advocacy

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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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.

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