'Heroic risks' - US visitor marvels at perils of city cycling

By Mathew Dearnaley

Paul Steely White says Auckland's streets remind him of New York 10 years ago. Photo / Richard Robinson
Paul Steely White says Auckland's streets remind him of New York 10 years ago. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland is being challenged to follow top American cities in creating hundreds of kilometres of cycle lanes.

Visiting alternative transport chief Paul Steely White confessed to feeling out of place riding in inner Auckland yesterday, unprotected by the types of cycle lanes he says are helping to "humanise" his native New York and other US cities.

"Right now, riding around Auckland, you feel like you're an alien riding on your bike - like you're encroaching into what is otherwise very obvious car space," he said.

Mr Steely White, 43, is executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit organisation of about 30 staff and 100,000 supporters.

It has campaigned successfully to add about 600km of bikeways in the past five years to streets and parks as an extension of New York's public transit network, and to ban cars from Times Square and much of Central Park.

Mr Steely White denies being anti-car, saying the group simply aims for better balance on streets it believes should be for everybody.

He was encouraged to see dozens of fellow cyclists yesterday, which he takes as a sign of a large "latent demand" for dedicated bike lanes.

But they were being forced to take "heroic risks", he said. "It reminded me of New York 10 years ago, when to be a cyclist you had to be aggressive and super-confident. But you shouldn't have to feel like an interloper on your own streets."

Mayor Len Brown acknowledges "more progress is required" on Auckland's walking and cycling network, while his leading election challenger, former New Yorker John Palino, promises to push for a continuous cycle lane from North Shore to Pakuranga via St Heliers.

Mr Steely White is rejoicing at a "race to the top" by American cities trying to outdo each other in building more bike lanes in the belief this will improve life for high-tech workers, many of them less enamoured than their parents of car culture.

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