Hills and wind

I live and ride a bicycle in Wellington, New Zealand.

It’s the windiest city in a windy country. Our ‘Windy Welly’ is probably the windiest city in the world.

And it has hills! Big, steep, “Wilcome to Sen Frenciscou” hills.

Wellington

That’s why I love riding here:

About half of my trips are tiring, heart-racing slogs into the wind and/or uphill. But the other half – gliding down an incline, exercising only my brake pads; sailing along the street with a forceful wind-assist; delighting in a combination of both after a long, tiring workday – those trips make the other half absolutely, positively worthwhile!

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NZ doesn’t feel safe

Just had an interesting conversation with friends here about riding a bike in NZ.

One German girl commented that she has ridden a bicycle back home for decades, since she was 7, only taking the car on extremely rainy days and twice in her life walking when it was too icy to ride. Then she came to NZ, where she hasn’t been on a bike at all because it’s “far too dangerous.”

More effort into safer streets please New Zealand. Thank you.

The number one reason NZ is so shit for bicycles

(and the helmet law isn’t it!*)

Mikael over at Copenhagenize.com is fond of the ‘bull in a china shop‘ analogy for motor vehicles in urban areas. Rightly so. But isn’t it easy to forget those china plates are people?

Study the following picture. Actually feel yourself in there. Your heart racing. Fear high in your throat. One eye on the danger, the other casting about for an escape route. …

Running of the Bulls, San Fermin

What would you want to change in order to feel safe there? A kevlar vest? New Nikes?

Personally I’d be happiest with an effective barrier between me and them. With separation between the bulls and humans, anyone can take part – your girlfriend, your kids, your grandma – without risk.

Indeed, most people (not unwisely) do exactly that at a Running of the Bulls: there are safety barricades to keep people safe. (And anyone who wants to run with the bulls – athletic and risk-seeking young men, basically – can do as they please.)

Safely separated from the bulls @ San Fermin

Consider the bulls as cars, as per Copenhagenize. Consider the people as… people. In particular as people on bicycles (the pit canaries of the street, another great bicycle blogger once said).

Ever wondered why almost everyone on a bike in NZ (and Australia, and America, etc) is youngish, male and sporty, while in the Netherlands every man, woman, child and their dog cycles? Think of bulls. It’s separation.

A visual explanation from (as far as I can tell) NZ’s official traffic engineering manual. (Can you spot the danger points?)

NZ cycle lane standards

Here you get motor vehicles hurtling by on your right, others pulling across your path to get into and out of the parking spaces (or bus stop, which is a similar layout), and frequent pinch points along the way, thanks to built-out curbs and masses of parking. With nothing to prevent any of them hitting you. (Note that the photo depicts a large gap between parked cars and bike lane – this is rarely the case.)

End result, riding a bike simply doesn’t feel at all safe.

Isn’t it easy to see why you get people on bikes saying motorists drive too close and too fast, and people in cars bemoaning getting stuck behind cyclists? The two simply shouldn’t be forced into the same space. They need separating. Separated lanes are a proven way to increase the numbers of people using a bike to get round town (to the shops, to work, to see friends) by making riding a bicycle safe (and even easier).

So why do we get the infrastructure we get – world class or otherwise?

National traffic engineering standards.

New Zealand’s (and Australia and the US, etc’s) basic standards for street design need updating to protect (rather than endanger) vulnerable road users. The old standards are a relic of old assumptions and old paradigms. The world has changed – did you miss the memo?

To finish with a dab of photoshopping (cycle lane now follows pedestrian pavement/sidewalk):

NZ->NL

Takes up the same space. Has same or very similar construction costs – or rebuild costs after roading work.

Moreover, it suddenly doesn’t matter how discourteous or impatient the motorists are here (and they are), or how ‘silly‘ the cyclists are (that was the clueless PM talking – see Auckland Cycle Chic for more on him), the two don’t have to deal with each other any more.

The traffic engineers need their textbooks updating. (David Hembrow, if/when the Netherlands Cycling Embassy gets up and rolling, can I volunteer NZ as a high priority for a kick in the safety engineering?)

Edit: It is traditional in NZ to begin with a Maori greeting. I will end with a Maori proverb: Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi. (As an old net withers another is remade.)


*The helmet law is a giant shamble in the wrong direction. If you disagree, be kind enough to read and digest this and this before you argue back.

Finally, some good news!

Not from me exactly (I still haven’t been on a bike since the incident a few months ago) but down in the capital, Wellington, there’s a rational new mayor:

The capital’s new mayor… jumped on her bike to ride to the Wellington City Council building when the election results were announced this week.

As a councillor, Ms Wade-Brown rarely claimed travel expenses because of her commitment to commuting by bicycle. She said she hoped to still cycle to work when practical. “I’ve always stood for good transport choices.”

From here.

The new Wellington mayor, Celia Wade-Brown (2nd from left)

Sometimes an image sells itself

It is becoming increasinly obvious that the best way to promote cycling is through the spread of positive images of stylish, relaxed, happy, normal people on bikes. This is already common in some of the most advanced and rational countries, the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan. There are plenty of places still lagging behind though. Here’s some inspiration.

I can’t remember where I came across this video, but who wouldn’t want their child’s schoolgrounds to be like this?

Clearly there are steps that local councils and national governments, even individual parent-teacher committees can take towards this vision. The most fundamental aspect is safety.

The cheapest and easiest actions are probably to lower the speed limits around the school, reduce or remove parking spaces from the school grounds, provide safe and plentiful bicycle parking, and bring in a car-free day once a week to wean parents off the habit slowly.

Better long-term planning (also relatively inexpensive) would see streets around the school become ‘complete streets‘ and safe and direct bicycle and pedestrian routes connecting the school to local neighbourhoods, and free and available bicycle training for children (and adults).

Quote of the Day: the environment invites you

I always thought I cycled a lot when I lived in the UK, but in this country the environment invites you to cycle more than you would otherwise. [emphasis added]

Basic bicycle infrastructure, via David Hembrow

from David Hembrow in the Netherlands

People first (not cars)

Compare:

Happy faces.

No faces.

A good chance to bring up best practice ideas, such as:
1. Pedestrians
2. People with mobility problems
3. Bicyclists
4. Public transport users (including rail, bus, coach, water, taxi)
5. Powered two-wheelers
6. Commercial or business users (including deliveries)
7. Car-borne shoppers and visitors
8. Car-borne commuters