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.


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!

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):


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)


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

Quote of the Day: the friendliest city in the world for a day

This is iBikeLondon on the 2010 Tweed Run:

“On Saturday London felt like the most friendly city in the world; tourists gawked and took photos as we passed, people cheered and applauded, children watched wide-eyed as the spectacle rolled on; even London’s famous drivers were [largely] hospitable.”

Friendliest city in the world. For a day.

How can we make this more long-term?

2010 Tweed Run, London. Photo: ibikelondon

Relaxed European-style riding needed in Sydney

A largely intelligent article from the Sydney Morning Herald the other day on the positive effects of European-style sit-up-and-beg bikes and slower riding.


Starts well…

Scrapping (Australia and NZ’s) two decade-old laws requiring all cyclists to wear helmets would encourage a lot more people on to bikes and provide an overall improvement in community health levels. “I would be in favour of doing away with the helmet use law for adults.”‘ – John Pucher (Rutgers University, New Jersey)

Compulsory wearing of helmets was ”a Band-Aid strategy” adopted by governments shying away from more difficult initiatives of building separated cycle ways, calming neighbourhoods and educating drivers and riders.

Introducing the upright bikes used in Europe is the best way of creating a new cycling culture that would encourage slow cycling and a friendly ”come ride with me” attitude. “If we can get more people on this type of bike we will get rid of the monoculture of those people, bent down over the bars with sunglasses … who are happy on roads and don’t want to share bikeways with slower riders.” – Mike Rubbo (cycling blogger)

And descends into…

an exaggerated faith in helmets (“an incredibly cheap approach to improving safety”),

a lack of understanding of gears (“Sydney: hills everywhere”), 

and a beknighted ‘not invented here’ attitude to those safe old Dutch bikes (“They are designed, without sounding sexist, for women”).

The dangerous streets of Seoul?

I’m actually really glad someone beat me to this.

I’ve just come across an intelligent rundown of what cycling in Seoul is like, and I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly. 

Don’t read the [nay-saying] guidebooks, ignore the gloomy reports, instead look at what’s actually happening on the streets. 

[The 6-lane] boulevards have 3 metre wide sidewalks, they are not crowded and nobody minds cyclists weaving in and out of the pedestrians. On the road itself the traffic is calm, flowing in an unhurried way between the traffic-light controlled junctions on smooth tarmac. The big spaces between the main roads are a network of small streets and alleys where cyclists and pedestrians are safe and cars make slow progress on sufferance.

The city has started to develop a cycling infrastructure and what they have done is very promising, in a few years Seoul could be a perfect cycling city, even now it feels a lot easier than many places in Britain.

Read the rest at Seven League Boots.

Gliding along wide pavements

Gliding along wide pavements

OK, a paradise for cyclists Seoul isn’t. Indeed my initial view of people who ride on the roads here was sheer terror for their safety. But that has changed. A lot.

My first 2 months here I rode 100% on the pavements [sidewalks]. Happily, these are all shared, officially or unofficially, with pedestrians. And the odd delivery motorbike.

However, I’ve now started riding increasingly on the roads. Dipping my toes in the supposedly shark-infested water as it were. I strongly believe the actual danger is vastly inflated. (Yes, I’ve read David Hembrow’s persuasive article on perceived safety vis-a-vis actual safety.)

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s realised.

Seoul cycle style

Seoul cycle style

A few days ago I came across an old-ish Korean article on how dangerous it is to cycle in Seoul. It nicely encapsulates the average (non-cycling) Seoulite’s view of riding a bicycle here. Here’s the meat of the piece in translation:

 위험한 서울 거리, 왜 자전거 타야 할까? – 오마이뉴스

Seoul’s dangerous streets – Why should I bike?
I’ve never once cycled on the streets of Seoul. That’s not because I can’t ride a bike or don’t like it, it’s because I don’t have the nerve.

I’ve cycled a fair bit in other cities. When I was studying in Germany I always had a bike, though it was a cheap old one. Even during my 2 months in Marburg with all its mountains, I bought a secondhand bike for getting about on. …

However since coming back to Korea ten or so years ago, I’ve only thought about trying to ride here. … Indeed it’s obvious to me that riding a bike in Seoul is a highly dangerous thing to do.

A few years ago, a German architect friend found this out. After work he told me he fancied doing some sightseeing around the city and asked to borrow my bike. … Eventually he went out on the bike for a whole day. In the evening we met up and he was satisfied but admitted it had been a fairly perilous task. If he were staying for a long time in Korea, he probably wouldn’t carry on riding. Compared to Germany it’s too risky.

As he pointed out, a bicycle is perfect for seeing the sights of a city. Cars go too fast and it’s hard to stop where you like. Likewise, walking can be laborious. But on a bike you can go at your own speed and stop for as long as you like. If only it were safer, it would be ideal as a means of transport in this city too…

Original article on Oh My News