Sustainability

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.

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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.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Wheeled Pedestrian says farewell

Slipping away

 

Wheeled Pedestrian, the self proclaimed expert on bicycles, transport, cities and everything in between has slammed the government for its lack of action to turn New Zealand cities into urban and transport nirvanas. Wheeled Pedestrian, affectionately known as ‘wheeled’, says the government needs to give itself an ‘E’ grade for its effort and achievement to date.

Wheeled Pedestrian worked within cycling advocacy for a number of years before deciding that riding in a peloton was no longer his thing. With the zeal of a reformed smoker, he took to the internet to spread his message; that cycling could be about more than sports and recreation. He has announced his retirement saying that he felt he’d made limited progress although he did concede that he may have been effective on 1 April this year.

“For a while I was pedaling really hard and I thought I was going very fast. But then I realised that it was just because the chain had fallen off. I was disheartened but not really surprised by this realisation”. Wheeled Pedestrian said that there were some bright spots on the horizon but that the small amounts of funding being put into cycling were only going towards “shared paths to nowhere – to build these paths without building shops, cinemas, community centres etc alongside them, at the same time, was just ludicrous.”

Wheeled Pedestrian said that the car industry, like the sugar and fast food industries, was a very powerful lobby and any significant change would only happen when it was a less powerful lobby. “First you need to acknowledge the power of this powerful lobby and then you need a very powerful ray gun with which to shoot at it repeatedly, until it becomes less powerful. Unfortunately, ray guns with this kind of power are just not available yet”, he says. According to Wheeled Pedestrian, investing in human scale cities is a no brainer and that current levels of positivity and back slapping was “weird”.

When asked whether he thought he had made a significant contribution, Wheeled Pedestrian said he would let his 2-3 fans be the judge of that.

Wheeled won’t completely disappear from the internet just yet, however. He wants to spend a little bit of time on his other “lost cause“.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

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.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

People who live in cities that prioritise people ahead of cars have better sex lives

If traffic would just act like water, and evaporate.

If traffic would just act like water and evaporate.

Yay! She’s done it. Alice, the Tunnel Boring machine has finally completed boring the tunnel that will allow for the motorway encircling Auckland to be completed. For a city that is so reliant on driving, this really is a reason to celebrate. Although, I tend to see it more like a heroin addict finding out that a new shipment has just hit the street. Rather than encircling, I see strangling. But don’t mind me, I do tend to see things a bit differently.

Back in 2008, when this project was given the green light, the justification for this billion dollar investment largesse was about “easing traffic congestion and delivering significant economic growth in Auckland.” This project was so critical, we were told, it needed to be fast-tracked. The usual process of consultation was waived. Cycling advocates took a pragmatic approach to the situation and made sure the project included cycling connections. Afterall, what’s wrong with the government’s transport agency being the largest provider of cycle paths in the country? Pragmatism rules, ok!?

I don’t recall there being much resistance to this project. To do so would be to find yourself like the boy with his finger in the dyke. You would have to go home for dinner at some point in the evening. Accept it. Take what you can from it. Resistance was futile. Even if the arguments in support of this project didn’t stack up economically, the government has the PR budget and the cojones to make stuff happen. We have a PM who is extremely adept at making stuff up. Black is white. Until it isn’t. While scientists go about their job earnestly checking and rechecking the data, the real power brokers “seem free to operate beyond the law, beyond truth, beyond accountability, beyond good and evil.”

So how did it come to pass that, within this context and within the same celebratory announcement, did we get to witness a transport agency spokesperson downplaying the benefits of the project? Yes really. Was it accidental or was it a deliberate move to ease the motoring public into the reality that traffic is not like water; that it doesn’t evaporate? Maybe it was neither because as far as I could see, there was no media reaction to these comments. It was no big deal. The project’s almost been built. Business as usual.

I suggest there are some things to be learned from this lack of media or public reaction. I want a lot more from cycle advocates – I want them to emulate these experts and their techniques, in a positive way, for a good cause. Call it aspiration. A much bigger and glossier picture needs to be presented. Bolder, braver. Give us a new narrative. A city full of wheeledpedestrians is a win/win situation. Sell it like the motoring industry or tobacco industry do so well. More of the why, less of the how.

As a rule, advocacy tends to run on goodwill and cake stall budgets. A situation that makes them too fragile to be critiqued. Choose your partnerships wisely. Partnerships that limit your ability to speak the truth have their limitations. While it is nice to be inside the tent, pissing on the tent from the outside is not the default alternative. Maybe that’s why Russel Norman has decamped to a truly effective advocacy group.

Finally, never let the facts get in the way of a compelling narrative. I mean, I’m sure it’s true that people who live in cities that cater for people ahead of cars live healthier lives and have better sex. I wouldn’t bother to fact check that. Just trust me. It’s true. Go on, put it on a poster and practice keeping a straight face.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

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.

 

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.

The pathway to bicycle love

I grew up in a time when riding a bicycle just was; before it got reinvented as a sports and recreation thing. I recall those days with such fondness. The bicycle was a pathway to independence and life experiences.

We are depriving this experience on a growing number of generations. And even with the best intentions, my family are overly dependent on household car. I have had to go out of my way to recreate that experience; an experience that previous generations took for granted.

All ways of attracting people back to cycling need to be explored

All ways of attracting people back to cycling need to be explored

It’s going to be essential to recreate that sense of value that the bicycle can bring to individuals and society. We are going to have to be creative and strategic in reversing the trend.

Riding a bicycle needs to be presented as something that is a normal but life affirming thing to do.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

If it’s not about cycling, what is it about?

Biker on bridge

There’s a story waiting to be told.

It’s not about me, or you. It’s not about how individuals choose to ride. It’s not a personal issue at all. In fact, it’s not even about cycling.

It’s about better cities, mobility, transport equality, making roads safe for all road users. Once that has been established, it’s about choosing strategies that will help turn those goals into reality.

The bicycle is one of the potential solutions to building a better city. It’s a transport tool. Not to be confused with a sports and recreation tool. Effective advocacy can convince risk averse politicians and a sceptical public, that urban cycling is worth investing in, even if they personally don’t want to do it.

Every action needs to be predicated on those goals. Put the passion for ‘cycling’ in a separate box and start speaking in a language that the uninformed will understand. That will require the involvement of people with a wide range of expertise and interest. A ‘building a better city’ team.

It requires nuance and an ability to embrace contradiction. How do you get more people cycling without focussing on cycling? How do you make something that is so life affirming to be so common and normal?

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr or Vine