Month: July 2014

Enjoying the city by bicycle.

ParkedBikes

Where there are bicycles there is life.

The bicycle has a variety of purposes. It can be used for sport and recreation or as a means of transport. But it is also a way to connect with people, the community and the environment. This is how I imagine a cyclized city to be.

So really, this video is meant as a celebration of urban living. The bicycle has the potential to be a tool that enhances and amplifies that urban experience.

 

It’s time to assume that there are other people who want to enjoy the benefits that a cyclized city brings. It’s time to assume that there are others who are willing to be sold on the benefits that a cyclized city brings.

It’s time to be inspired and be inspiring.

Are you in?

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

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The trouble with cycling.

No cyclist here; just a person on a bicycle.

No cyclist here; just a person on a bicycle, on a bridge.

Roads are for everyone and road rules were made for all road users.

Then modern cities arrived and urban sprawl was born. And along with a house in the ‘burbs came the promise of fast and cheap car commutes and demands for affordable parking. So even though the road rules have remained the same, the urban landscape looks and operates very differently. Cars are the norm. They dominate our cities.

But things are changing. Although most of our politicians seem to have misplaced the memo, cars are not turning out to be the panacea that they were once intended to be. Increasingly, there is talk of – climate change, active transport, ‘urban density done-well’. Demands for alternatives to the long-haul car commute will continue to get louder. Happy people live close to where they work and play, apparently. We are starting to witness a ‘conflict’ of ideas. How do we want our cities of the future to be? Is the current model sustainable, resilient or desirable?

And it’s important to reiterate that it’s not actually all about the cycling or being anti-car even; it’s about making cities for people the top priority. And just because we can’t imagine our cities being fully functioning without the car being centre stage, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible or that changes shouldn’t be made. That’s why it’s so important to be taking inspiration and ideas from cities around the World that have already made the transition.

Within a context of cities being designed for cars and motoring being made so accessible and privileged, it’s easy to see how the bicycle has come to be the fall guy. Bicycles, as a transport form, don’t cut the mustard. In the current inCARnation of our cities, bicycles were never going to be able to (nor should they have been expected to) compete with cars or public transport over longer travel distances.

Some people have managed to make the switch from the car to the bicycle for their long distance commute. However, the failure of cycling to be seen as a serious transport option, is evidenced in the lack of people willing to take on this brave, but ultimately fear-inducing form of transport. At the same time, the role of the bicycle as the perfect tool for short, local trips (the wheeled pedestrian variety – e.g. from home to a nearby train or bus station) has been largely overlooked.

Bicycles exist in a kind of twilight zone.

So the road rules clearly state the expectation that bicycles are to be treated like two-wheeled motorists. They are entitled to claim the lane and must also follow all the road rules that motorists are obliged to follow.  But apart from the few brave souls already mentioned, the remainder of the population (if they choose to ride a bicycle for transport at all) is more likely to ride a bicycle at a slow, comfortable speed over much shorter distances. (Cycling to school comes to mind).

But in reality, cyclists are neither cars or pedestrians.  The road rules are also very clear in that people on bicycles are not allowed to be on the footpath. That is the domain of the pedestrian. It always amuses me how pedestrians and cyclists will fight it out for some scraps of space on the side of the road, while the motorist remains largely ignorant of the conflict going on on the periphery. (Full disclosure: I will always defer to the safety of slow riding on the footpath if my real or perceived safety feels compromised).

Cyclists as ‘outliers’.

So, while motorists rule the roost and pedestrians are accorded a modicum of space and respect (which may be due to the fact that all motorists are pedestrians – but not all motorists are cyclists), cyclists live in a parallel World. Unsure, uncategorised and not particularly welcomed anywhere. This phenomenon is witnessed daily – on the roads and in the media. Fortunately for us, the hard work in understanding this situation has been done for us.

Transport psychologist Dr Ian Walker says,

Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.

With cyclists being a readily identifiable minority group, this leads to the tendency of drivers to attribute behavior to personality or disposition, rather than a situation or environment. It’s called fundamental attribution error. The conversation goes like this,

A. “I just saw a cyclist go through a red light”.

B. “Yeah. Bloody cyclists! They always do that”.

The outlier status of cyclists means that drivers will tend to blame poor behaviour of some cyclists on all cyclists. Further to that, and speaking from personal experience, cyclists are more likely to be making (what is perceived to be) poor decisions or breaking the road rules in order to keep themselves safe. Because you have to remember, our cities have been built for cars, not people or people on bicycles. And according to the surveys, a healthy majority of people say they would ride a bicycle “if it was safe to do so”.

So while the research is unequivocal; cycling is a worthwhile activity and should be encouraged, there is still limited impetus to take it too seriously as a form of transport. We are still too conflicted. The car still dominates transport policies and budgets. Sprawl is still being provided as the solution to a housing shortage.

In the meanwhile, we continue to focus on training cyclists to stay safe around cars and encouraging obedience to the road rules. Back to Dr Ian Walker, on the issue of  “all cyclists should wear hi-viz” argument. (You know, the argument favoured by the New Zealand coroner).

…there are other reasons to be suspicious of high-visibility gear, not least that it transfers responsibility from the driver of the metal box that creates the danger to the victim of that danger.

Instead, we need to be,

  • seeking a consensus that supports prioritising the moving of people safely ahead of the moving of high car volumes.
  • designing our city streets and promoting transport policies that are people and bicycle friendly.
  • promoting cycling in a way that makes cyclists less an unpredictable “out group” and more an integral part of the urban transportation fabric.

Anything less is merely tinkering around the edges.

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

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Catering for people on bicycles can increase property values.

Blah blah blah

It’s just a sign.

This small, unobtrusive bicycle sign can be found throughout parts of Mt Eden and Sandringham, Auckland. It indicates the existence of ‘cycleways’ that run parallel to Dominion Rd through residential suburbs. I refer to them tentatively as ‘cycleways’ because at present, you see more motorists on this network of roads than people on bicycles. During peak travel times, they become ‘rat runs’ for motorists. But according to Auckland Transport, this is all set to change.

The routes are designed to make cycling an attractive, easy, and safe transport and recreation option for communities around the Dominion Road corridor and will provide local connections to schools and parks. The new routes will cover about 12 kilometres on roads and through parks, passing 16 schools serving 12,000 pupils. New safe cycle crossings will be constructed on Balmoral Road and Mt Albert Road.

The PR goes on to suggest that these routes could also be used as a route to the city. Dream on! That is patently false. Apart from being excruciatingly circuitous, there is no decent cycling-friendly infrastructure from where these ‘cycleways’ end, into the city centre. It also needs to be noted that Auckland Transport opted out of providing separated cycle paths on Dominion Rd when the original upgrade was first proposed. ‘Too expensive’ was the call, I think.

So, what does this all mean? What can we expect to see along this ‘cycleway’ when all the construction crew have finally departed?

Although this kind of thing seems rather new and innovative to us here in ‘Godzone’, this kind of mobility environment has been in existence for some time in other cities around the world. In some cities they are called ‘cycling boulevards’ and in others, they are called ‘neighbourhood greenways’. Whatever you call them, if they are done well, they have the potential to bring major benefits to the local community. Of course, like all good urban transport designs, they are based on the Woonerf concept from the Netherlands.

They are used as a way of providing alternative transport options for short, local trips and making residential environments safer and more pleasant. Evidence indicates that the reduced vehicular traffic and access to this kind of facility increases property values and social connections along that corridor. All that’s required is a reduction in the speed limit to 30 km/hr, some traffic-calming barriers to prevent rat running, removal of some stop signs to permit the free flow of bicycle traffic, some signage and the possible addition of traffic signals to allow cyclists to get across the busier arterial roads.

Nor are the routes designated as only for people on bicycles. These mobility corridors can be used by residents from all walks of life and of all ages. Whether they are walking the dog, skateboarding, socialising with neighbours, or simply kicking a ball on the street. Here’s a video for you to watch to give you an idea of how they have been introduced into some cities in the U.S.A and Canada.

But will people in Auckland make the shift to bikes and use these greenways/mobility corridors?

Well, the disconnection at Burnley Tce doesn’t help. And the jury is out as to whether Auckland Transport’s traffic engineering interventions will:-

  • reduce the flow of non-resident motorists using these mobility corridors as through routes,
  • reduce the speed of motorists travelling on these mobility corridors.

Aside from the physical safety factors, these mobility environments need to feel like safe and pleasant places to be on because we know that cars ‘project an envelope of danger’. In order for this project to be a success, dealing with the issue of subjective safety is as critical as dealing with the issue of real safety.  Statistics show that riding a bicycle is an incredibly safe and health giving activity. But this fact runs counter to the perception of cycling among the non-bicycle riding public. And the economic return on investment for projects like this is huge.

There is also a question mark over Auckland Transport’s ability to sell this project to a sceptical and fearful public. It’s going to be a tough gig because we live in a culture that worships the car and the right to drive anywhere, anytime. But it is an issue that needs to be grasped if we are to make this city a place for people to flourish. There will be residents who will resent losing on-street parking. There will be residents who are not familiar with the potential to ride a bicycle to their local shops. There will be lots of barriers and misconceptions to deal with. Normalising the perception of riding a bicycle; making it appear as normal as driving a car will require a range of social engineering strategies to be employed.

Assuming that sufficient traffic engineering interventions have been implemented, how will we know if Auckland Transport is serious about making this project a success?

Data! Strategy! Action!

  • Engage with the local residents.
  • Find out how many people are using these mobility corridors – upon completion and again in 6 months, 12 months, 24 months time, 5 years.
  • Find out who is using these mobility corridors, and when, where, how they are being used?
  • Set aspirational mode share targets (% of people on bikes relative to people in cars), and time frames.
  • Enact strategies to achieve these targets. Working with 16 local schools, 12,000 students and local residents would be a priority.

Watch this space!

 

‘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.

Or, enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Children, bicycles and risk-taking.

What a good looking bunch.

What a good looking bunch – of bicycles.

I got to talk to the media last month about two of my favourite topics: raising children and riding bicycles. As I indicated previously here, those two things overlap a lot in our household.

The article was about how children are now growing up in a social environment that is far more constrained than in previous decades. I see it in my school setting. I see it in my community setting. The sense of freedom and independence that previous generations enjoyed, is being lost. Over recent decades, a child’s zone of play has shrunk considerably. Children are spending more of their free time stuck inside the house, rather than outside exploring the world. We also know that they are being ferried to and from school by car much more than they used to be.

I learned at a young age, that life looked very different from behind the handlebars of a bicycle to that of the windscreen of a car. Modern transport has the ability to annihilate space. So I have tried to impart that experience to my own children. I have tried to give them the chance to play independently, travel independently and be independent in their thinking. Making mistakes along the way is a great pathway to making good choices. Falling out of trees, falling off bikes, experiencing conflict with friends is all part of that process. I fear that the first time young people get to experience risk-taking is when they are put behind the wheel of a motor car. From Grand Theft Auto to hooning down the motorway, with no in-between steps.

Modern economic imperatives have to take some responsibility for this situation. Many parents now have no choice but to ‘drop their children off and run’. They have jobs to go to. Bills to pay. And even if money is not the issue, all that work is going to mean they are time-poor. But there is still a lot of ‘cotton-wooling’ going on. I see it in the school playground. The prevalence of adult intervention in playgrounds is not always beneficial to the children.

Unfortunately, the down side of the article was the way in which it played into the refrain, ‘riding a bicycle is risky’. As a result of the article, I got a not-so-gentle ribbing from my brother-in-law, for being a ‘risk-taker’. “Yeah, right!?” were his words. He knows me as being considerably risk averse. And he’s right. I am. So how is it that someone so risk averse as myself uses a bicycle on a daily basis and is happy to encourage his own children to do the same. It’s about assessing what risk there is, and dealing with it appropriately. That’s the learning our children are being deprived of.

Riding a bicycle should not automatically imply hurtling oneself down a tree covered hillside on a mountain bike. That’s risky behaviour. And I fear that that is how the non-cycling public perceive cycling to be. This is my version of cycling-I mean ‘riding a bicycle. And that’s why it’s so important that the self-appointed promoters of cycling take care that their messaging is spot on.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

Or, enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.