Auckland Transport

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.

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Auckland, the city of bicycles?

Rat running

It’s nice to hear that, according to the latest survey, the number of people riding bicycles in Auckland is up. Though it seems as though they are the recreational type, waiting to be converted to the wheeledpedestrian type.

I can’t vouch for the numbers. I’m just too busy avoiding motorists using my “designated cycleway” as a rat run. We are told that new motorways will keep motorists off local streets. I prefer the theory that says motorways just encourage more use – “induced demand”, is the official term.

I’ve been doing a little casual investigation. It would appear that motorists use Hendry Ave to get between Onehunga and Hillsborough Rd. In the video, the motorist does a right hand turn onto Hillsborough Rd and then makes a quick left onto the motorway on ramp. And just to clarify, Hillsborough Rd ticks all the boxes for many of Auckland’s arterial roads. It’s residential, high speed and 4 laned (in part).

Now, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the benefit the separated cycleway, built as part of the motorway construction, has provided me. But it’s not continuous and I have to take extreme caution when using the non-connected parts, such as Hendry Ave.

But really, Auckland as a cycling city? Can’t see it myself. Not while motorists are allowed to run so free and easy. Sure, provide the necessary infrastructure for cycling. Those pull factors are critical. But something also needs to be done to push those motorists out of their cars. Make it harder, more expensive to drive and park. Sell the vision of a city that prioritises the moving of people instead of cars.

Stopping motorists rat running through local residential streets would benefit more than just people on bikes. Those people just don’t know it yet. Which seems to explain quite a lot, I think. Clearly, there is work to be done.

And sorry, I don’t know what those two lads on the fence line were doing.

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

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Driven to distraction.

Distracted drivers

Distracted drivers kill

It is not widely known or accepted that the current approach to road safety takes place in a ‘shit happens/blame the victim’ kind of way.  So it would be nice if this latest local campaign was the beginning of a new era; to address the real issues of road safety.  A metaphorical first step in the process of coming to a general consensus around the negative consequences of cars; that road safety is a serious issue and deserves our undivided attention- pun intended.  So this kind of campaign could be the very beginnings of our first, tentative steps at starting that process.  Could be…

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour.

In terms of making a real difference, this kind of campaign is a ‘soft option’ and low level initiative but a necessary first step to any improvements.  Let me explain.  There is already a large number of drivers who understand the risks to themselves and other road users, and drive appropriately (given that the road infrastructure is designed in a way that is like an open invitation to drive too fast and unforgiving of errors).

There is also a large group of drivers who identify themselves as law abiding citizens but, due to a pervasive culture of casualness, do not take the issue of driving as seriously as it needs to be.  This is the group that this kind of campaign targets because they can be taught to drive slowly, safely and respectfully. It’s this group that can help shift the balance towards a social contract that makes that kind of behaviour normal.

…most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour. Being smoke-free is presented as something that is normal and desirable.  And get celebrities to start supporting the cause.  (Let’s clarify something first; hands-free car phones are not safe like Kerre suggests).  But of course, I hear ya… a media campaign alone will never be enough.  It needs to followed up by intense police intervention and enforcement.  The police need to be ready and able to counter the inevitable backlash of ‘waging a war on motorists’ and just focused on revenue gathering.  This is not a victory to be won over night.  Backlash should be expected.

And of course, policies and laws such as reduced speed limits and tougher driving tests need to be introduced and most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.  Good public transport that is inexpensive, fast and efficient also needs to be provided as an alternative to driving.  Cycling and walking needs to be made safe and accessible to all.  It is a massive issue and change needs  to be made systematically and strategically.  There is too much at stake.

There is a third category of drivers that unfortunately, will be harder to shift.  It is that minority of drivers who don’t respond to normal behavioural cues.  The industries of big tobacco, big oil and big car have done their job so well.  Seriously.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that I can see the future.  I am going to predict the effectiveness of this campaign based on the experience of the last one.  I hope my prediction is wrong.

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

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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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Trust me, you’ll know if a cycleway has been designed well.

Complete?

You are invited to wait here before turning right into the new cycleway.

I went out recently on my bike to photograph some parts of the new Dominion Rd Parallel Cycle Path. (#domcycle) I ride it regularly with the #NinjaPrincess. We know it well. It’s for that reason that I have been watching this project closely. I have written about it before and I will have plenty more to say about it once it has been officially opened. I have been told that it will be officially opened and ready for the new school year in early February 2015. Apart from turning on the traffic signals, all the infrastructure appears to be complete. But even if some amazing new infrastructure is installed during the next 4 weeks of the New Year holiday period, I still believe that this new cycleway project will fail to deliver on its brief of…

…making cycling an attractive, easy, and safe transport and recreation option for communities around the Dominion Road corridor…

Let me explain why.

If Auckland Transport was serious about getting more people riding bicycles in this vicinity, the whole project would have been handled differently.

  • There would be full community (household, school, business) engagement.
  • There would be targets set and and those targets would be shared with the key stakeholders.
  • There would be extensive promotion and marketing.

And what about the new infrastructure?

Well, let’s put it this way. I always know if a cycleway has been designed right. The #NinjaPrincess is my expert in such matters. She is one of the customers whose needs should be considered most highly when such infrastructure is being designed and built.

Give me a city that is made to fit the people, rather than a city where the people are made to fit it.

It is certain that every box in the performance specifications, set by the traffic engineers, has been ticked. But that is no guarantee that it will be a design that is conducive to the wider range of the 8-80 demographic. There is a difference between surviving and flourishing.

So while I don’t pretend to have the expertise of the traffic engineers who have installed this new infrastructure, nor do traffic engineers have the same valuable world view that the #NinjaPrincess possesses. It would be nice to think that her view has some value in the process of designing and building cycleways.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that the presence of speed bumps, green paint and some signalised intersections will automatically;

  1. slow motorists down,
  2. reduce traffic flow,
  3. make motorists give people on bicycles more space when overtaking,
  4. make people on bicycles ‘feel’ safer,
  5. increase the number of people riding bicycles without any further intervention.
Yes, it looks like cycling infrastructure but is it effective?

It’s called cycling infrastructure, apparently.

This is also my justification for the limited fondness I have for the bicycle training sessions that Auckland Transport offers to school students. The onus needs to be taken off the children and onto the engineers and politicians who are responsible for creating the urban environment that we live and move in.

‘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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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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New cycle path, missed opportunity.

via Auckland Transport

John Key prepares to ride the Grafton Gully cycle path. Image via Auckland Transport.

Congratulations Auckland. You are now the proud owners of a brand new, high quality, dedicated cycle path. The new ‘Grafton Gully’ path connects the CBD to the North Western cycle path. It runs parallel to one of Auckland’s motorway corridors so you will be safe from those speeding cars, at least while you are on the path. Anything that gets more people cycling or helps those people already doing it to continue cycling, has got to be a good thing.

The path, of course, has it’s limits. The main one being that it runs beside the motorway. It has no street frontage; the places that people want to go. Shopping, dining and stuff.

One day, I would also hope that Aucklanders can organise themselves into an advocacy group that operates at a distance from the organisation that builds motorways for us. The argument for building a cyclised city is surely more compelling than having to rely on a motorway being built through your neighbourhood. Will the building of cycle paths all come to a sudden end when the last motorway is built? Pejorative suggestion?, but still…it’s hard to criticise a government’s motorway obsession if a cycle path is thrown in to sweeten the deal. Is it a fair price for being unable to speak directly and critically?

When I saw the photo of John Key riding a bicycle on the newly opened path, I also concluded that this was a missed opportunity.

Tweet

Celebrating the opening of a cycling path and promoting cycling as something that all New Zealanders should and could be doing, are not the same thing. Making cycling look normal is critical and far from a trivial matter. Here was a chance to direct the conversation. The cameras and eye balls of the nation were momentarily trained on cycling. A misunderstood concept for most. It’s a serious task…ensuring that the PM and all New Zealanders can describe in unequivocal terms what the ingredients of a cyclised city are.

This was an opportunity to front foot the story for the non-cycling public. This was an opportunity to preempt the questions and doubts about the role of cycling in the city. The stakes are too high for anything to be left to chance. Look to the car, sugar and tobacco industry for ideas and inspiration. Cycling has so many good things going for it, but on its own that is not enough. It needs a really serious nudge. And it’s not as though our PM hasn’t enjoyed the wheeled pedestrian experience before.

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

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Build the ‘political will’ and the cycle lanes will come.

Cycling is an extension of walking.

Riding a bicycle is an extension of walking.

Infrastructure, policy and promotion are the key ingredients needed to bring about a city full of bicycles. And a city full of bicycles will bring about better health outcomes, better environmental outcomes, better financial outcomes and better social outcomes. And remember, it’s a city full of wheeled pedestrians that we are trying to create. Daily, ordinary transport journeys. A to B. Short distances. An extension of walking. No sweat.

I have argued here before that cycling advocacy is the domain of the current breed of cyclist. Most attention and energy is put into getting the necessary infrastructure built. That is, the building of cycle lanes for cyclists. Meanwhile, the promotional aspects, necessary to influence the people who are not currently cycling, are largely overlooked. But building infrastructure requires a reallocation of space and a range of alternative transport policies. And that will only happen on the back of strong ‘political will’. That key ingredient is lacking at present. So, what is ‘political will’? How would we build it? How would we know if we had it?

It’s time to broaden our approach. By turning our attention to building ‘political will’ we may find that there will be less resistance to building cycle lanes or implementing bicycle friendly transport policies.

It seems to me that most efforts to create ‘political will’ are focused on trying to directly influence that amorphous blob called the local transport authority. Any necessary foundation work has been neglected. Here’s the scenario. A cyclist dies as a result of a collision with a vehicle. Pockets of moral outrage spring forth from a small bunch of cyclists, pleading and cajoling the authority to make the roads safe for cyclists. ‘There is a mandate for change’, they say. But they aren’t speaking on behalf of all citizens, they are speaking on behalf of cyclists. It’s unhelpful to assume that everyone understands the enormous benefits that cycling brings to a community. And besides, cars are in our DNA. The scales are tipped in favour of driving.

There is no way to short circuit the process of change. As we all know, being right is a guarantee of nothing in this world.

But even if all the power brokers at the so-called amorphous blob agreed with these cyclists’ sentiments and arguments, the very profound weight of motordom’s cultural legacy would make any significant change nigh impossible. Moral outrage will well and truly be deflected by the time it reaches the inner sanctums of the transport authority. Real public opinion, the stuff you see in the comments section of your local paper, will guarantee significant inaction. The ‘political will’ that is so desperately needed, sits with the people who reside in the city. And at present, most of those people expect to be able drive just as they have always done.

So where to from here?

1. Make cycling look normal. And make the living in a city that caters for people ahead of cars look normal. It’s the whole package that needs to be promoted. Those are tasks for experts in marketing, not for avid cyclists.

2.  Engage at a community level and start to reframe the debate. Bicycles are just one of the key ingredients in a vibrant, sustainable community. Change will come about as a result of grassroots support. Politicians are emotional beings. They were children once.

Growing ‘political will’ in a community setting is a bit like creating a behaviour culture in a classroom. It requires the implementation of a range of complimentary strategies. It is all about defining and selling the merits of the desired behaviour. Identifying those who are already modelling the desired behaviour. Highlighting, celebrating and rewarding that behaviour. Offering encouragement and rewards to those who are willing to adopt the desired behaviour. Establishing and enforcing consequences for not following the desired behaviour.

Change is coming. But how do we speed it up? It would be a shame to have to rely on change coming in the form of a black swan moment.

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

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Driving transport inequality.

check before you step

Damn straight – check before you step.

Stories on the topic of road safety seem to be finding their way into the community paper on a regular basis these days. The stories all run to a familiar theme,

1. A local person reflects on a personal life threatening encounter with a speeding car and the impact speeding traffic has on their community.

2. The issue is referred to the local transport agency. (Sometimes a community board politician will intervene before referring it to the transport agency).

3. Everything continues as if nothing happened.

I kid you not. Check out how Auckland Transport responded to a recent ‘incident’,

In the last five years there have been two rear-end crashes recorded close to the crossing. Nobody has been injured in these crashes.

There have not been any cases of pedestrians being hit reported to Auckland Transport.

So in effect, Auckland Transport is saying that the lack of a fatality is a sufficient indicator that a road is safe for all road users.  Safety is as much about perception as it is about reality. It’s a feeling. Because “cars project an envelope of danger by their very presence”.

I think the citizen who generated this latest tale of road unsafety deserves a medal for speaking the truth for us all.

I’ve got lots of clients who don’t let their children walk to school because they have to cross here and it’s too dangerous.

In the meanwhile, Auckland Transport offers us their Travelwise programme. The one that teaches children how to identify ‘sneaky driveways’ and how to put their helmets on correctly. Sheesh.

So, while I am encouraged to see more people speak up about these safety issues, it still feels like there is a long way to go before we will see some systemic change. The people who are questioning the status-quo need to be reassured that their instincts are correct. Priority on our streets has been given over to moving mass volumes of vehicles at high speed. We live in communities that are dominated by cars, at the expense of people. And it’s the people at the extreme ends of the 8-80 age group that are the most vulnerable. Transport inequality.

Needless to say, it’s not only cyclists who will benefit when a city manages to deal with its car addiction.

The next step is to build a united voice of advocacy; to question and challenge, to provoke change amongst the decision makers. That would be fun.

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

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