-Kahn help Auckland replicate what has been achieved in New York?

I ride a bicycle. Slowly. To get to places. ‘A to B’. Occasionally with family members. And that would seem to be all it takes to get oneself invited to ‘press the flesh’ with Janette Sadik-Kahn. Her visit to our shores has created a real buzz. Let’s hope that buzz can be converted into ‘runs on the board’ in the short and long term. Metro Magazine has got the ball well and truly rolling. Auckland Council gets an ‘A’ for initiative.

And on the matter of the ‘Conversations’ series, wouldn’t it be great if all the best content from all the previous ‘conversations’ was packaged up, and sent out on a tour of the ‘burbs’? A slick and compelling marketing campaign. To reach a new audience. Beyond the converted. Reaching out to the fruit hanging slightly higher up the tree.

Ms Sadik-Kahn talked about the need for boldness and innovative thinking. She described our current transport model as luxury we can no longer afford. Change is an economic imperative. Are you listening, John Key? It’s about economics.

And it’s about the quality of life in our cities. The streets belong to the public at large. They should be designed to be inviting to people, not cars. Every citizen, every neighbourhood, in the entire city needs to have access to safe streets and all modes of transport.

These are the messages that need to be amplified and repeated. Slick and compelling.

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

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“Modern transport annihilates space”.

Stockholm Syndrome

Before we can address the problem, we need to acknowledge that a problem exists.

Cars have become such a destructive force in our communities. I wrote about that here. On top of that, the affliction know as Stockholm Syndrome seems to have spread its destructive power throughout our communities. Typically, I find there are two likely responses when this issue is raised. Firstly, it is an acceptance of the status-quo. ie. nothing can be done. Driving is in our DNA. The second type of response is much worse. It’s a kind of “what planet are you from, mate?” blank expression.

You would have to imagine that the motor industry can’t believe its good fortune.

And it’s in this context that my attention has been drawn once again to the ‘Walking School Bus’. I recall when it was first introduced. It was lauded for its potential to get children walking to school. But little has changed. The car is still the preferred mode of transport for the school run. Anyone around a school gate around 9am and 3pm can vouch for that. Words need to be supported by much stronger actions. And I mean actions that make it easier to walk because driving is made less easy.

In the absence of any meaningful action, this attempt to get children walking will remain a token gesture. And you know it’s flawed when teaching children to be aware of ‘sneaky driveways’ is one of the main teaching points. The real target audience should be the motorists themselves, with a focus of building a social contract. Creating a physical environment that gives priority to the little people walking and cycling over traffic flow should be a top priority.

But you can see the problem. Your local transport agency is not going to be the first mover here. They will only be shifted by ongoing pressure from people within communities. And at present, those people seem largely satisfied with, or ambivalent to the current reality.

I think the quote by CS Lewis below, captures the essence of the problem we are facing,

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.

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

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They just don’t ride anymore.

Presenting the riding of a bicycle as something that is easy and achievable is the raison d’être of this site. Everyone knows needs to know that riding a bike is fast, efficient, economic and healthy. It’s perfect for short, local trips. It’s perfect for getting children to school independently.

According to the New Zealand Transport Agency,  in 1989, children clocked up about 35 million kilometres while riding to school. By 2013, that had dropped to less than 10 million kilometres. Nowadays, one third of all morning rush-hour traffic is attributed to school drop-offs and pick-ups.

Of course, safety is the biggest barrier. There are times when it doesn’t feel safe to ride a bicycle. Or to walk. There are two elements to safety – the real and the perceived. Both need to be addressed. And while the statistics reveal that the actual risk of riding a bicycle is actually very low, perception weighs heavily on a person’s decision to not ride a bicycle.

Having children actively transporting themselves to school would be a game changer. The personal and societal benefits would be huge. In physical and emotional terms. It’s going to take a community effort to bring about some serious change.

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

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