"Come back to me when you've got some facts, not dishonest ideologically driven bollocks."

Well thank you, Mike Hosking. It's nice to be invited.

Last week I reported that an Auckland Transport survey showed there is now 65 per cent support among Aucklanders for cycle lanes. The proportion of people who say they support cycling is five times greater the proportion who say they do not.

On Newstalk ZB, Hosking said he simply didn't believe it. People don't support cycling, he told his listeners, and no one should trust the survey because it was an "opt-in" exercise, a "rort" that was "rigged" in favour of "bored deadbeats with nothing to do". And it had a tiny sample size.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
Mike Hosking: Peddling bollocks - opt-in surveys count for nothing

So, what were the facts?

The survey was not opt-in. The company that did it, TRA, bought its list of contacts from a large database provider called Research Now. Participants were asked to take part in the survey without knowing what it was for.

It was not rigged in favour of anyone. On the contrary: participants were screened to ensure the age, gender and geographic spread throughout Auckland corresponded to census data. The survey was weighted to not favour anyone.

The sample size was not tiny. It was large enough to give a confidence level of 95 per cent and a margin of error of around 2.5 per cent.

All these things are common among market survey companies. The methodology has been endorsed by Professor Thomas Lumley, a statistician at the University of Auckland.

In fact, when Hosking told his listeners on the Friday what a good survey would be like, his prescription exactly matched the one he had complained about on the Monday.

More facts. The survey has been done each year for five years now. When it started respondents said they did not feel positive about cycling. Now, the proportions are reversed. Just as has happened with buses and trains, the attitudes of Aucklanders to cycling are changing fast.

Does it matter? The most telling statistic I've heard recently wasn't about cycling at all. It was this: by 2050, according to the UN, 68 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. Two billion more than live in cities now.

Most of the growth will be in cities in India, China and Nigeria, but Auckland is not immune. Auckland Council expects we'll have a million more people by 2050. An increase of at least 40 per cent.

This is the context in which we debate cycle lanes. Not as a lifestyle choice but because we have to change the way we live. Population growth requires it.

We have to change how we use hospitals. What we call work, where we do it and how we're paid for it. Where we live and what sort of places we live in. What we expect from schools. How we get on with each other when there are so many more of us to get on with.

It's frightening, the changes we face. Much of what we value will change, whether we like it or not. But it's also exciting. Urbanisation suggests that the problems of the world – if we are clever and compassionate enough – will be solved in the cities.

The changes can make our lives better. The city is our great hope.

Despite what the critics say, cycle lanes in themselves don't disrupt very much. But they have a larger role: they're a pivot for thinking and doing differently. Grasp the potential of cycle lanes and you grasp much more about what a city can be.

A good network for safe cycling around schools and parks allows kids to cycle once again. Parents won't need to drive them to school, so they won't be stuck with the car for the rest of the day. Of course this won't be true for all kids and all parents on every day of the week. But nobody's saying everyone has to do it.

And cycling to school isn't just about easing traffic congestion. A third of New Zealanders are obese, according to Statistics NZ. Motor vehicles contribute to respiratory illnesses and are the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in cities. Cycling is cheaper than taking the car. Cycling gives kids and everyone else who does it physical skills, mental skills, independence, fitness, a feeling of being alive in the world.

Cycling helps make sense of greater residential density. Auckland's new housing projects will – if they're done well – revitalise existing suburbs and establish new ones, allowing for more local services, more local opportunities for work and play, stronger local communities.

There is an alternative, of course. There always is. We could keep sprawling into the countryside, cling to our cars and stack motorways on top of each other. We could completely clog up the city centre and gridlock the suburban arterial routes.

We could just stay angry at the congestion and even angrier at anyone who chooses another way. We could ignore the health crises, the problems of climate change, the lost quality of life for everyone, drivers and non-drivers.

But really? The wonder is not that two-thirds of people support cycleways. It's that anyone could believe we'll be fine if we don't change the way we live. If we don't reimagine how to live in cities.

So why are the cycleways empty? Actually, there's record growth in their use. The cycleway alongside the city end of the Northwestern Motorway has become so busy at evening rush hour, the riders form a long convoy heading home.

Still, it is true Auckland's cycleways are not as full as they need to be. That's because we haven't reached tipping point. But as the safe cycling network grows, and urban density grows, and local communities strengthen, that day will come. The city is our great hope.

Here's a good story. In 2006 in Seville, a Spanish city with about the same number of people as Auckland, they decided to build a cycling network. The plan was to build 10km a year for 8 years, but the city's chief planner said no, let's do the whole 80km in 18 months. Get it done quickly so people can see the benefits.

A high-profile media personality and the conservative opposition party mounted a furious fightback. But the city's leaders kept fronting up, talking to everyone, modifying the plans as required.

When it was finished it was so popular the bike shops reportedly ran out of bikes. By 2015, 9 per cent of all mechanised trips in Seville were by bicycle.

What made them do it? Fast-rising congestion. And they did a poll: the people said they wanted it.

And in 2011, when the council changed hands, the new conservative majority kept the lanes in place.