Monday, August 28, 2006

A brief intro

As a ‘utility’ cyclist who has spent the last 4 years living in Kyoto in Japan where cycling is an intrinsic and universally accessible part of the transport infrastructure I have written up some observations and some suggestions which I hope will contribute to broaden the discussion towards promoting 'utility’ cycling in New Zealand and especially in Christchurch ( where I am presently living ).
I realise that my views are likely to be controversial ( even heretical ) but with cycling languishing at 2% of urban traffic there is a real need for alternative approaches to be explored.
Please keep in mind when reading this that I am describing the existing reality in Kyoto where cycling is the preferred mode of transport for a large proportion of the population.

You can post your comments or links at the end of each topic (and to forward the URL for this site to anyone who you think may be interested ) .

In the lead up to the New Zealand Local Government elections on the 13th of October 2007 I sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates which led to my putting together another web-site ( ) to provide a resource for utility cycling in New Zealand.
Much of what you'll see on this blog has been copied into the Urban Bicycles site.
Ciao for now.
Alan in Addington, Christchurch, New Zealand. (December, 2007).
e-mail: ( checked daily)



Anonymous utilitycyclist said...

I've just pasted what I wrote as a reply to a member of Christchurch's Cycle Action Network's questions sent out to the core group in October 2006.

> Hi All,
> What do Spokesters think - are we being over-critical of governmental bodies like CCC and ECAN giving priority to cars over cycling/walking etc?

(my replies are those without '>' marks)
Ask the climate change scientists about that:

Why even bother?
The world's scientific community is warning us that there is a real need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions which for us in New Zealand mainly means minimising our dependence on our wasteful use of our CAR(bon burner)S.
This is a moral issue that demands integrity to our responsibility to ensure the sustainability of our planet.
Christchurch has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world despite its having once been New Zealand’s most ‘cycle-friendly’ city.

Part of our problem (I think) is that the entity which we call 'cyclists' is made up of a wide variety of individuals who all have their own opinions on what 'best practice' is, depending on their perceptions, their habits and their experiences.
It follows that with regard to a future vision of what we are trying to achieve, it cannot be assumed that 'cyclists' are in complete agreement in the way they’d like to see ‘cycling’ develop and so there may be a lack of collective resolve pursuing some issues through to completion.

Does 'Spokes' AS A WHOLE have a 'vision' of what it wants to achieve or are we leaving it up to the most ‘active’ among us to decide what is ‘best’ for ‘us’?

“ Spokes is dedicated to including cycling as an everyday form of transport within local and regional planning in Canterbury.”
CAN aims to:
• Promote the benefits of cycling
• Improve safety for cyclists. 11 killed so far this year. GIVE US THE OPTION OF GETTING OFF THE ROADS.
• Encourage the creation of a good cycling environment.
• Advocate for integrated cycle planning.
• Increase the number of cyclists on our roads. YES.FROM ALLSECTORS OF SOCIETY. AND ON OUR FOOTPATHS TOO.

-Are we members of Spokes supposed to only be interested in achieving increases in the young, fitness/health-conscious, fast moving competitive cyclists we see on the roads here now, as we are, - limited to riding mountain and road-racing bikes, -prohibited from using footpaths while being compelled to wear helmets and to ride with dangerous motor vehicles?
-Or are we aiming to establish cycling as an attractive choice for ALL OF US to get around in our cities?
I reckon our narrow focus is to some extent conveniently appeasing the politically expedient motorist-friendly local government
e.g. logic even many cycling advocates seem to employ like- ‘yes it is too dangerous to ride on footpaths because motorists coming out of driveways will be inconvenienced by having to check for cyclists before they come out’.
–So cyclists have to pay the cost of riding on the roads. Remember 11 of us have been killed so far this year and many more have been injured, most in collisions with motor vehicles.

Try to imagine everyone you know wearing a helmet and riding a mountain bike in a cycle lane in heavy traffic; your parents, grandparents, relatives, siblings, children, friends, friends of friends, people from all professions, age groups and all walks of life.
If you’re like me, you can probably only imagine less than 10% as looking like they’d feel comfortable as cyclists as we are supposed to behave now.
No wonder cyclists only make up for 2% of urban traffic in New Zealand!

With this realisation it is easier to see that we need to take a more universally inclusive approach to promoting cycling.

And who would naturally be lobbying for the interests of these ‘might take it up’ cyclists? Nobody yet it seems. But there IS a place for ALL OF US on a bicycle!

Some of us have experienced the joy of getting around in urban environments in foreign countries in which all of the above groups of people use bicycles in their everyday lives (without the imposition of all the conditions we’re subject too here) with dependence on private motor vehicles having been diminished by the generous provision of effective public transport to and from which people use bicycles.

Such cities (e.g. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Kyoto) can provide us with valuable models from which we should be learning. A weblog I recently put together in which I contrast ‘utility cycling’ in Kyoto, Japan with what’s happening here.
( If I’m a cycling heretic then Kyoto is a city teeming with cycling heretics )

>On the plus side they support the cycle map, Park to Pier, Festival of Cycling >and other events.
>They commit resources to projects like Bottle Lake, Little River Rail Trail and the new regional park etc.

While I reckon these projects and events are real positives, they could be criticized for being side-shows or even innocuous tokens. The CCC, while being politically hamstrung by having to placate the Carbon Burning Lobby also needs to appease the environmental lobby and Central Government to at least give the impression that they are trying to be environmentally friendly.
I reckon that to a large extent it is the over-regulation of cycling that is stopping the ‘would be’ cyclists from making the change and that the best thing Local Government could do ( as a start) would be to rescind the mandatory helmet law to make it discretionary and to allow cyclists the choice of using the pavements.
( Remember this is normal practice in Kyoto, Japan and I can’t see why it wouldn’t work here : )

>> On the minus side it seems we have definitely gone backwards with >>regard to on-road commuter cycle safety in the last couple of years.
>>Certainly the de-facto, on-going moratorium has caused delays to much >>needed road improvements.

LTAs avoid liability:
Always keep in mind that 11 cyclists have died on New Zealand roads so far this year (October12) and god only knows how many have been injured.
NZ's LTAs have so far proven to be overly cautious in taking what they see as the risks that will really enable and encourage what is now the non-cycling sector to get on their bikes.

Local Government Politicians perceive that there are too few votes in advocating for cyclist's rights especially when doing so could impinge on the interests of the clear majority of voters who drive cars.

Spokes needs to focus on convincing Candidates standing in the next Local Government Election that there is political mileage in selling to the voting ratepayers the economic benefit (at least stabilisation of or even reductions in rates) of '$20 saved for every $1 spent' on promoting the conversion away from gas guzzling so that we can start seeing some real support from within the community for public transport and cycle related projects.

>>The 20 years of debate around bikes on buses to Lyttelton is really unacceptable.
This lack of progress has been a waste of ratepayer's precious money while also denying universal access to right of access to this major linking road.
This is an area which SPOKES could have been barking at the heels of ALL the agencies involved at every step of the way to ensure that the issue was never let to rest.

> > They indulge in airy-fairy statements and endless consultation and meetings without actually seeming to commit to anything.
They are INDEED not committing to anything.
But we can’t just blame the Local Territorial and Regional Authorities as they are to some extent hamstrung by inaction or intransigence at Central Government level.
We really need to prioritise focusing some of our energy on lobbying individuals and organizations in Central Government who are involved in drafting and passing the legislation that will ensure our input is manifested in laws to which our Local Territorial and Regional Authorities will become subject.

>> So are things really that bad or are we being just a bunch of whingers?

Yes, we are a bunch of whingers,-to the 98% of commuters who arrogantly insist on getting around in OUR carbon burners refusing to take 'ownership' for the negative effect WE're having on OUR planet's sustainability.

A ‘ONE LESS CAR’- ‘ONE MORE WHINGING CYCLIST’ T-shirt might raise a few bucks.

-But it is 'whingers' who bring attention to the fact that there is a need for progress towards a sustainable outcome:
In this case, the transition from an economically ($10million per day) and environmentally (14 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum) disastrous transport infrastructure.

>> If it is bad, can anything be done to improve things?
Involve the media as much as possible.
This issue needs to be big in people’s minds.
Central Government ( at least ostensibly ) has the will to help us to achieve our goals.

>>Are we big and strong enough to effect change through the ballot box at the next elections?
Yes. Politicians are aware that issues of the heart like this stir sleeping and swinging voters out of their complacency to tip the scales.

>> Do we need to co-ordinate action with other similar bodies seeking >>similar outcomes?
>>If so who, how, when?
Green Party / Aged Concern / Grey power/ et al…

Some suggestions for a list of questions to present to Candidates before the next election, the results of which are to be published in local media discussed on radio:
Do you own a bicycle?
Do you ride a bicycle?
How often to do you ride?
Why don’t you ride a bicycle?
What would have to change before you decided to start riding a bicycle?
Have you read the CCC’s Cycling Strategy?
What do you think of the Cycling Strategy?
What specific things would you personally like to see happen to promote cycling in Christchurch?
Other suggestions or more discussion on this matter ?

>>Can/should we try to get candidates for election to front up to one or more Meet the Candidates meetings?
Yes. Of course.

>>Can/should we ask the ones who seek re-election to account for their actions? I would ask them about their lack of pro-activity ( leadership ) .

>>Or is it just not important enough?

>>Waddaya reckon?

What do I reckon?
I reckon that we have a problem, which although we can’t see anthropomorphic climate change, it is a very big problem that we really need to be doing something about and that the Government (at all levels) and most of the population do and will support our attempts to encourage drivers to become riders but …
I reckon that 'cyclists' are not necessarily united in how they think cycling is going to become (re)established here and that the limitations imposed on us by Central and Local Government and even by cycle retailers are to some degree responsible for the low numbers of cyclists in New Zealand cities.
The interests of ‘potential’ cyclists who should be taking up cycling from ALL sectors of society (not just the young fit and fast) are not being addressed (our current focus is too narrow) and the Christchurch City Council, by appeasing the active cycling lobby by cautiously adopting 'best practise' models suggested by their traffic engineers using the 'all care, no responsibility’ modus operandi while actually continuing to prioritise and provide for the interests of motorists (while making no real efforts to dissuade them ) is not providing us with the growth we should be seeing in the numbers taking up cycling in Christchurch, New Zealand’s ‘cycle-friendly city.
I also reckon that we can be more effective in making our case to Central, Local and Regional Government agencies by advocating for the adoption of some of the practises and technologies that prevail in countries where cycling is already successfully established as an intrinsic rather than incidental component of their transport infrastructure.

Alan Preston.
Addington. Christchurch.

>>Nigel Rushton
>> P.S. I want to thank everyone who took part in the recent discussions around the"80 Cyclists Wanted" issue that woke up many aslumbering spokesters.
I appreciated reading your points of views.
We must never forget that a healthy and robust democracy can only flourish in open debate and free speech.
Let's encourage and celebrate those who dare to be different, rather than try to punish them into silence!


21 October, 2006 10:36  

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