On a bicycle, the street is your catwalk.

Ready-to-ride chic in Milan.

Ready-to-ride chic, Milan. Via Hungarian Cycle Chic.

If you’re going to stay ugly/unfashionable, get a car.

Ugly? Want to stay that way?

Unattractive? Wanna stay that way? Know how?

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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)

Hero of the month: Sue Abbott

Heady Freedom as Judge Agrees Helmet Laws are Unnecessary.

”Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger,” the judge told Ms Abbott after she had spelt out her case against the laws that exist in few countries other than Australia and New Zealand.

”I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet – and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.”

He found Ms Abbott had ”an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists”…

From this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald. Via Cycling Health New Zealand.

Very well done, Sue!

New Zealand – first impressions

For a supposedly quiet and civilised and clean country, a large number of people here drive their cars astonishingly dangerously and this appears to be tolerated. I was shocked witless a few days ago when a speeding black car almost knocked me and my girlfriend down (we were crossing the street on foot) at well over double the safe speed for a town centre. Something similar happens about every three days – this was just the scariest.

This town, Palmerston North, has swathes of car parking everywhere. Around half of all urban space appears to have been given to parking spaces. Car dealerships, petrol [gas] stations and motor lodges outnumber make up a large proportion of local businesses.

On the positive side, there are also a surprising number of bicyclists! Sadly, almost 100% of them speed around on style-free mountain bikes, slouched over the handlebars as if positioning their flimsy polystyrene helmets for a direct hit. Sad. Sports shorts and “Look at me, I’m weird” hi-viz jackets are pretty much ubiquitous. I’ve seen very few non-sports bike users at all. (With the fabulous exception of one beautifully stylish lady in Wellington who definitely got the whole looking good on two wheels thing.)

Helmets:

There are quite a few teenagers without helmets, often safely on the pavements [sidewalks] away from the crazy high number of aggressive drivers who rev loudly along the streets. Drivers have clearly been dangerously oversold on how protective helmets are, and who largely don’t slow down around people on bicycles, nor give them a safe amount of room when overtaking.

(Much slower speed limits are needed in town please.)

As for the people wearing helmets, I’d hazard that 50% or more are being worn incorrectly: loose chin straps, lopsided, too far back, or (sensibly, as it’s winter now) with warm hats underneath. I would dare conjecture this is due not to a lack of care for their safety, more to realising helmets are pretty ineffective in all but the most minor falls – but they have to be seen to be complying with that absurd and patronising law.

Also to avoid the hassle of that law, which for some reason only applies to (2-wheeled) bicycles (clearly discriminatory, sorry), a significant minority of people have turned to skateboards, flimsy 2-wheeled kick-scooters and, delightfully, unicycles.

image from unicycle.co.nz