Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Cycle safe: Trading places: Day three

Cyclist Martin Johnston gets behind the wheel while
car-loving Herald staff try biking to work

Martin Johnston believes he's getting the hang of being a car commuter and was impressed by one cyclist's vigorous hand-signalling yesterday. Photo / Richard Robinson
Martin Johnston believes he's getting the hang of being a car commuter and was impressed by one cyclist's vigorous hand-signalling yesterday. Photo / Richard Robinson

Diary of a driver - Martin Johnston

Three days into this automobile experiment and I'm loving it. I've hit my stride.

I'm starting to feel like a real Aucklander - working out the short-cuts, nipping into gaps in the flow of traffic, exploiting any advantage.

For sure there are frustrations - the 6pm traffic jam on Victoria St, and finding myself in a turning lane with no early road markings when I wanted to go straight ahead.

But think of the benefits. One set of clothes for the whole day. I arrive at work without a bead of sweat to be seen. And why bother listening to the morning weather forecast? Who cares if it's going to rain? I don't need a raincoat, shoe covers or even a plastic bag inside my leaky backpack. I'm now travelling in cocooned, air-conditioned comfort, radio chat in the background, and have a guaranteed parking space inside the Herald's CBD building.

Driving's for me, on Wednesday at least.

My beaming good humour was energised by a particularly courteous cyclist on Ponsonby Rd. Riding a big cruiser, equipped with a rear-vision mirror, she flicked a quick glance over her right shoulder before making an almost militarily assertive stiff-arm right-turning signal. Perhaps she's a navy signaller when not cycling.

She promptly changed course and glided into the right-turning lane in front of me, coming to a halt in the queue of cars waiting for the green arrow into Franklin Rd.

I felt compelled to give this woman, clad in a high-visibility vest, plenty of space, perhaps because she was acting like a car driver, a respectful one.

The arrow changed to green, we moved off round the corner and she gave me a wave as I drove past her. At the bottom of the hill, at the next right-turning queue, I glimpsed her making another navy-like signal. They put my limp-arm turning gestures to shame. Perhaps she's been on a course.


Diary of a cyclist - Hamish Fletcher

I had last climbed on a bicycle in Mysore, an Indian city half the size of Auckland but one with hazards like livestock and auto-rickshaw drivers who take a devil-may-care attitude to keeping in a lane. Despite trips through bewilderingly busy intersections, there were no near-misses with ignorant motorists, run-ins with frustrated commuters or any other of the grievances commonly associated with cycling in New Zealand. My 5km biking commute from Mt Eden to the Herald's offices yesterday was equally as benign.

Having borrowed a bike from a friend who is now wary of riding to the central city after a minor collision, I headed off shortly after 7am in an attempt to beat the worst of the traffic.

Sharing a lane along Dominion Rd with a steady stream of buses, my only problem was the occasional parked car which forced me into the inside lane or, at one point, up on to the footpath.

Most of my fellow road-users seemed patient enough to slow down and move around me if the road was narrow and my biggest concern was matters of etiquette.

For instance, whether I should keep left when going down Pitt St (heading to Vincent St) or get in the right-hand lane early, holding up traffic but avoiding a last-minute dash when needing to make a turn.

Nervousness and the occasional anxious pang aside, the 25-minute cycle was quicker than taking the bus and I might have been convinced to regularly bike to work if not for the daunting thought of having to tackle Auckland's inner-city hills on the way home.


Read more stories in our Cycle Safe series here.

- NZ Herald

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