Every so often I see an article or a letter to the editor complaining about a cyclist doing this and that (cycling on the footpath, running a red light, cycling without a helmet, cycling the wrong way down a one way street, cycling while on the phone, cycling blindfolded etc.).
I realise this could be my ‘Rob Ford moment' but at some point or another I've done all those things (OK, except for the last one, at least not yet). Most of this is in the past now; I don't run red lights these days but I do admit to occasionally cycling on the footpath (when it's safe to do so). In fact, I did this earlier today which got me thinking about 'why'.
Firstly, let me explain this particular transgression; When leaving the entrance to the building where I have my office, I hopped on my bike and cycled on the footpath the short distance the wrong way down the one way street before crossing to the side road (the right way) and cycling home. No harm done, right ? And, shock horror, I've done this many times ! Now I can hear the flurry of pens scribbling and fingers jabbing at keyboards but before you press send or lick that stamp on your letter to the editor, please just hear me out for a bit.
I'm not condoning my behavior or that of any other cyclist that doesn't obey the rules but I'm hoping to try an explain it a little bit from my perceptive.
When I was a student in London, for me, cycling was the way to travel. You could get pretty much anywhere in central London faster than you could by any any other form of transport. For that reason, cycle courier companies were very common and it was with one such company that I got a part time job over the college holidays. You got paid per package, so the faster you could get from A-B the more money you made.
I could say that the job corrupted me. While it did encourage me to take some big risks, the truth is more along the lines of 'the job suited me'. My knowledge of London streets would rival that of any black cab driver but where the cycle courier excels is in the short cuts; Those one way streets (the wrong way), those steps that cut through from one road to the other, that courtyard linking this street with that, that alleyway etc. etc. When I took the job I knew the shortcuts because I was already taking them. I still remember some of the crazy routes I used to take.
To be a cyclist you had to be a bit of a rebel. The roads were built for cars, trucks and buses; If you cycled you were considered to have a 'death wish'. From the cyclist’s point of view though, cycling meant freedom, it meant very cheap, efficient transport, and it kept you fit. It was also the opportunity to 'stick it to the man' (as I cycled past his gridlocked Porsche on the way to college).
With infrastructure that was built for the car, and as a cyclist considered by all other users of the road as an outcast, is it any small wonder that the cyclist behaves like a rebel ?
Forward 20+ years and I am less of a rebel but I do have more of a cause. I and a great many other people would like to see cycling as a real transport option, not just something that has to be tolerated or made 'a bit safer'. When the cyclist is not viewed as an outcast, when our roads and infrastructure really support cycling, when we don't need to wear helmets to protect us, when we don't need to wear high-vis gear just to be noticed, when we feel that we belong, then perhaps some of us will feel, and behave, less like rebels.
(An opinion piece published in the Voices column on the Nelson Mail on 23/11/13)
November 23rd is the 1st anniversary of BNB’s Facebook page, and to celebrate our birthday Nelson City Council is giving Nelson NZ’s FIRST segregated or buffered cycle path.
Ok, a small joke about the birthday gift, but the timing is nice. This is a project carefully nurtured by Andrew James before he was headhunted from NCC by NZTA (although he’s still Nelson-based). Alert readers will have noticed past posts on this page from Christchurch and Dunedin which are also embracing this major shift in cycling infrastructure.
But is not Nelson the true Heart of biking in NZ?
So well done NCC for this NZ first. Look out for work to begin in December. The initial version is fairly low-tech and will have vehicle-priority crossings at the side roads, but it seems that there is agreement that this feature needs to change - and will once funding can be allocated to do the work to make cycle-priority crossings safe. That means things like the raised crossings you see all down the Stoke Railway Reserve.
We, and council, will need your support to take this second step, so watch this space. Meanwhile, we think we can feel a new (baby) path christening coming on….
For more info on this kind of cycle path click on the link below to look at material BNB provided to council in support of this proposal (we worked very closely with council on this project and it was touch-and-go for a bit there...)
Below is the email that's been sent to all the Nelson electoral candidates. Tasman candidates have been sent a very similar version. BNB will post their responses after the 14th September.
Thank you for running for office in this local body election!
We1 are surveying candidate’s views on cycling issues to help voters make an informed choice this election.
Activity surveys show that over a third (36.2%) of Nelson and Tasman residents do some cycling - one of the highest rates in New Zealand2. Nelson also has one of the highest rates of cycle commuting in NZ, and continues to build one of NZ’s better urban cycling Networks.
The range and depth of recreational cycling, from the Great Taste Trail3 to the Heaphy and Queen Charlotte Tracks is establishing the Nelson-Tasman region as a leading cycle tourism destination for domestic and international tourists.
We would love to know (briefly!) your responses to the following Questions:
1) What's your vision for cycling in Nelson-Tasman (the city and region)?
2) If you are elected how will you work towards this goal?
3) Have you supported cycling in some way in the past? (e.g. personally or professionally, made submissions, helped with events, attended any forums, etc.)
4) If the rocks road off-road cycle/walkway feasibility study shows such a facility to be viable, will you support this project?
5) When children cycle to school, to their friends or the shops we create the travel habits of a future generation. A city that is safe and easy for children cyclists will also see more parents, commuters, shoppers and tourists make their journey by bike. How would you make Nelson the place for children to ride?
6) Council’s process of consulting with communities and community groups has had some criticism in recent years. How would you improve council's approach to consulting with a community group like Bicycle Nelson Bays?
7) Nelson City Council has a large and growing investment in cycling infrastructure, and much to gain from the increased health and decreased congestion benefits that cycling delivers. Would you increase council’s involvement in the promotion of cycling? If so, how?
8) Vulnerable users (pedestrians and cyclists) in Nelson have a higher than NZ average risk of being injured in accidents involving vehicles. Would you support greater action by council to create safer driving around cyclists and pedestrians?
Thank you for responding to this survey. We will post the results on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/BicycleNelsonBays) and Website (http://bnb.org.nz/). They will also be made available to the media and to other cycling/sporting bodies and clubs.
Please send replies to us by 10pm Sunday 14th September.
Nelson has a one-off opportunity to build a new pathway for walking and cycling around Rocks Road.
This project is part of a package developed by Nelson City Council to improve local walking and cycling. Much of the funding is coming from the New Zealand Transport Agency with the rest being provided by council.
Unlike the approach suggested by NZTA several years ago, this proposal doesn’t use some kind of disruptive ‘clip-on’ structure along the outside of the sea wall.
Space for a shared footpath and off-road cycleway will instead come from removing the existing on-road cycle lanes and, in effect, adding their width to the existing footpath space.
The current on-road cycle lanes can feel unsafe and unpleasant for cyclists, so we think a lot more people, including families and tourists, would be riding a path along our waterfront if this was off-road.
A wider pathway will also give walkers more distance from passing vehicle traffic.
Some Nelsonians are opposed to both the proposal and, more disturbingly, even investigating whether this project can be done.
Much of this opposition is based on what’s claimed to be minimum widths for the walk-cycleway and the roadway. A combination of these widths apparently won’t fit on the Rocks Road footprint.
The ‘rule books’ used in NZ for road and cycleway design are essentially guidelines, not rigid building codes. That’s why the State Highway Manual refers to ‘desirable minimum lane widths’.
But even so, the roadway width being quoted by opponents has some problems. One is that their chosen width won’t actually fit on some existing sections of Rocks Rd, or on parts of the state highway south or north from Nelson.
The second problem is that the width being applied is actually for roads with sealed shoulders, like the Whakatu Bypass. For roadways with kerbing, like Rocks Road, the 'desirable minimum' can be significantly less.
Opponents are also claiming that five meters is the minimum for a walk-cyclepath.
With cycle paths - and footpaths - more is always nice, but all cycling and walking advocates know that the pathway between 'the best possible' and 'the realities of limited space and money' is one called compromise.
As it is, the design guides used in NZ give four meters as the ‘desirable minimum width’. That’s the guideline the feasibility study will work with.
And finally, opponents of the plan don’t like two-way cycle facilities.
Christchurch City Council recently published very comprehensive guidelines for cycle design. Working with NZTA and a range of design experts, these apply ‘international best practice’ to NZ. They, and the Austroad guidelines, explicitly provide for two-way cycle facilities.
In an ideal world - one without limits to space and money - we might make less use of two-way paths. But they work, and we use them here in Nelson.
A two-way, off-road shared path on this route would also be a vast improvement on what we have now.
This opportunity to tap into a NZTA fund to build an off-road cycling and walking facility around Rocks Road is effectively a one-off.
If the feasibility study shows the path is possible, but Nelson doesn’t proceed, it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll get this chance again.
We can either live with a narrow and underutilized path on our waterfront, or we can look at building something that allows Nelson families and tourists to cycle or stroll around the most beautiful harbour in New Zealand.
To apply the publicly stated requirements of opponents - their minimum widths and no two-way cycle path - would be to rule out the possibility of creating an off-road walkway-cycleway on Rocks Road in the future.
Nelsonians will remember that some people also opposed the Stoke Railway Reserve shared pathway when it was first suggested. This is now one of our prime community assets.
We believe that our region deserves to have this opportunity assessed - thoroughly and objectively.
We therefore support the Rocks Road Shared Walk-cycleway Feasibility Study, and we look forward to an open and informed discussion about its findings.
BNB representatives Chris Allison and John-Paul Pochin spoke to the BNB annual plan submission at NCC today. The original submission can be viewed at http://bnb.org.nz/index.php/docs/category/9-submissions?download=23:bnb-nelson-city-council-2013-14-annual-plan. The main points made by Chris today were as follows:
> Bicycle Nelson Bays is working closely with council in the Active Transport Advisory Group as Council develops projects for the extensive walk, cycle and schools package.
> We see great benefit in the approach that council is taking with ATAG, and we believe that these projects will make a real difference to the way that people in Nelson move around this city to work, to shop and to play.
> In planning for Nelson’s future transport needs, Council is providing leadership in three important areas:
- The first involves changing some of our transport habits by providing Public Transport as a real alternative to using private cars. The increasing use of the bus service affirms that step.
- The schools component of the walk, cycle and schools package is the second critical step in creating widespread change in our use of vehicles, especially at peak times. We think this approach, which focuses on our current - and on our future commuters, has huge potential to improve the efficiency of our road network, and the health of our community.
- The third step is to make moving around Nelson by bike a mainstream choice, and not a marginal activity.
> A key part of this goal will be to match the off-road cycle path from Atawhai with a similar facility that connects Nelson to the south, - with its much larger population.
> We see a facility down St Vincent St. as a vital link between the railway reserve and the CBD.
> We’re aware that several of these projects are really complex and time - consuming for engineering staff.
> We’d urge council to look at allocating more engineering staff to ATAG so the momentum of this programme can be maintained.
> Bicycle Nelson Bays affirms the work Nelson City Council is doing through the walk, cycle and schools package - and the ATAG process.
> In saying this, we want to be clear we are not anti-car we are drivers as well.
> We simply believe the research showing that communities - and CBD’s especially - which are pedestrian and cyclist friendly are also commercially and socially healthy.