Community

Making cycling something that everyone can relate to and do.

 

Motorway

Would you like more lanes with your motorway, madam?

It is no secret that this blog has at times been openly critical of some aspects of the way cycling advocacy is approached. Nonetheless, the intent of this blog has always been about wanting to engage in a meaningful conversation. To present different views and interpretations that may not be appreciated or understood fully, yet. While no one likes to be criticised, including myself, I feel that it may be helpful to spell out that it is never my intention to make it a personal issue. For me, it has always only ever been about looking for the most effective ways of getting more people using bikes for short utility trips. And for what it’s worth, I am trying harder these days to be better at using criticisms that I receive, as an opportunity to strengthen my argument.

And I believe that my views do actually reflect the views of some people, and have in fact, lifted the level of conversation and understanding. That has to be one of the real values of the internet; the democratisation of ideas. I also believe that organisations will be better off if they are open to differing viewpoints – echo chambers and all that. Reasoned, critical voices need to be encouraged. As well as being critical, I believe that I have offered authentic and well argued alternatives. And on that matter, if you do support the ideas being presented on this site, or if you are mildly curious, why don’t you try approaching your local advocacy group and let them know.

One aspect of advocacy that I have been critical of has been around the nature of the relationship between advocacy groups and the national transport agency. It is a sensible and pragmatic approach to get a bike lane attached to a new motorway when it is being built. Of course, cycling needs all the help it can get. So while I am pleased to see the latest Auckland motorway project being given the thumbs down by the advocates, the potential for the relationship to be compromised should be a concern. Financial and political autonomy would be the dream scenario. Cycling for the people, by the people.

This leads me to another aspect of advocacy in which my thinking diverges critically from what is currently on offer and to which I have tried to offer clear and reasoned arguments for an alternative approach. NZTA and advocacy groups seem intent on selling cycling to enthusiastic sports and recreational cyclists; to convert these cyclists into everyday commuters. I have argued repeatedly that this strategy is of limited value. Or at the very least, it ignores a whole swathe of the population who will never ride like that. The growth market in cycling is in riding a bicycle; a comfortable, slow bicycle, for short, utility type trips. Like they do in Japan. Riding a bike is achievable to a whole lot of people if we think of the bicycle as replacing walking, not driving.

I accept that this is a slightly different goal than what we are currently being presented with. The goal that I believe we should be striving for is an inclusive and more specific one. It will make cycling available to young and old, male and female. Not just more cycling, but more people using bicycles for short, utility trips. It is a goal that will require our attention being focused on making our cities less car friendly. That’s a big target and will need to be broken down into smaller, manageable goals. I just find it hard to accept that it is wise to be relying on an organisation that loves cars that much, as the best source of advice on making cycling a real thing for everyone.

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

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Bikes, coffee and friendship

Done! And I’d like to think that it’s my best yet. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. At the end of the day I really just wanted to provide an antidote to that dreaded ‘Bike Warrior’.

Without wanting to patronise the intelligent readers of this site, the point of this video was…

I wanted to tell a story – about the potential role of the bicycle in our cities.
I wanted to convey – freedom, the buzz of city life, a to b transport, ease, coolness, simplicity.

Imagine you are off to meet someone for a coffee at a cafe…

It’s empathy that we so desperately need in this world. And as we know, narratives are a good way of achieving that.

Finally, a big shout out to my bike model and friend Emilio.

‘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.

The easy 3 step plan to get more people riding bicycles more often.

Nice bike stand, but where's the bike?

Nice bike stand. Now we just need bikes to go with it.

So you really want to know how to get more people riding bikes more often? Then read on…

  1. Set an achievable target. Eg. We want the council to commit to a cycling mode share of 5% of all trips that are less than 5 km in 5 years. This goal needs to be targeted in locations/suburbs where this rate is most achievable. This would provide a successful ‘fail fast’ model and will allow for other groups/locations to piggyback off any successes.

2. Run promotional campaigns. Eg. We want the council to commit to an ongoing cycling promotion campaign that;

  • highlights cycling as an easy and attractive way to travel, and show the enormous health and economic benefits of cycling to individuals and society, and highlights how safe cycling is.
  • highlights the enormous health and economic costs of motoring to individuals and society, and highlights how dangerous driving is.

 3. Build infrastructure. Eg. We want the council to build the necessary push and pull infrastructure that makes cycling more attractive and driving less attractive. All infrastructure that will help achieve the goal are on the table. You can put Policy into this category here too, if you like. Policy to remove parking, reduce speed limits etc. All the things that will help achieve step 1.

Of course, the building of cycle paths is just a part of step 3. A part of step 3. Sorry to be repeating myself. For me, step 3 suggests a broad range of infrastructure and policy options that will need to be implemented in order to help tame The Death Star. And as you may have guessed, it’s at step 3 where things currently start and stall. Steps 1 and 2 are the foundations of step 3. Building “political will” is what some people like to call it. And interestingly, achieving steps 1 and 2 will require a broad range of skills. Less engineering, more communicating and selling. There’s no conundrum in getting bicycle infrastructure built, as I have heard some say – simply start at the start.

Unfortunately, there is no short cut to cycling utopia.

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

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Slow Down

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

A long time ago, I drafted this blog post but never officially published it. It was a story I picked up from the local community newspaper. Two mothers were concerned that cars on the residential street they lived on, were traveling in excess of 80kph. The speed limit is 50kph and the street is in a school zone.

“They fly through here. I don’t let my girls play out the front – I won’t even let them go to the letter box”. The street is used as a ‘rat run’. The women were planning to approach Auckland Transport to see if there was anything that could be done. I think the street has had speed bumps installed since then. I wonder if that made a difference.

At the time of writing it initially, I was not confident enough in my convictions to publish it. That’s since changed. I think it is no longer heresy to suggest that it will be demand and traffic calming rather than design and bike lanes that will make the biggest contribution to getting more people riding bicycles. Below, is the remainder of the original post. I have left it as I originally wrote it (apart from the inclusion of a link to a recent Wheeled Pedestrian post). Why? Because I have being going through the site’s archives recently to see if I have strayed from my original intentions. And I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised to see that my original observations and beliefs still hold true. However, being confident in my convictions is one thing. Convincing others of the merit of these convictions is a completely different matter. When you are in a hurry, progress is a relative thing.


It went like this…

A similar scenario plays out throughout Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The Death Star, revealed in all its glory. And in the context of promoting cycling as a serious transport form, it should be clear by now, that cycling will remain the preserve of the ‘brave and fearless’ while this dominant car culture remains unchallenged. These mothers won’t let their children out on the front lawn, let alone ride a bike.

So while quality separated cycle lanes is what’s required to get people riding bikes, it is not going to make any significant difference until the issues of speed, that these two mothers are concerned about, are addressed fully. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that addressing the issues of speed need to take place before the introduction of cycle infrastructure. Or at least they need to happen in tandem. Because regardless of the quality of a cycle lane, it is the element of subjective safety that will determine whether individual members of the public will feel safe to use the infrastructure.

That’s why the ‘build it and they will come’ approach needs to be taken at face value. Any quality infrastructure needs to be matched with a high provision of subjective safety. A significant reduction in speed will go someway to addressing that. In The Netherlands, the ‘Stop the Child Murder’ Campaign was the precursor to the bicycle infrastructure and culture that the country is now renowned for. Until something similar happens in New Zealand, our dreams of a cycling revolution will remain only dreams. If cycle lanes are built, they will remain largely empty.

‘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.

The Death Star

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

“The Death Star is the codename of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon. A weapon capable of destroying entire planets. The Death Star is an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation.”

The reign of the ‘Death Star’ continues. Unrestrained, unscathed, and as deadly as ever.

A range of strategies are going to be needed if we are to ever disempower the ‘Death Star’. Strategies that will discourage driving and encouraging people to take public transport or ride bicycles. Strategies that will increase the demand for traffic calming. Issues such as speed, urban sprawl, parking and infrastructure will all need to be brought to the public domain.

Responsibility for the obscenely high number of traffic deaths and injuries also needs to be placed firmly where it belongs. There real economic and social costs that driving has on our communities needs to be on the agenda. I suggest we copy the anti-smoking lobby and start by placing health warning labels on all cars and trucks.

E003111

Lethal weapon

To grow cycling numbers to a significant extent, the ‘Death Star’ needs to be defeated. Every journey starts with one step. Who is prepared to take on this noble cause? Who will take on the responsibility of reclaiming our cities from the tyranny of the motor vehicle?

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

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Before any serious cycling infrastructure gets built, you’re going to have to get them to like you

Japan: people on bikes but without any specific cycling infrastructure. How come?

Not a cyclist

Dear Wheeled,

I am a cyclist and an all-round nice guy. I want to be able to ride to my job in the city safely but they won’t build any separated cycle paths. Cycling is great. Everyone should be doing it. What do we have to do to get some quality cycle paths around here?

Regards,

A. Cyclist


 

Dear A. Cyclist,

I sympathise with your situation. It may be reassuring to know that you are not the only one struggling with this issue. This plays out in almost every city in the World. If we look closely at those cities that have high rates of cycling, we can see that not only do they have separated cycle paths, they have managed to create an overall transport environment that prioritises moving of people ahead of the moving of cars. This environment makes the city a more pleasant and easier place to move around for all its residents. In this kind of environment, the car is a guest and invited in under very strict conditions and requirements. This could not be any more different to how other cities treat cars. Cycling is given priority because it is proven to be such an efficient and sustainable form of transport. And most importantly, it has the ‘buy in’ of the general population. Cycling flourishes in cities which have a strong social contract like this.

But we have to remember that this is very forward thinking and did not come about by accident. Politicians rarely act unilaterally. They need to know that their actions will be supported by the voting public. The catalyst for this new transport environment came about as a result of some serious campaigning. You may have heard about the Dutch ‘Stop the Child Murder’ campaign. What distinguishes that campaign from what we see in non-cycling friendly cities is that that campaign had the backing of a large and broad representation of the population. It obviously also helped that there was already a lot of utility cycling taking place in The Netherlands.

Creating space on the street is a piece in the puzzle of ‘how’ to get people on bikes. But it doesn’t tell the ‘why’. Campaigning solely for separated cycle paths fails to tell a compelling, convincing or inclusive story.

Clearly, the city in which you live, does not have a similar broad based support for cycling. In fact I suggest that rather than just being ambivalent, there is a downright animosity towards cycling in your city. That’s what this research seems to confirm. Motorists just don’t ‘get’ cyclists. And while this scenario prevails, while there is so little support for cycling or cyclists, it’s unlikely that any significant number of separated cycle paths will be built. You may also find that if they do get built, they will be under-utilised and be at risk to #bikelash. Having the moral entitlement to be on the road with motorists isn’t worth much at this point. Sure, there is room for an emotional argument, but it needs to presented carefully, appropriately.

Well designed separated cycle paths may encourage people to ride bikes, but what strategies are being employed to get those desired cycle paths built?

I fear that making requests solely for separated bike lanes at this particular stage of the evolution, may be a strategy of limited value. If the public hate cycling, then that needs to be addressed. Specific strategies need to be employed for this purpose. An image of cycling needs to be presented that is broad, relevant and inclusive. You need to be very clear about the image of cycling you want to present. Not for cyclists like you and I. We know the distinction. But for the 99%. The non-cycling public. Mostly, they are only exposed to sports and recreational cycling with high doses of hi-viz, lycra and helmets.

An alternative needs to be provided. Differentiate recreational and sports cycling from the #wheeledpedestrian variety – slow, easy, comfortable, utility, urban, short distance – and keep repeating this with images and words, ad nauseum. It is this type that will have the widest appeal and outreach.

It will take more than well designed separated cycle paths to encourage people to ride bicycles. Slower car speeds would improve real and perceived safety for everyone too.

I also recommend that you campaign under a banner of safe streets for everyone. Once again, bringing it back to an issue of inclusivity. You need to avoid being seen by the public as a special interest group. That outlier label is going to be a difficult one to kick. You don’t want to make it any easier for those motorists to hate on you. It is not only motorists either. It always pains me when I see pedestrian advocates firing barbs at cyclists who ride on the footpath but somehow manage to sidestep the reality of the caroverkill situation and how it has arisen.

Mikael at copenhagenize regularly tells us how to build the cycling infrastructure but I am not sure if he has told us yet about how to build the political will. Or maybe he has, but we have just failed to hear to him.

It’s not an anti-motorist stance, but it is the car that is hogging all the space in our cities. It is the promotion of the car as the singular transport solution that is the cause of all the mayhem and destruction. Of course, it will not make you very popular to challenge the status-quo, but there are precedents. Are you aware of #VisionZero and similar campaigns? And there is no need to take it personally. Decades of policy settings have set up driving to succeed. Motorists are simply responding to behaviour cues. Try taking cigarettes off an addicted smoker. Try taking a car space away from a retailer’s front door. Same issue really.

At the moment, campaigning resembles a one sided monologue between cyclists and politicians with the politicians simply covering their ears with their hands.

Finally, an effective advocacy organisation is one that is financially independent and employs the people with the right skills. Effective campaigning would engage the wider public in a proactive way and be based around themes of –

  1. presenting a vision of a city that provides a wide range of financially and environmentally sustainable transport options that are safe, easy and convenient,
  2. presenting cycling as an effective transport solution; as an option that is safe, easy and convenient.

You’ll recognise it when you see it.

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

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Connections

 

I think that storytelling and visual imagery is an under-utilized strategy for shifting perceptions of cycling. And I think that the need to address how the public perceive cycling and how it is allowed to be presented in the media is overlooked.

The cycling I want to talk about is the one that is connected to making better cities. Build the political/public will and the cycle lanes will come?

Anyway, here’s my latest attempt to tell a story. Apologies for the low budget hack of the Modacity cycle chic videos. My hope is that someone(s) with some expertise in visual storytelling will take this idea and run cycle with it. 🙂

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

 

Ask me why I cycle without a helmet.

3 Little Birds

We are not against individuals choosing to wear helmets, however we are against mandatory helmet laws and shock-horror helmet promotions.

So say the European Cyclists’ Federation. And that’s an advocacy group we can trust on these matters. This is an advocacy group that is able to see the big picture with clarity and rationality. Unfortunately, it is a culture of fear that dominates, not rationality. Of course, the motor industry fully understands how it is financially lucrative to allow and encourage that kind of fear mongering.

If there was any rationality in arguing for the merits of helmet use, the car industry would also be promoting helmets for motorists. After all, 1.2 million people die annually in car accidents crashes. That’s about one third of the New Zealand population being killed every year. Meanwhile, the unfettered freedom to drive continues. And besides, if preventing deaths was a core objective, tobacco would have been legislated out of existence long ago.

It is the ‘outlier’ status and distorted perception of cycling that is the issue. Helmets do a fine job at reinforcing these realities.

I have learned to be way more scared when my teenage son gets into a car with his mates than when he chooses to be a pedestrian on wheels and cycle without a helmet. That’s rational.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The wheels are turning but are we making much progress?

Rat Running

It’s been a while. That’s mostly due to changes in personal circumstances rather than any existential crisis. Mostly. The increasingly cynical nature of the political landscape hasn’t done much to draw me to the keyboard either. What’s the point? It’s hard to feel motivated to engage with a political process that operates on a 24/7 spin cycle. Like, did you hear the one about how safer cycling for all New Zealanders is just around the corner. How do I know that? Well that’s what the Associate Transport Minister has just told us. So it must be true.

When I came back to live in Auckland about 16 years ago, I had this dream that my then young children would be riding their bikes to school by the time they were teenagers….oh well. I tell myself that I need to stop being so impatient and wait for the spin cycle to stop. Because it will stop one day, won’t it?

Backwards biking

As unpalatable as may be, it is essential that we are able to talk about our unhealthy relationship with cars and the negative impact that this has on people and our cities. I’m glad I am not a lone voice in questioning the status quo. That’s a bold and honest position. It’s a tough job and it needs to be done. If we are to make any real progress.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Build relationships and allegiances. Build finances and a strong independent voice. Build social campaigns based on positive stories. Build the interdisciplinary human infrastructure to make these changes possible.

Like a moth to a light, I have felt compelled to remain engaged in the process of creating change. How we move about our city and connect with people in it is something that touches all of our lives everyday. It’s impossible to ignore. But for me, the light has dimmed slightly. I am less sure of success. I have played my role and I think the voice I have presented has been honest, if not always welcome. I am happy to be corrected on that.

Infrastructure, policy and marketing, in equal measure have always been what I have advocated for. The idea of the #wheeledpedestrian was always intended to present a normal and more inclusive image of cycling. I will continue to do that in some form or other. I want to explore video some more. Storytelling in the visual sense. I also hope that the #wheeledpedestrian concept will continue without me needing to be at the helm. Someone?

New kid on the block

The new kid on the block

I also want to give some time to my new ‘pet project’, Ease Education. It’s about my attempts to create a learning environment that fits around the needs of the child rather than the other way around. Provocative? Yes. Worthy of exploring? I think so. Teaching and learning is my passion. I have been doing it for a lifetime and I want to document and share some of the magic that happens when you get the culture right.

And it is a cultural thing. I know this because even the most modern and innovative physical teaching environment will  fail to create better learning if outdated teaching methodologies are employed. It’s all about relationships and the quality of interactions. I see a clear crossover between making a great learning environment and making a great city for living.

As I like to repeat, “get it right for the children and you’ll get it right for everyone”. There is plenty of room for improvement. Evidence of our failings are well documented in the media…child mortality, overflowing prisons. How is it that we have lost touch with our humanness?

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you across the other side. Tell your friends. Everyone welcome.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

A wheeledpedestrian in Seattle on the 4th of July.

Guest Post: Dale Wambaugh of Seattle has taken up the invitation to share his #wheeledpedestrian story. Thanks Dale.

You can read more of Dale’s bicycle adventures here.

View of Seattle from ?? Bay

A view of the Seattle skyline from Alki Beach

Fireworks are a big part of the 4th of July celebration in the USA. The fireworks display in Seattle draws hundreds of thousands of viewers in every possible spot with a view of the lake. Unfortunately, I was required to work a 4-11pm shift in downtown Seattle. The display was due to end at about the same time as my shift, which meant traffic gridlock of epic proportions and streets full of drunken celebrants.

That meant only one thing…B-I-K-E!

It was also the hottest July 4th on record at 92F/33C and I wanted to arrive at work fresh and rested. So, I took advantage of the bicycle racks on the front of the Metro Transit buses. The bus stop is just two blocks from my home and I was dropped off just 1/2 mile from work. It worked perfectly. I got to work in plenty of time and the bus fare was just $2.50.

A phenomenon of events like this is that the crowd assembles over a period of several hours, but when the show is over, they all leave at once.

Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail would be perfect for the slow and gentle ride home. It’s a great rails-to-trails bicycle path that runs from the north end of Lake Union into the northern and eastern suburbs. It passes within 2 miles of my home.

Multi-modal transport

Multi-modal transport

My initial path from work took me quickly through some downtown side streets and into the maw of the retreating crowds. I had my helmet light blinking, my handlebar-mounted headlamp on full, two tail lights blinking away and a bell at my left thumb. Every intersection was being controlled by several police officers and traffic was so gridlocked that moving through with a bike was easy.

My route north to the trail was along the west side of the lake. People were walking back to their cars and many were tipsy after an evening in the heat waiting for the fireworks. They wandered around the parking lots, blocking traffic. This made it easy for me to pick my way through the stalled cars, laughing and shouting every time I rang my bell.

I continued across the Fremont drawbridge and connected with the trail, passing Gasworks Park along the way. This park was a main viewing area on the lake of the fireworks display but most people had left by the time I passed by.  The path was clear enough for full speed travel…just a few miles more and I would be home.

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

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