Making cycling something that everyone can relate to and do.



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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And into the vacuum rode “bikeability”.


A nightmare called “Bikeability”.

I used to believe that a cyclized city was just around the corner. I really believed that it wouldn’t be long before bicycles would feature prominently in a city’s transport landscape.

And then nothing.

And then the internet comes along and I see for my own eyes what cyclized cities look like and I converse with experts from these cities.

And then I quit my local advocacy group in frustration.

And then I hear Peter Zanzottera and Dr Hamish Mackie telling me that “bikeability” will be the game changer.

And then I say to myself, “aren’t you glad you retired“.

“Bikeability has taught cycle skills to 2 million UK children.” goes the sales pitch. Yeah, and how has that translated into people riding bikes in the UK? “Not so well”, was the reply. They have also chosen to ignore the contradictory research that says this programme will make no significant improvement to ridership rates. As if you needed research to prove it. The evidence is in the cities and towns devoid of people on bikes.

And the thing is, the very act of categorising an activity as something that needs to be taught creates a perception that it is complex; that it is not a normal, everyday activity. Riding a bike is not complex. Learning to ride a bike is not in the same category as learning to swim, as I have heard some cyclists claim it to be. I see evidence of this on a daily basis, in my capacity as a primary school teacher. I would even go so far as to suggest that bikeability and the notion that cycling needs to be taught operates as a barrier and red herring, in the same way that the helmet law does. Calm the streets, people! And then watch your city flourish. Unfortunately, that’s a much tougher proposition and focussing on teaching people to ride bikes simply delays the prospect of any serious change happening.

Either the good folk at NZTA are taking the piss, or they really are ignorant. I think I know the answer to this. There has to be some quid quo pro deal going on here between NZTA and the advocates. Seriously. Who needs enemies when you have allies like this? As I have said before, an effective advocacy organisation is one that is financially independent.

If you want to be good at something, you employ experts. Hey, just across the channel, there is a small country punching above its weight in terms of cycling rates. And don’t believe the line that it is a culture or language issue. The problem for NZTA is that the Dutch would tell it straight. They know what needs to be done. NZTA need a much more benign message. Something that they can work with to allow their motorway building programme to continue uninterrupted.

I’m not actually that surprised by this nonsense. It’s prevalent throughout society and organisations. “Wilful blindness” is all around us. It’s easy to recognise. This is what it looks like in the education sector.

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On why it’s important to make cycling look irresistible

First impressions

First impressions

I’ve finally figured out what it is about that phrase, “cycling’s booming”, that really grinds my gears. It’s a phrase used by advocates to present a message to transport budget holders and policy makers that members of the public are flocking to cycling and they would do so in even bigger numbers with the support of better funding. Meanwhile, the real rate of cycling remains stubbornly in ‘margin of error’ territory.

Claiming that cycling is booming in this way is an ‘inducement’. It’s an effective behaviour management strategy. Teachers and parents use it to great effect all the time. As the word implies, it’s a way of encouraging a desired behaviour to occur.

It works in the home or class setting because the person doing the inducing has leverage; is in a position of power. I love it when children in my classroom try the same strategy on me. It shows a great understanding of the fundamentals of human psychology, even if their sense of their own power in the relationship is misplaced.

Better funding for cycling will come about when transport budget holders and policy makers feel that they can no longer ignore the demands of an expectant public.

Whatever way you look at it, it all leads to the need to make cycling look irresistible. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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

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It’s time to reclaim the definition of cycling.

Hooning around/Go you good things.

Hooning around/Go you good things.

My friends and I always used bikes when we were growing up.  We were mobile and active from an early age.  From four-wheeled toys, to three-wheeled trikes and then finally onto the full monty; a two-wheeler; a ‘real’ bike.  Eventually this plaything grew into a tool that gave us independence, and opportunities to range further afield.  Oh, the stories, the memories.

When I returned to biking in my adult years it had all changed. It had all become about, you guessed it, sport and recreation. I followed the trend (which suggests that there was an element of choice – but there really wasn’t) though I never recall it ever fitting comfortably with me. I had no interest in kicking tyres and doing the technical talk about equipment, distances and times.

I have since made the transition back to how it all began for me. I no longer feel obliged to feign excitement about cycling. My bicycle serves a purpose. It helps me connect with people and place. I don’t love cycling as such, I do love what it offers.

It’s time to reclaim the definition of cycling.  It’s time to remind ourselves that it can also be just a simple and efficient way for connecting people with places.  Just like a #wheeledpedestrian.

‘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.


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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Reflections on our transport landscape.

I want to live in a city that promotes a humane transport culture.

I want to live in a city that promotes a humane transport culture.

I live in a city that does no favours to those who choose to get about by means other than a car. I have (rather foolishly, some will say) used other ways of getting around the city. You know; walking, riding a bicycle, public transport. The car is usually the only realistic option. But my household has also deliberately incorporated our transport choices into our life style.

The Ninja Princess and I have always been urban explorers. The bicycle has increasingly become the means of adventure and exploration. Increasingly, we have been documenting the stuff we have been doing. And experiencing the city by bicycle is a revelation for the senses. It really is magic.

Having her beside me on her own bicycle has also put a completely different lens on the ‘mobility in the city’ experience. My sense of the hostile state of the transport landscape has been heightened dramatically. We ride slowly. We avoid busy roads and intersections. We don’t always feel welcome on the road by motorists, even though we do our utmost to ‘share with care’. But most importantly, we keep on riding and exploring.

The stuff that appears on this site are simply reflections of my/our experiences in the transport landscape. Sometimes it may sound strongly worded and emotional. Or anti-car, heaven forbid. But it’s not. It’s just observational. I wish that the people who are responsible for planning our transport landscape will read this and go for a ride on their bicycles with their young children or grand children. It would be a valuable experience, for everyone.

If I was in charge of our city I would set it up like I set up my classroom of new entrants. Nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Everyone is catered for. It’s a cultural thing. And the children love it. It’s good for everyone. It feels human. Now that would be a radical departure from where we are currently at.

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

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