Here at Eye of the Fish, we have written about cars before. We have written about trains before. We have written, in fact, about all sorts of transport before. We have even written about buildings before. But the one mode of transport that we have never really set sail on before, is the humble bicycle.
You see, it’s an emotive subject – I have no idea why, but it seems to be a subject that evokes rage amongst the sane, to a degree that is unfathomably unpleasant. I mean, we are talking about the most efficient means of transport ever invented, involving a single human being carefully balanced on two thin circles of rubber, with just a tiny couple of patches of rubber in contact with the road. They are the lightest vehicle (excepting skateboards, which are just a mobile version of Darwin’s Law waiting for an accident), and they are, really, as safe as houses.
Actually, they’re way safer than a house. You do know, don’t you, that most accidents happen in the home? It was on the news again just the other day – by far the most injuries happen to people “safely” in the comfort of their own residence, and a large percentage of accidents happen with stairs, domestic ladders, and even ovens. But, as far as I know, there is no legal restriction that residents need to wear protective clothing at home. No helmet required for Dad when he is cleaning the gutter. No hip-protectors required for Granny as she climbs the stairs each night. No compulsory oven-mitts for every person in charge of a kitchen.
Cars, on the contrary, are truly the devil’s work indeed. Marvelously giving their occupants a glimmer of a chance at personal freedom to wander where and when they want, at will, in truth we now know that things are sometimes slightly different to that vision. Designed for four happy occupants, nearly all car journeys are made by solo drivers. Used to take tiny children to school, it is a slightly sad and pathetic choice of transport mode, given that the children used to be happy to walk or cycle safely to school, until too many mummy’s and daddies taking their little darlings to school put paid to that. The more that we use cars to save ourselves, the worse the situation gets. The more we build roads to avoid congestion, the worse that congestion gets.
On the other hand, going by bike is a healthy option. Even though the bike is efficient at moving humans, if the cyclists cycle really fast, they can increase body tone, lose fat, add muscle, reduce heart attacks, cut diabetes, and probably even win you a Nobel Prize as well, they’re so fantastic. Alternatively, like me, you can just dawdle along, barely using your legs, and use the Wellington wind to whisk you home in style. Whatever takes your fancy. You can swap from using the streets like a Road Warrior, to politely moseying along on the pavements with the pedestrians, and puddle jump up or down off the kerbs as much as you like. You can cycle happily up One Way streets if the route is clear, or even ride along the Hutt Road like a mad man with a death wish, and pretty much no one will object either way. There has not been, as far as I can find out, a single death ever caused to a pedestrian by a cyclist in New Zealand in the last decade, but every year there are many, many deaths caused by cars and their drivers, both to pedestrians, and to cyclists. Even worse is the death and destruction caused by heavy trucks and buses, to both pedestrian traffic and to cyclists. To lessen the damage from being hit by a 44 tonne truck with 18 huge wheels, we demand that a cyclist wear a small piece of polystyrene plastic on their head, and send them forth to share the same lane as cars, trucks and buses. And then we say that they comply with the law, and that they are “safe”.
This is a lie.
Cyclists are, at all times, at danger of getting hurt, maimed and killed by clashes with motored vehicles, unless they are in completely separated bicycle lanes. You might think therefore, that given the chance, any sane resident in Wellington would leap at the chance of a network of cycle routes being planned through Wellington. The vision of a safe, high quality, carefully thought out and well implemented bike network, enabling the residents to safely ride from the outskirts of the city into the centre, free from any chance of being killed or maimed by vehicular traffic. Instead we have a situation where a group of self-centered people in a small suburb are actively protesting against a bicycle lane for all, because of a falsely perceived loss of parking for those very vehicles of death and destruction themselves. A loss of about 35 car parks along a street where nearly every house already has extensive off-street parking.
What is at the root of this problem? Why is this happening in Wellington, home to the most well-educated, most liberal, most intelligent community of New Zealanders in the country? How is it that in the very city with the best, the most extensive, and the most widely patronized public transport system in the country, a city that has more mountain bikes per person than any other capital city on the planet, a city that embraces the outdoors and the access to the wilderness that so embodies this marvelous tiny capital of ours, that this process appears to be going off its perfectly formed 26 inch rims?
I’m puzzled by this impasse. In Europe, several hundred million people live, sometimes even in harmony with each other, in a continent criss-crossed with rail lines and local trams. Nationwide and citywide cycle trails are apparent, as are intercontinental motorways for their extensive system of trucking freight from one country to another. Huge juggernauts of commerce thunder along their designated routes of asphalt, while cyclists remain completely separate on their own cycle path, or in their own segregated cycle lane. Even in heavily cycled parts of Europe, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, cyclists happily cycle along at a leisurely pace, no helmets necessary, and none ever worn, secure in the knowledge that they will suffer no harm, as they will not come into contact with a car or truck, or bus, ever. Mothers, fathers, children and grandparents can all safely cycle along, sharing road space with just other cyclists, or sometimes with pedestrians, not dressed in stretchy Lycra, not wearing fluorescent or reflective clothing, not wearing pointless pieces of polystyrene balanced atop their heads, because they know that they are in a safe place. A place where they cannot get hit by a car, a truck, or a bus. They wear ordinary work clothes, ride ordinary bicycles, and lead ordinary lives safe in the knowledge that their lives are not in danger from being ended suddenly and savagely by the imposition of several tonnes of speeding metal into their physical beings.
Fuck the people who think that car parking come before bike safety. Construct a network of fully separated cycle paths throughout the city. Build the Island Bay cycle path now.