Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: $10b for transport but how about bikes?

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Advocates want cycleways and a seamless integration of cycling into public transport to be part of that plan.

Tim Roberts takes his bike, which can be folded down, on Auckland buses although he had to hassle Ritchies top brass to get the okay. Photo / Natalie Slade
Tim Roberts takes his bike, which can be folded down, on Auckland buses although he had to hassle Ritchies top brass to get the okay. Photo / Natalie Slade

The morning was clear and a blue-sky day was in prospect, but the sun wasn't up on Monday when Tim Roberts climbed on his bicycle at his Greenlane home and rode out into the early rush-hour traffic.

His 9km route took him along the busy Great South Rd into Newmarket; through the quiet, leafy Domain into truck-clogged Stanley St, and along Quay St to Britomart. There, he folded up his Giant Clip - it may look like a toy but it's actually a sophisticated piece of engineering - and hopped on a Northern Express bus to Constellation Drive. Another 3km ride took him to the office where he works as a computer programmer.

The whippet-thin 46-year-old, who looks about 33, tells me he's always biked to work, and has done this trip for the past 18 months, though he does take the train for the first leg if it's bucketing down.

We meet at Britomart, halfway through his commute, where he's easy to spot at the bus stop in his high-vis vest studded with red LEDs, and he talks with a quiet and informed passion about his dream of a truly cycle-friendly city.

Just back from a month in northern Europe, where I cycled the summery streets of Copenhagen and Berlin, I'm all ears. In the Danish capital, for example, 35 per cent of commuters cycle, and the road rules give them right of way over the 24 per cent who drive. I took a picture of a bridge counter that announced 12,640 cyclists had crossed it that day and 2.1 million so far this year.

The Government is signalling an intention to fling more than $10 billion at Auckland transport over the next decade, and even if the gap between a politician's promise and reality can be as wide as the Waitemata, there will plainly be substantial improvement to road and rail networks in that time.

What cycle advocates like Roberts want is for cycleways and a seamless integration of cycling into public transport networks to be part of that planning.

"It's a small investment for a big return," says Barbara Cuthbert, the tireless chairwoman of Cycle Action Auckland. "Cycling that connects with set transport networks is absolutely critical to Auckland."

Cuthbert points out that most park-and-ride carparks are already at capacity and making buses and trains cycle-friendly is "the secret weapon".

Roberts can get his folding bike on a bus - though he had to hassle the Ritchies top brass to get the okay, which is now spelled out on the Auckland Transport website - but standard bikes are banned, and the carriages on the rail network have space for a token maximum of four bicycles. At the other end of his bus trip north, the Upper Harbour Highway is hostile to cycles, he says.

"Lots of people work in Paul Matthews Drive, Bush Rd and William Pickering Drive," he wrote in an emailed response to some research Cuthbert did, "but it has an 80km/h speed limit and no footpaths so even though the distance is short you can't walk and it's dangerous to cycle."

Roberts conceded on Monday that there had been a "slow but sure" proliferation of cycleways and a significant improvement in the attitudes of drivers, most of whom will "slow down and make room for you".

"We have to do our part too: you see people riding three abreast or going through red lights and it doesn't do much for our image."

But he is concerned that though planners are at least "talking about cycling", their attitudes are somewhat piecemeal.

"A classic example is the new Newmarket viaduct. We have a lovely cycleway out to the northwest and there is a long-term plan for one out south as well. The replacement of the viaduct was a once-in-50-years opportunity to build a cycleway on it. But they didn't, and now when they build a cycleway out south, they'll get to the viaduct and decide it's too hard."

If you are having trouble making ends meet, you have to increase your income, decrease your expenditure or both. A similar rule can be applied to transport planning: building more roads increases the supply of network, but time and again, here and abroad, it's been shown that more roads attract more cars.

Cyclists, by contrast, decrease the demand for network. They keep fit, saving public health dollars, ease congestion and cut carbon emissions. The arguments for putting their needs at the top of the priority list get stronger with every gridlocked day that passes.

- NZ Herald

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