Month: October 2014

Submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ draft report.



Back in 2014 I made a submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ consultation. This blog post reflects what I tried to convey in my submission. It still represents my view on how I think we need to approach the task of getting more people using bicycles as a form of transport – equal measures of infrastructure, policy and marketing. How are we doing since then, I wonder?

I support the draft recommendations proposed by the Cycling Safety Panel and its desire to achieve a transport landscape that allows for the safe movement of people on bicycles. I am encouraged by the panel’s acknowledgement and understanding of the benefits that cycling brings and the barriers to making that happen, as detailed below:-

1. Participation in cycling and cycling safety are inextricably linked.
2. Increases in cycling participation will bring safety benefits to individuals and to the wider community alike.
3. Economic and societal benefits of investing in cycling are irrefutable.
4. Riding a bicycle is inherently safe and the prevention of crashes with motor vehicles is the issue that needs to be addressed.

However, I am concerned that the panel’s recommendations lack the necessary clarity and boldness. Without any clearly stated cycling mode share targets set, there is a risk that the reports recommendations will not achieve its stated goals.


In New Zealand’s current transport landscape, cyclists are catered for as though they are two-wheeled motor vehicles. This is problematic because cycling is more akin to walking than driving. If we are to be successful in encouraging more people to cycle, this reality needs to be addressed. In New Zealand we rely on campaigns such as ‘Share the road’ which suggest that all road users have equal responsibility to stay safe. Whereas the Dutch have set the standard for best practice in this area. It is called ‘Sustainable Safety‘. As the draft report acknowledges, riding a bicycle is inherently safe. It is being hit by a fast moving vehicle that makes it unsafe. The current environment is far from equal.

Quality infrastructure is the critical factor in creating a transport environment that encourages people to choose to ride a bicycle on a daily basis for transport purposes. This infrastructure comes in a variety of forms. The creation of  ‘mobility environments‘ has changed the way road transport is approached. Infrastructure is designed to cater for all road users. Safety is designed into the infrastructure.

A well designed transport/mobility environment:-

  • makes cycling irresistible,
  • is built for the 99% who aren’t cycling now but who could be cycling,
  • follows ‘desire lines’ and goes where people want to go,
  • recognises cyclists are just fast-moving pedestrians and does not try to treat them as cars,
  • has infrastructure that will take cyclists to common destinations such as jobs, shops, businesses and schools.


Creating a cyclised city will not happen in isolation. Transport policies that promote cars ahead of other forms of transport will make it less likely for people to choose to switch to riding a bicycle. The way a city is designed will impact on the rate of cycling uptake. Instead of encouraging sprawl, housing needs to be built around transport hubs and multi-modal transport needs to be encouraged and supported.

A well designed city is one in which people live in an environment that allows them to work and play in close proximity. It’s about reducing travel demand and creating opportunities for short journeys to be achieved by bicycle. Minimum car parking requirements need to be removed from city planning laws to enable this transition to alternative transport to happen.

Cities that have high rates of everyday cycling also have the following features in common:-

  • reduced speed limits,
  • well developed road behaviour social contracts,
  • freedom to choose to wear a bicycle helmet,
  • bike share programmes.


The ‘normalised’ culture of cycling that we need does not come about by accident. It comes about as a result of a range of deliberate strategic interventions. The need for quality infrastructure and supportive transport policies have already been mentioned. But there is also a role for high quality marketing that promotes the value of everyday cycling. The value of cycling needs to be ‘sold’ to the public in order to build the political will that is essential to encourage a shift away from our present car-centric transport policies towards socially and economically sustainable transport options.

The word ‘cycling’ needs to become synonymous with meaning ‘short trips in normal clothes on a comfortable bike for people between the age of 8-80, male or female’.

The dominant perception of cycling at the moment is that it is for sports and recreational purposes; for the fit, brave or foolhardy. That’s a massive barrier to overcome, if we are to get the 99% of people who aren’t cycling now, to consider giving cycling a go. Like issues of real safety are dealt with by building quality infrastructure, issues of perceived safety need to be taken seriously too and addressed by implementing quality marketing.

Currently, cycling promotion focuses on safety by making it look dangerous. It focuses on the wearing of helmets and hi-viz. This kind of scare mongering plays into the fears of non-cyclists by reinforcing their current misplaced beliefs. Even the word ‘cycling’ creates misconceptions. That is why you will see the phrase ‘wheeled pedestrian cycling’ or ‘riding a bicycle’ now being used instead.

The full implementation of the above key strategies of infrastructure, policy and marketing will be needed to bring about the success that the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ report says that it desires. Underpinning this success will be a sufficient level of funding. A level of funding that reflects the value and contribution a city full of people on bicycles brings.

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

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‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bike’ is everyday activity.

Children being active is a good thing.

Image via NZ Herald

‘Bike the Bridge’ is back. It was first held in 2013 and is open to young and old, experienced and inexperienced. The really serious riders get to ride over the Auckland harbour bridge. (The bridge that currently only provides access to motor vehicles). Money raised from this cycling event goes to a good cause and is worth supporting.

But can we just be clear that this is a ‘cycling’ event. It promotes cycling in the form that we are currently very familiar with ie. sport and recreation. By its very nature and branding, it ends up presenting cycling as an activity for a special/exclusive group of people. Like any special interest sports group.

Shifting the perception from ‘cycling’ to ‘riding a bicycle’ requires more nuance and wider engagement. While riding a bicycle for short, urban, utility type trips is also about fitness and fun there is much more to it. The views of avid cyclists fill the vacuum. There is minimal aspiration or inspiration.

The two images below may clarify what I mean.

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

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Make road safety sustainable and beneficial to everyone.

Where's the sustainable safety?

It’s a high price to pay for being human and fallible.

Although the message behind this ‘road safety’ campaign is one of, ‘we all need to take care on our roads’, the image leaves you in no doubt that it is the pedestrian that is being targeted for special mention. It was surely devised by people who have little or no understanding of the subtleties of human psychology and its relevance to road safety. Old school traffic engineers have got their fingerprints all over this. Thankfully this campaign is not being used any longer. But that’s not to say that our roads have become safer. Priority is still given to moving as many cars through the city as quickly as possible.

The transport environment in its current physical and cultural form is very hostile. Particularly to those who choose to walk or ride a bicycle.

In the above scenario we are encouraged to believe that all ‘road users’, whether they be motorists, pedestrians, young or old, male or female, are required to take more care. The responsibility to take care is shared equitably. But in reality, it is the pedestrian who pays with his/her life or a lifetime of disability and the motorist who suffers a lifetime of remorse. Typically. The major flaw in this kind of thinking is the major imbalance in the relationship. The imbalance being referred to is that of the massive steel killing machine that motorists cocoon themselves in when it comes in contact with a human being.

So the incentive being offered to pedestrians for taking care is the improved odds of not being killed by a motorist. That can not be described as an effective strategy for reducing the number of people killed or maimed as a result of traffic ‘accidents’. But to avoid pissing off the motorist, it is a safer option to publicly share the blame and responsibility for road deaths equally on motorists and pedestrians alike. (There is an uncanny resemblance to one of those bloody awful ‘share the road’ opinion pieces that people on bicycles have to endure).

But there is some good news. There are cities around the world that have gone beyond this cautionary/punitive approach and are successfully reducing car v people conflicts. (Euphemism intended). It probably comes as no surprise that these cities are also full of people riding bicycles for daily use. Nor will it come as a surprise to hear that it is the Dutch who are the world leaders at this.

The Dutch have taken the issue of human fallibility to heart and worked out how a city’s roads need to be designed and operated. This approach means the issue of human fallibility is completely removed from the issue of road safety. It’s called ‘Sustainable Safety’. Transport infrastructure and policies are designed around the needs of the most vulnerable. Sustainable safety is about preventing those mistakes from occurring; not about punishing people for making mistakes. It’s about taking all the risk and potential for error out of the environment. If motorists are having to brake aggressively for an inattentive pedestrian, it is an issue of speed or road design that needs to be addressed, not inattentive (read – ‘bloody’) pedestrians.

A city will be a better place, economically and socially, if it is a place where people are treated as the hosts and motorists as the invited guests who abide by specific rules and guidelines on how to behave.

So while cities try to deal with road safety by focusing on stuff like making the wearing of bicycle helmets compulsory, offering cycle safety training, encouraging the use of hi-viz clothing and producing valueless road safety campaigns, all the changes that would make a significant improvement continue to be overlooked. The motor industry is playing with our collective minds and we don’t even realise it.

Sustainable safety has the potential to become a guiding principle of road design in our cities. To make our roads safer and more user friendly for all road users. It has the makings of an excellent campaign initiative. Rather than focusing narrowly on campaigning for the construction of separated cycle paths for a narrow interest group like cyclists, why not focus on something that has the potential to open up the issue of road safety to everyone? Campaigning for ‘Sustainable Safety’ has more chance of getting mass support because it would have a positive impact on all citizens rather than just cyclists.

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

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Reflections on our transport landscape.

I want to live in a city that promotes a humane transport culture.

I want to live in a city that promotes a humane transport culture.

I live in a city that does no favours to those who choose to get about by means other than a car. I have (rather foolishly, some will say) used other ways of getting around the city. You know; walking, riding a bicycle, public transport. The car is usually the only realistic option. But my household has also deliberately incorporated our transport choices into our life style.

The Ninja Princess and I have always been urban explorers. The bicycle has increasingly become the means of adventure and exploration. Increasingly, we have been documenting the stuff we have been doing. And experiencing the city by bicycle is a revelation for the senses. It really is magic.

Having her beside me on her own bicycle has also put a completely different lens on the ‘mobility in the city’ experience. My sense of the hostile state of the transport landscape has been heightened dramatically. We ride slowly. We avoid busy roads and intersections. We don’t always feel welcome on the road by motorists, even though we do our utmost to ‘share with care’. But most importantly, we keep on riding and exploring.

The stuff that appears on this site are simply reflections of my/our experiences in the transport landscape. Sometimes it may sound strongly worded and emotional. Or anti-car, heaven forbid. But it’s not. It’s just observational. I wish that the people who are responsible for planning our transport landscape will read this and go for a ride on their bicycles with their young children or grand children. It would be a valuable experience, for everyone.

If I was in charge of our city I would set it up like I set up my classroom of new entrants. Nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Everyone is catered for. It’s a cultural thing. And the children love it. It’s good for everyone. It feels human. Now that would be a radical departure from where we are currently at.

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

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Situation (still) Vacant: Bicycle Ambassador

Celebrity pulling power

Celebrity Power.

It’s cool to use the bus. All Black super star, Jerome Kaino, gives it the thumbs up. Promoting public transport is always going to be a tough gig in a transport environment where all the transport policy settings are directed at giving priority to moving people in cars. But nonetheless, this kind of promotion is essential if we are to break out of the ‘the bus is for the losers who can’t afford a car’ mentality. The tobacco, sugar, alcohol and of course, car industries all spend enormous $ promoting and enhancing the image of their product.

You could be the next Wheeled Pedestrian Cycling Ambassador.

You could be the next Ambassador for Wheeled Pedestrian Cycling.

And so, if it needs to be done for public transport, then the same applies to cycling. Some time ago, I made a feeble attempt at suggesting our honourable PM could take on the role of Ambassador for Wheeled Pedestrian Cycling. Unsurprisingly, the role remains unfilled. So in the interim, I am going to suggest that Auckland Transport take on the task of finding a suitable role model/celebrity who would take on the ambassadorial role for cycling. The image above gives you the kind of look and style that is required. If you, or someone you know fits the bill, please forward their profile/credentials to Auckland Transport, referencing this blog post.

Bike Warriors need not apply.

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

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Some of my best friends are cyclists.

Please excuse the childish attempt at parody.

The interaction with the police officer in the above video came at the end of the Bike to the Future ride that was organised by some of the Gen Zero crew. Between 300-400 people rode their bicycles along K Rd and Ponsonby Rd in central Auckland in support of calls for the installation of a separated cycle path along K Rd. It was a great event and it was particularly encouraging to see such a wide variety of ages as well as many women participating.

I have chosen to highlight the short conversation with the police officer because I think it speaks volumes for the state of our fledgling bicycle culture. I paraphrased her words because it reflects that it was actually more of a monologue than a dialogue and that she was totally absorbed with issues of helmets, cyclists’ safety and traffic flow. That moment was not an appropriate time to broaden the discussion. But broadening the discussion is something that desperately needs to happen. Progress towards making this a great city for people rather than cars, depends on it.

And as I keep repeating, and will continue to repeat, the conversation needs to be broadened from being just about bicycles. It’s about the kind of city we want to live in. Having people in ordinary clothes, riding around their city on sit up bicycles sans helmet is symbolic of a vibrant, energised city. It was very apparent that the police officer had no idea of that concept. She has been taught at police school that the law requires cyclists to wear helmets and it’s a safety thing. Cars are normal, bicycles are not. The gulf in understanding is as wide as ever.

If you are still unsure with what the issue is that I am I am trying to highlight here, please take a look at the my opinion piece that was published in the NZ Herald a while ago. My hope is that sooner or later there will be more willingness to accept this reality. That we, the chosen few who want to see more people riding bicycles, are viewed as a minority, a special interest group. In an environment where the car enjoys such physical and cultural domination, anything outside of that realm will inevitably be deemed as not normal, regardless of how irrational that is.

I don’t keep making this point because I want to bring the party down. There is plenty to love about riding a bicycle in the city already. I had that in mind when I was making this video. But I keep drawing attention back to this issue of perception because if we could achieve a critical mass in understanding and accepting this reality, we could start planning how to counter this problem and start to devise strategies for growing the number of wheeled pedestrians. It’s all about getting our messaging right and starting to make real progress towards a creating a genuine cyclised city.

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

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