Independence from roads key to safe cycling

By Nicola Young

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Les Stevens as a competitive cyclist in the 1930s and hitting the Wanganui velodrome on his 80th birthday. The lifetime cyclist made it to 90.  Photo/Supplied
Les Stevens as a competitive cyclist in the 1930s and hitting the Wanganui velodrome on his 80th birthday. The lifetime cyclist made it to 90. Photo/Supplied

Why would I encourage my own children to ride bikes when another two New Zealanders were killed while cycling in the past week-and-a-half?

Both cyclists were struck by large vehicles - a truck in Christchurch and a milk tanker in Palmerston North. Both were unforgiving encounters.

Why would I want my children to have yet another life-threatening risk in their lives when they will be facing so many things I can't control as they get older?

Is it because it's a great way to keep them active? A low-carbon transport option? A cheap way to get around?

Yes, it's all of those but perhaps the biggest is around the concept of independence.

Not sure if I'm old enough to write this but when I was a kid, I used to bike everywhere, and I want my kids to have the same chance to open the door to freedom and making their own choices.

Living in provincial New Zealand, we have this chance ... in our big cities, I'm not so sure.

Whanganui is a fantastic place for cycling - and I don't mean our competitive history with the velodrome and our cycling royalty, the Cheatleys.

We have wonderful riverside tracks and plenty of wide streets - perfect for people like me; and for people who clamber on a bike, hit top speeds of mumble-mumble; and for people who don't particularly like to get sweaty and maybe think the bike is an easy way to give the dog a good run when short on time. In Oakura, where I live now, my kids' preschool has Sport Taranaki coming in each week to teach 2, 3 and 4-year-olds how to ride bikes.

At 8.30am on our streets it is rush hour as most primary school kids rush by on bikes or scooters. A state highway runs through the heart of our village, so the footpath is the sensible main route and no one seems to mind - our footpaths are wide with grassy verges either side.

And this is the point: How can we have safe sharing of roads when if the slightest thing goes wrong, the cost is unimaginable pain. There cannot be a good outcome between a child and something large, heavy and moving at speed.

That's why the answers are not only cycle helmets and bike lights, safety awareness training for cyclists and bus drivers, painted bike lanes and reflective clothing ... While all these actions are good, they won't stop the desperately unfair consequences if something goes wrong.

We need physical separation between vehicles and cyclists; we need networks of cycling paths throughout our cities and towns; we need infrastructure solutions built into road upgrades, new roads, new subdivisions - plus we need to find the best way to retro-fit bike lanes and make cycling work in our cities.

I want cycling to be for everyone - not just the Lycra-clad, unafraid of speed on their incredibly expensive lightweight machines. People of average fitness, like me, need to enjoy cycling to keep doing it and that means not feeling like we're taking their lives in our hands choosing to bike to town.

Some of us will never be record-breakers and that's okay because cycling is not just about getting from point A to B - as they say, life is a journey not a destination. And cruising on your bike is a wonderful journey.

We need to normalise cycling again - New Zealand wasn't always a country built around cars.

My grandfather Les Stevens cycled his whole life, first as a grocery delivery boy then as a successful competitive cyclist, winning cash prizes in the 1930s and, even on his 80th birthday, he did a good number of laps of the velodrome here to celebrate.

No, I didn't inherit his cycling ability but I do still enjoy jumping on my birthday bike and saving five minutes on the ride to the beach with the dog. I just wish it was easier and safer for my city cousins to do the same.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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