Month: January 2015

Words of an addict: “Just one more motorway.”

Congestion Sucks

Traffic is not like water; it doesn’t evaporate.

“No city in the world has ever been able to pave it’s way out of traffic congestion”,

is what I wanted to yell at say to Duncan Garner when I heard him announce on his radio show of his support for the removal of six pohutakawa trees to make way for an extra lane of traffic. Duncan, cities that are overrun by, or over reliant on cars are not happy or healthy cities. Please, wake up and smell the fumes.

And besides, it was Janette Sadik-Kahn who told an Auckland audience in 2014, that our “current transport model is a luxury we can no longer afford; change is an economic imperative.” It’s the economy, stupid. I know whose wisdom I prefer.

To his credit, Duncan recognises that his support is based on selfish needs; he wants his driving experience to be enhanced. But he also repeats the familiar line that our addiction to cars and the lack of decent public transport means we have to keep building and extending the motorway/roading network. That there is no alternative. That is such a crappy argument.

My children would also eat KFC everyday, if I gave them no alternative.

 

I’m hoping that the six pohutakawa will be saved. I’m also hoping that their survival will be the catalyst for a higher level of engagement on how we want Auckland to develop. I fear that its wonderful natural endowments are being eroded by poor urban (non)management. Sprawl is no longer our friend. It never was.

Our arrival at this point is no accident. Sprawl, and the induced demand for the more motorways, cars and driving it has created, have come about through decades of deliberate policy settings at a national level. Give the people what they want, but first, starve them of informed debate. That’s how the political process seems to work.

We are told that the removal of the trees will create space for new cycle lanes. I really hope that the people who speak on behalf of cycling in this city, publicly reject this offer. But ‘at the end of the day’, pragmatism is the chosen path. I mean, for a change, how about the trees are left alone, AND the cycle lanes are built? How about we ask the transport agency (the public organisation charged with catering to all road users) to nick a bit of space off the motorist? That’s a novel idea. But while the person on the bicycle is known as the ‘outlier’, that’s always going to be a tough sell.

The bridge without access to walking and cycling

That Auckland harbour bridge that does not provide access to walking and cycling

Within this context, it comes as no surprise that Aucklanders can still only get across their magnificent Waitemata harbour by motor vehicle or ferry. Needless to say, you drive for ‘free’ but pay to take the ferry. No provision was ever made for walking or cycling. But that may all change with the #skypath project inching ever closer. You can add your voice to growing calls to make it happen, by completing a quick submission form.

There is a lot of stake here. The 6 pohutakawa and the #skypath should not be seen in isolation. Together they are the physical manifestation of the government’s continued commitment to funnel the ‘lion’s share’ of transport funding into roading projects at the expense of alternatives. That’s the big picture that needs to brought into relief. There’s a bigger story to be told and people like Mr Garner will not do us any favours.

It’s nice to get a new cycle way built but does it have to come bundled with an oversized motorway or roading project? It has all the connotations of a Faustian bargain. How long will the juggernaut roll on, unchecked? Addiction is hard to deal with. Acknowledging the addiction would be a good first step. Saving the 6 pohutakawa would feel like progress is being made towards moving beyond denial.

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

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Riding a bicycle in the city is so easy when…

There’s no time like the summer holidays. It’s the best time of the year to be a teacher. And it would also seem to be be the best time to ride a bicycle in the city. This summer holiday the #NinjaPrincess and I have been going on all sorts of bicycle led adventures. All with a purpose, of course. A short trip to go for a dip in the pool. A trip into the city to snap some images (of which you can see my favourites posted here, here and here). A2B cycling in its purest form. The physical and mental benefits are all just complimentary.

And it was on this basis that I headed into the city early on a recent Saturday morning. Normally I take the slow, circuitous route, but because it was early enough, I ventured onto the most direct route. It was so quick and easy. There was an ever so slight breeze at my back, but best of all, it was pretty much car-free and I enjoyed the extra space that we are told is very expensive and difficult to come by. Too hilly, too far, too wet to ride bicycles, they like to tell us. NO, NO, NO! Too many cars is the real issue.

It’s easy to know when you have reached the Auckland CBD. Everything starts to become less human, more 60’s traffic engineer’s wet dream. The roads get wider and faster and multi-levelled. The motorway doesn’t exactly dissect the city’s heart. It’s more like an festering sore running along its perimeter.

Dominion Rd traffic sewer, looking north towards the CBD

The Dominion Rd traffic sewer, looking north towards the CBD from the Mt Roskill shops.

My sincere hope is that one day we will be able to look at this photo and laugh about how there was a time when Dominion Rd was used as a traffic sewer and separated cycle paths were just a dream of the few and foolhardy.

Under the Dominion Rd 'flyover'.

Under the Dominion Rd ‘flyover’.

If Auckland was a house, you would be now standing on the doorstep. Who would turn down such a generous invitation to enter the city by car?

From under the Newton Rd 'flyover'.

Under the Newton Rd ‘flyover’.

A concrete structure that is designed to accommodate vast volumes of traffic and justified because, “it keeps the wheels of commerce turning.” But this narrative is starting to loose its lustre. There is an alternative narrative to be told.

View of Auckland Harbour Bridge from Westhaven marina

View of Auckland Harbour Bridge from Westhaven marina

Auckland city has a location to die for. It has harbour views, is north facing and is wonderfully endowed with natural beauty. Urban design experts from all over the world tell us this, so it must be true. They also tell us that this beauty is being squandered by allowing itself to be a car magnet; for giving priority to moving cars over people.

It was by fortuitous accident that I ambled upon the latest and most impressive piece of cycling infrastructure to ever appear in Auckland. Yes, Auckland does have separated cycle paths. But they all tend to run along side motorways or be of dubious value. But this separated cycle path is more ‘genuine’ because it’s on a major arterial road in the centre of the city. It requires engagement and interaction with motorists, businesses and pedestrians. It is bright, shiny and new and most importantly, it feels safe. It’s only short but it certainly whets the appetite for more of the same. It may even merit it’s special own video in the near future. A #wheeledpedestrian special.

Sadly, by the time I started to head home, the space I enjoyed on Dominion Rd in the morning had all but vanished. It had all been reclaimed by the cars. Both moving and stationary. And that breeze I had enjoyed early in the morning seemed to have strengthened.

Riding a bicycle in the city is so easy when…

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr, or Instagram.

On why it’s important to make cycling look normal and appealing.

Model #wheeledpedestrian

Model #wheeledpedestrian

Since my young German friend said that he felt safer riding a bicycle in Hamburg compared to Auckland, I have quizzed him to find out what he actually meant. He described how riding a bicycle in Hamburg just feels more normal than it does here in Auckland. I have made the assumption that by ‘normal’, he means; lots of people (young, old, male, female) on sit-up, comfortable bicycles in their daily attire, travelling short distances. Thanks to the internet, examples of what a city full of normal cycling looks and operates like, are readily available for us to observe. The reasons for aspiring to this kind of city are also abundantly clear.

So how do we get our city to become a city where cycling riding a bicycle is normal; that it can also be just an extension of walking? How do we make this slow cycling thing happen faster? So far, I have only ever heard these questions non-answered. Instead, they are presented as a ‘chicken/egg’ conundrum. i.e. More people will ride bicycles if there were more cycle paths and better infrastructure, and with more people on bicycles, normalisation would be achieved.

So what I’m suggesting here is that the process of normalisation needs to be viewed as a specific goal and therefore, specific strategies need to be employed to make it happen.

Undoubtedly, good quality infrastructure is paramount. First of all, it would keep the current breed of cyclists happy and safe and encourage them to keep cycling. And then more people would be tempted to use the infrastructure. Hey presto! We have the beginning of a cyclised city. But hang on a minute. This new infrastructure for ‘cyclists’ is asking motorists to cede territory. Motorists will be concerned that their position at the top of the food chain is being challenged. And you can’t blame them. Driving is normal, riding a bicycle is notChanging ingrained habits is hard but it has been done and is being done. But it doesn’t happen by accident.

The typical scenario is as follows. With every new request for on road, separated cycle path comes resistance and…the status quo remains. Or if the infrastructure is built, it comes with a hefty dose of #bikelash. So what I’m suggesting here is that the process of normalisation needs to be viewed as a specific goal and therefore, specific strategies need to be employed to make it happen.

The building of infrastructure needs to be viewed as a sign that riding a bicycle is ‘in the process of’ becoming normalised, not as a strategy towards normalising it. This is why I have always been suspicious of the ‘build it and they will come’ approach. It seems too simplistic. It assumes that the non-cycling public already understand and share the vision of a cyclised city. The process of normalisation (dare I say, the social engineering) needs to take place as a precursor or at least in tandem with requests for the building of specific infrastructure.

And if you’ve read this and are feeling a bit sceptical about this normalisation stuff, just rephrase it as, building ‘political will’. But it’s important to accept that at the moment, they are ‘just not that into you’. And that’s ok.  Because there are ways of changing that.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Look abroad for inspiration to build a vibrant city cycling culture.

blah blah

Incongruous: this aint no genuine hipster.

Here’s a reminder of why we should be looking beyond Australia for inspiration for growing a cycling culture. This is the kind of imagery you get when you have a country that, like New Zealand,

1. has a compulsory helmet law and,

2. is dominated by sports cycling.

When we see this kind of marketing, it becomes abundantly clear that it will not be the bicycle industry that will be leading the way towards a cyclised city. What’s even more disappointing is that the image comes from Smith Journal; a publication that promotes itself as something “for curious minds and offbeat thinkers”.

The creation of a vibrant cycling culture is achieved by deliberate and well considered government policies backed up by substantial infrastructural and marketing investment. It doesn’t happen by chance.

This is not to suggest that we don’t look to Australia for inspiration. We need to look everywhere for ideas of how to do it, and how not to do it. It’s quite likely that everything about the European model will not translate directly into New Zealand. I have also heard it argued that the European model is too ‘foreign’ for New Zealand tastes. But you only have to look at the transformation in New Zealand cafe culture over the past decades to see that change for the better is possible.  We want to show and be shown what is possible, and discover the steps that were taken to make it possible.

The creation of a vibrant cycling culture is achieved by deliberate and well considered government policies backed up by substantial infrastructural and marketing investment. It doesn’t happen by chance. If cycling is to be accepted by the wider non-cycling public as an essential and valuable part of a city’s transport mix, politicians and the non-cycling public need to be convinced of the merits of investing in #wheeledpedestrian cycling. That’s why the message needs to be spot on.

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

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