sustainability

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.

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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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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.

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.

Submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ draft report.

SaferJourneysReport_01

 

Back in 2014 I made a submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ consultation. This blog post reflects what I tried to convey in my submission. It still represents my view on how I think we need to approach the task of getting more people using bicycles as a form of transport – equal measures of infrastructure, policy and marketing. How are we doing since then, I wonder?

I support the draft recommendations proposed by the Cycling Safety Panel and its desire to achieve a transport landscape that allows for the safe movement of people on bicycles. I am encouraged by the panel’s acknowledgement and understanding of the benefits that cycling brings and the barriers to making that happen, as detailed below:-

1. Participation in cycling and cycling safety are inextricably linked.
2. Increases in cycling participation will bring safety benefits to individuals and to the wider community alike.
3. Economic and societal benefits of investing in cycling are irrefutable.
4. Riding a bicycle is inherently safe and the prevention of crashes with motor vehicles is the issue that needs to be addressed.

However, I am concerned that the panel’s recommendations lack the necessary clarity and boldness. Without any clearly stated cycling mode share targets set, there is a risk that the reports recommendations will not achieve its stated goals.

Infrastructure

In New Zealand’s current transport landscape, cyclists are catered for as though they are two-wheeled motor vehicles. This is problematic because cycling is more akin to walking than driving. If we are to be successful in encouraging more people to cycle, this reality needs to be addressed. In New Zealand we rely on campaigns such as ‘Share the road’ which suggest that all road users have equal responsibility to stay safe. Whereas the Dutch have set the standard for best practice in this area. It is called ‘Sustainable Safety‘. As the draft report acknowledges, riding a bicycle is inherently safe. It is being hit by a fast moving vehicle that makes it unsafe. The current environment is far from equal.

Quality infrastructure is the critical factor in creating a transport environment that encourages people to choose to ride a bicycle on a daily basis for transport purposes. This infrastructure comes in a variety of forms. The creation of  ‘mobility environments‘ has changed the way road transport is approached. Infrastructure is designed to cater for all road users. Safety is designed into the infrastructure.

A well designed transport/mobility environment:-

  • makes cycling irresistible,
  • is built for the 99% who aren’t cycling now but who could be cycling,
  • follows ‘desire lines’ and goes where people want to go,
  • recognises cyclists are just fast-moving pedestrians and does not try to treat them as cars,
  • has infrastructure that will take cyclists to common destinations such as jobs, shops, businesses and schools.

Policy

Creating a cyclised city will not happen in isolation. Transport policies that promote cars ahead of other forms of transport will make it less likely for people to choose to switch to riding a bicycle. The way a city is designed will impact on the rate of cycling uptake. Instead of encouraging sprawl, housing needs to be built around transport hubs and multi-modal transport needs to be encouraged and supported.

A well designed city is one in which people live in an environment that allows them to work and play in close proximity. It’s about reducing travel demand and creating opportunities for short journeys to be achieved by bicycle. Minimum car parking requirements need to be removed from city planning laws to enable this transition to alternative transport to happen.

Cities that have high rates of everyday cycling also have the following features in common:-

  • reduced speed limits,
  • well developed road behaviour social contracts,
  • freedom to choose to wear a bicycle helmet,
  • bike share programmes.

Marketing 

The ‘normalised’ culture of cycling that we need does not come about by accident. It comes about as a result of a range of deliberate strategic interventions. The need for quality infrastructure and supportive transport policies have already been mentioned. But there is also a role for high quality marketing that promotes the value of everyday cycling. The value of cycling needs to be ‘sold’ to the public in order to build the political will that is essential to encourage a shift away from our present car-centric transport policies towards socially and economically sustainable transport options.

The word ‘cycling’ needs to become synonymous with meaning ‘short trips in normal clothes on a comfortable bike for people between the age of 8-80, male or female.

The dominant perception of cycling at the moment is that it is for sports and recreational purposes; for the fit, brave or foolhardy. That’s a massive barrier to overcome, if we are to get the 99% of people who aren’t cycling now, to consider giving cycling a go. Like issues of real safety are dealt with by building quality infrastructure, issues of perceived safety need to be taken seriously too and addressed by implementing quality marketing.

Currently, cycling promotion focuses on safety by making it look dangerous. It focuses on the wearing of helmets and hi-viz. This kind of scare mongering plays into the fears of non-cyclists by reinforcing their current misplaced beliefs. Even the word ‘cycling’ creates misconceptions. That is why you will see the phrase ‘wheeled pedestrian cycling’ or ‘riding a bicycle’ now being used instead.

The full implementation of the above key strategies of infrastructure, policy and marketing will be needed to bring about the success that the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ report says that it desires. Underpinning this success will be a sufficient level of funding. A level of funding that reflects the value and contribution a city full of people on bicycles brings.

‘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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Cycle lanes, credibility and culture.

Growing the new breed of people on bicycles is the challenge.

Where is the new breed of people on bikes coming from?

In my previous post, I argued that in order to bring cycling to the masses, it’s going to be important essential to start developing a wider variety of strategies than just simply making requests for separated cycle lanes. We will need to look beyond the obvious. While we languish at a cycling mode share that is in margin of error territory, there are cities around the world that are going gangbusters. Cycling is gaining status and credibility as an everyday transport option .

A network of separated cycle paths on the city’s main roads is of course, the ultimate prize. That’s the obvious commonality that exists between cities with high rates of cycling mode share. It’s a worthy goal to aspire to. After all, people on bicycles want to go to the same destinations as motorists. And the value of such infrastructure is not just in making life safer and more pleasant for cyclists. It puts a value on people. It invites motorists to pay closer attention to what’s happening on the street around them. It entices people to get out of their metal four-wheeled boxes and engage with their community. But that’s not all.

Putting quality cycle paths on the city’s main routes elevates cycling’s status. It puts it front and centre of city life. It’s an ingredient to create the vibrant city that we want and need. So while all new cycle lanes are to be celebrated, being directed to follow the flow line of a motorway or weave through the back residential streets is a clear reminder that cycling still is yet to make the ‘credibility cut’. Not all cycle lanes were created equally, so to speak.

It would be fantastic if all of a sudden the government of the day, as a result of enduring ongoing polite requests from cyclists, started pouring money into building cycle lanes on all the city’s main roads. But having been an eyewitness to cycling’s decline over past decades, I have come to the conclusion that it just aint gonna happen like that. And even if it did, there is significant risk that there would be insufficient people on bicycles to fill them. The cycle lanes would remain empty, raising the ire of disgruntled motorists even further.

Even though quality separated cycle lanes may be the obvious connection between cyclised cities, I suggest that we are overlooking other key elements that will provide cycling with the credibility factor it so desperately needs. As I have already suggested, laying cycle paths throughout a city is not going to guarantee a city full of bicycles. Just take a look at Stevenage. And of course, separated cycle lanes are neither necessary or practical in all circumstances.

We seem to have overlooked all the strategies and steps cyclised cities have undertaken to achieve that enviable status.

It appears to me that we have been over-reliant on simply demanding separated cycle lanes on busy roads without doing the necessary preliminary and complementary ground work. It’s all too one-dimensional. Cycling makes sense to those who do it already. And sure, there is a growing empathy amongst the public (largely due to being increasing exposed to overseas models) who see the value in cycling. But just like knowing that stopping smoking would be good for me, it is not a guarantee that I will do it. And having a separated cycle lane installed on a main road is an action that would require motorists and retailers ceding car parking space as well as as requiring other road users to make a whole host of psychological adjustments.

So rather than just cycle lanes being the common factor between cyclised cities, I would suggest that there is much more to it. These cities all have a strong ‘cycling culture’. I know this term carries baggage with it but I suggest we just take it at face value for a moment. Just because you can’t touch it, doesn’t mean it’s not real. In fact, these cyclised cities have more than a ‘cycling culture’, they have a transport culture that prioritises moving people over moving cars. They have a strong social contract that ensures the most vulnerable road users are afforded the greatest protection. Policies are put in place to make that possible. Cyclists and users of public transport are prioritised and made to feel welcome. It is a culture that has been developed, promoted and nurtured.

The Dutch have a history of a strong city cycling culture. It existed before cars threatened to overrun their cities during the post war oil boom years. Their advocates of cycling foresaw the risk this car boom posed and adopted a ‘Stop the Child Murder’ campaign. It was a campaign that was targeted at a broad audience. Here in New Zealand we have dealt with avoiding the child murder by simply driving our kids everywhere. Mandating for compulsory helmet use has simply made cycling more marginal and less credible. Problem swept under the carpet. For the time being.

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

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Catering for people on bicycles can increase property values.

Blah blah blah

It’s just a sign.

This small, unobtrusive bicycle sign can be found throughout parts of Mt Eden and Sandringham, Auckland. It indicates the existence of ‘cycleways’ that run parallel to Dominion Rd through residential suburbs. I refer to them tentatively as ‘cycleways’ because at present, you see more motorists on this network of roads than people on bicycles. During peak travel times, they become ‘rat runs’ for motorists. But according to Auckland Transport, this is all set to change.

The routes are designed to make cycling an attractive, easy, and safe transport and recreation option for communities around the Dominion Road corridor and will provide local connections to schools and parks. The new routes will cover about 12 kilometres on roads and through parks, passing 16 schools serving 12,000 pupils. New safe cycle crossings will be constructed on Balmoral Road and Mt Albert Road.

The PR goes on to suggest that these routes could also be used as a route to the city. Dream on! That is patently false. Apart from being excruciatingly circuitous, there is no decent cycling-friendly infrastructure from where these ‘cycleways’ end, into the city centre. It also needs to be noted that Auckland Transport opted out of providing separated cycle paths on Dominion Rd when the original upgrade was first proposed. ‘Too expensive’ was the call, I think.

So, what does this all mean? What can we expect to see along this ‘cycleway’ when all the construction crew have finally departed?

Although this kind of thing seems rather new and innovative to us here in ‘Godzone’, this kind of mobility environment has been in existence for some time in other cities around the world. In some cities they are called ‘cycling boulevards’ and in others, they are called ‘neighbourhood greenways’. Whatever you call them, if they are done well, they have the potential to bring major benefits to the local community. Of course, like all good urban transport designs, they are based on the Woonerf concept from the Netherlands.

They are used as a way of providing alternative transport options for short, local trips and making residential environments safer and more pleasant. Evidence indicates that the reduced vehicular traffic and access to this kind of facility increases property values and social connections along that corridor. All that’s required is a reduction in the speed limit to 30 km/hr, some traffic-calming barriers to prevent rat running, removal of some stop signs to permit the free flow of bicycle traffic, some signage and the possible addition of traffic signals to allow cyclists to get across the busier arterial roads.

Nor are the routes designated as only for people on bicycles. These mobility corridors can be used by residents from all walks of life and of all ages. Whether they are walking the dog, skateboarding, socialising with neighbours, or simply kicking a ball on the street. Here’s a video for you to watch to give you an idea of how they have been introduced into some cities in the U.S.A and Canada.

But will people in Auckland make the shift to bikes and use these greenways/mobility corridors?

Well, the disconnection at Burnley Tce doesn’t help. And the jury is out as to whether Auckland Transport’s traffic engineering interventions will:-

  • reduce the flow of non-resident motorists using these mobility corridors as through routes,
  • reduce the speed of motorists travelling on these mobility corridors.

Aside from the physical safety factors, these mobility environments need to feel like safe and pleasant places to be on because we know that cars ‘project an envelope of danger’. In order for this project to be a success, dealing with the issue of subjective safety is as critical as dealing with the issue of real safety.  Statistics show that riding a bicycle is an incredibly safe and health giving activity. But this fact runs counter to the perception of cycling among the non-bicycle riding public. And the economic return on investment for projects like this is huge.

There is also a question mark over Auckland Transport’s ability to sell this project to a sceptical and fearful public. It’s going to be a tough gig because we live in a culture that worships the car and the right to drive anywhere, anytime. But it is an issue that needs to be grasped if we are to make this city a place for people to flourish. There will be residents who will resent losing on-street parking. There will be residents who are not familiar with the potential to ride a bicycle to their local shops. There will be lots of barriers and misconceptions to deal with. Normalising the perception of riding a bicycle; making it appear as normal as driving a car will require a range of social engineering strategies to be employed.

Assuming that sufficient traffic engineering interventions have been implemented, how will we know if Auckland Transport is serious about making this project a success?

Data! Strategy! Action!

  • Engage with the local residents.
  • Find out how many people are using these mobility corridors – upon completion and again in 6 months, 12 months, 24 months time, 5 years.
  • Find out who is using these mobility corridors, and when, where, how they are being used?
  • Set aspirational mode share targets (% of people on bikes relative to people in cars), and time frames.
  • Enact strategies to achieve these targets. Working with 16 local schools, 12,000 students and local residents would be a priority.

Watch this space!

 

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

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Do cars get priority over people in your city?

A city designed with people in mind will also be full of bicycles.

A city designed with people in mind will also be full of bicycles.

What is becoming increasingly apparent, is that from an international perspective, New Zealand is years behind in the way we plan our cities. Cities have changed rapidly over the decades, but the way we use our streets has become stuck in a time warp.

Our city’s streets need to be viewed as a valuable public space. But instead, they are being used as funnels to maximise traffic flows and store cars. Cities that are great, take care of their people. It’s people that bring life and vibrancy to a city. People need to feel welcome and safe to use the streets. And in the 21st Century, people and businesses are mobile; they can live and operate anywhere in the world.

It is no accident that the cities in which the needs of people are given priority are also full of bicycles; people using bicycles to get about their business. That can happen because those cities have provided infrastructure that makes riding a bicycle an attractive transport option. Providing infrastructure for riding bikes is a rational and practical thing to do because it makes financial sense. Riding a bicycle can be a quicker and easier way of commuting. It saves time and money and is healthy. In some cities, more people do their daily commute by bike, than by car.

Riding a bike is not only for recreational purposes. It is not only the domain of eco-warriors and sports-warriors, as it is often portrayed in New Zealand. People will choose to use a bicycle for transport purposes on a regular basis when good quality infrastructure and bike friendly policies are in place. Any city in the world, including Auckland, could cater for bicycles. Within 5 years, New York has added 640 km of bike lanes and created a public bike hire programme with over 10,000 bikes.

Of course there will be resistance to the process of catering for people on bicycles in the city. But it is time for the public to get used to the paradigm shift that is required. It is happening all around the world.

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

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Make ‘creating and maintaining behaviour change’ the primary goal.

Making it possible for students to travel to school independently should be a top priority.

Creating and maintaining behaviour change is the primary goal.

During Janette Sadik-Kahn’s visit to Auckland in 2014, she was keen on the phrase ‘tipping point’. For me, it’s a phrase that rolls off the tongue a little too easily. I think it is more likely to be a reference to the growing sense of anticipation amongst those advocating for change. The conversations are getting better, that’s for sure. But it’s going to take a while before we actually get to actually experience the cities that Sadik-Kahn describes. Every city needs an organisation like TransAlt, campaigning for that goal.

So what is the next step? How do we convert the growing awareness and enthusiasm for change, into real progress and improvements in our city? Most of the conversation to date are still taking place between advocates, enthusiasts and public servants. If we are serious about reaching a tipping point, the public at large are going to need to be convinced of the need for change.

Consultation is the process that is used to engage with the public when change is being considered. And in many respects, it’s a flawed process and in need of improvement. That’s because the change that is so desperately needed at a community level will rarely be accepted by individuals who feel they are being asked to make unreasonable personal sacrifice. So inevitably, the consultation process simply ‘goes through the motions’ and we are left with the status quo. In other words, NIMBYism wins every time.

I see the consultation process everyday, in all its ineffectiveness, in an education setting. Here’s the scenario. A school that is operating to ‘best practice’ seeks input/suggestions from its parents/community. Even if the received suggestions are well intentioned, it does not necessarily mean that they are sensible or practical to implement. That’s because the majority of parents are unlikely to be familiar with best teaching practice or the realities of day to day life in the classroom.

My local bike mechanic would never seek my advice on how to fix bikes or run his business. And he would be wise to be to take care in implementing my advice, if I did provide it. In this scenario, the person or people making the suggestion, need to be fully informed and be prepared to do a form of ‘due diligence’. That would obviously require a better understanding of the context within which the suggestion is required to be implemented.

The converse of the above scenario should also be applied when improvements need to be made in the way we run our city. For example, it is imperative that children should be able to walk or cycle to school. The benefits of this, to the individual and the community, have already been quantified and are known to far outweigh the interests of individual motorists who want to be able to, for example, drive at high speed past a school or have parking provision directly outside the school.

Allowing this altered form of consultation to take place does have an element of risk attached to it. Governments that are enthusiastic for motorways are masters at exploiting this risk. It is how they are able to fast-track motorway building programmes. “We know what’s best for you and we are so confident that you will love it/us/the new motorway, that we will start building it tomorrow. You can thank us later.” The risks of this happening at a local level can be safeguarded by initially undertaking smaller projects on a trial basis in order to build up community support.

The barriers to change within the effected community will be plentiful. The majority of the public will all have reasons to be resistant. There is a fear of the unknown. There will be a range of reasons presented to retain the status quo; stories of personal hardship, brought about by the proposed changes. But the consultation process will be impervious to all this. That’s because the sales job will be excellent; the economic and health benefits will be presented and it will have been done well in advance so all the effected parties will have time to grasp how important it is to make the requested changes.

If all the messaging is about healthier, wealthier and more sustainable streets in our communities and it is clearly articulated, change will come about more easily. It’s a job for artists and storytellers. Creating and maintaining behaviour change is the primary goal. The engineers will have their turn later on in the process.

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

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