livablity

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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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.

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

Riding a bicycle can be as easy as walking, but faster.

You can help make riding a bicycle a normal, everyday activity.

You can help make riding a bicycle a normal, everyday activity.

It is not well known or appreciated that bicycles are ideal for short utility trips. And even in the most bicycle unfriendly city, many of the journeys we do every day are ideally suited to and achievable by bicycle. So while you are waiting for those separated cycle paths to be built, dust off your bike and practice doing some simple and easy trips around your neighbourhood. Yes, you may need to ride on the footpath slowly when it feels safer to do so, or walk up a few hills to begin with but hey, just getting started is the most important thing.

Ignore those people who are inclined to make cycling sound more difficult than it actually is. You will soon find that a short trip on a bike is as easy as walking. Ignore invitations to participate in events like ‘Bike to Work’ week. At least initially. Those are for seasoned #cyclists and may require you to ride a longer distance and in heavier traffic than you are prepared to do just at the moment. You are aiming to be a #wheeledpedestrian.

Just get into it gently. It may have been a long time since you have been on a bike. But you won’t have forgotten the buzz and excitement of rolling along as though you were on a magic carpet, or the sense of achievement of getting to your destination under your own steam. Go slowly. You don’t want to get all sweaty, do you.

You may also find that your bicycle is not as comfortable or as practical as you wish. There is a reason for that. You are probably riding a bicycle that has fat knobby tires. You will probably also find that you are leaning forward. This puts extra weight on your arms and means that you are having to lift your head up into an uncomfortable position.

This bicycle’s lack of mudguards may also make it likely that you will be covered in road spray if the roads are slightly wet when you are riding. There are bicycles available that can enhance your riding experience. They are perfect for the aspiring #wheeledpedestrian. Go on-line and have a browse. It’s quite possible that the bicycle you need is not available at your local retailer. It is also quite possible that your local retailer will not understand your needs and try to convince you to buy something that is not suitable for you.

Finally, share your story. Inspire others. Help make riding a bicycle a normal, everyday activity again.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The bicycle is not the main character in this story.

It's not about the bicycle, actually.

It’s not about the bicycle, actually.

It was mid-summer and we had gone to watch New Zealand’s only professional football team play at Eden Park. We decided to stop for a bite to eat on the way home. It rained a little. By the time we got to this bridge it had got dark. The sensible member of the travelling party had carried on ahead while the #NinjaPrincess and I dawdled a little bit. The bridge lighting was playing tricks with the rain and this was all set against a splendid backdrop.

I don’t remember whether our team won or not but I still have a strong memory of the day. That’s because I’m human and I seek human connections and happy experiences. My happiness quotient was overflowing. The bicycle played a very strong supporting role in this experience. But it didn’t take centre stage. I never allow that to happen.

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

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Recruiting now: Wheeled Pedestrians

Cyclists Dismount

 

Some traffic engineers and some politicians are fighting a determined but ultimately futile battle against the natural order. One day, this stupid sign will be erased and replaced with a red carpet. That would be the common sense approach; the human way. A ‪#‎wheeledpedestrian‬ is not intent on breaking rules. It’s just that some rules and attitudes are so stupid, they deserve to be ignored.

In the meanwhile, please take note of all the signs, physical and symbolic, that indicate how far away we are from achieving the grand prize; of creating cities that are great for people, rather than cars. One day, the quantity of #wheeledpedestrians will be one of the measures of a city’s quality. There’s work to be done.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr, or Instagram.

12 Questions: How to be a Wheeled Pedestrian

Riding slowly

Challenging perceptions that cycling is only for the fast and sporty.

1. What do I do if it’s raining?  Put on a raincoat and, ride slowly.

2. What do I do if it’s hot?  Wear something light and, ride slowly.

3. What do I do if it’s cold?  Put on something warm and, ride slowly.

4. What do I do if I have things to carry?  Put them on a carrier, in pannier bags or in a basket and, ride slowly.

5. What do I do if it’s hilly where I live?  Get a bike with gears or walk up the steepest part and, ride slowly.

6. What do I do if I want to socialise with friends?  Dress as you would normally and, ride slowly.

7. What do I do if I have to leave my bicycle?  Get a good lock and, ride slowly.

8. What do I do if my friends or neighbours see me riding a bicycle?  Smile, feel smug and, ride slowly.

9. What do I do if water from the road splashes up on me?  Fit mudguards to your bike and, ride slowly.

10. What do I do if I need to be somewhere in a hurry?  Leave earlier and, ride slowly.

11. What do I do if there is a lot of traffic and I don’t feel so safe?  Ride on the footpath when it feels prudent to do so and, ride slowly.

12. What do I do if I’m fashion conscious?  Buy a stylish bicycle, sit up and, ride slowly. Congratulations! You are the real deal.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Success in Seville?

Wheeled Pedestrian

There are many things that could be done that would allow urban cycling to flourish.

Riding a bicycle is easy. It’s an extension of walking and it’s a perfect transport tool for short journeys. But the potential of the bicycle to play a bigger role in the transport landscape is being stymied by government policies that give priority to driving.

The average number of bikes used daily in the city rose from just over 6,000 to more than 70,000.

Our cities are too full of fast moving cars and motorists that have an insatiable sense of entitlement. It will be impossible for the bicycle to flourish while this remains unchanged. In order to get more people riding bicycles as a form of transport, the environment needs to be the focus of our attention. It needs to be made much better. Providing good quality infrastructure is one assured way of getting people to use bicycles for transport purposes.

We have Seville to validate that claim. When connected and safe bicycle lanes were built in Seville, there was a dramatic increase in the number of people cycling on those routes – the number of bike trips multiplied 11-fold in a few years. The average number of bikes used daily, in the city, rose from just over 6,000 to more than 70,000. The latest count found 6% of all trips were made by bike.

But it’s how that infrastructure got built in the first place that also needs to be examined. There appears to be a large element of fortuity surrounding the construction of these bicycle lanes. That they were constructed without significant opposition and before the opposition could act against them even surprised the advocates.

The Seville experience is useful in that it enhances the ‘build it and they will come’ adage but it does nothing to explain how the cycle lanes got to be built in the first place.

The questions that need to be asked of Seville now are;

  • can this bicycle network be grown and developed further?
  • can it also be emulated in other Spanish cities?

Finding answers to these questions is important because experience tells us that your average motorist doesn’t take too kindly to any requests to relinquish highly contested street space. The biggest barrier to building cycle lanes in a typical urban environment is the requirement of motorists being willing to cede territory. People on bicycles belong on the street. They want to be able to access shops, restaurants, schools and work places. But in the current set up, they play second fiddle to people in cars. Some cities are trying to buy their way out of the problem with all sorts of crazy non-solutions. It’s like wanting to have your cake and eating it too.

The road design that is currently offered to us, provides space for moving cars, parking cars and for pedestrians. When a separated space for cycling doesn’t exist, cycling is treated like all other motorised vehicles. This scenario explains why the people who do cycle in these conditions tend to ride and dress for the occasion…like warriors going into battle.

The Seville experience is useful in that it enhances the ‘build it and they will come’ adage but it does nothing to explain how the cycle lanes got to be built in the first place. I’m inclined to think of it in terms of an aberration. Where was the backlash and the resistance? Seville just makes it all look too easy.

The enormous positive benefits of urban cycling are unequivocal. There are a few cities that have already embraced urban cycling. They provide us with fully functional models to emulate. But we are going to have to dig deeper if we are to find the necessary tools for persuading a larger number of the population to support urban cycling; to convince motorists to cede some territory or politicians to reverse decades of harmful transport and land use policies.

There are many benefits of having a cyclised city. And these benefits of wealth and well-being are enjoyed by the community at large. These benefits need to be sold to a sceptical public.

When the (already strong) urban cycling culture in The Netherlands was threatened by a motoring tsunami, cycling advocates engaged in some heavy duty campaigning. Whole communities rallied to ensure that culture was retained. There were protests. They employed a strongly worded campaign called ‘Stop the Child Murder’. Cycle lanes are built on THAT kind of support.

There are many benefits of having a cyclised city. And these benefits of wealth and well-being are enjoyed by the community at large. These benefits need to be sold to a sceptical public. Campaigns for separate cycle paths need to be presented as bringing benefits to everyone and not just to a special interest group. A wider public audience needs to be engaged.

That’s why it’s important to make cycling look normal and appealing. The process of making cycling appeal to a wide audience needs to be viewed as a specific goal and therefore, specific strategies need to be employed to make it happen. So step aside cycling enthusiasts, it’s time to call in the marketing experts. Dare I suggest, look to big tobacco and big motoring for inspiration.

By all means, celebrate the success in Seville. But also see the real task at hand. It will take more than polite requests to convince the current breed of mainstream politicians that cycle lanes need to be built. At the present time, a vote for cycling equates to an act of political suicide. The building of cycle lanes may be the prize but all focus should now be on building political will. Achieving that task will require a completely different skill set. Being able to ride a bicycle may not even be one of the required skills.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

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.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.