Hurrah for the official start of spring. It means we’re pedalling further away from winter – and that means more people on bicycles.
I’m not talking fancy-pants speed-cycling. I’m happy for spandex mobs to zoom around on the weekend, but that’s a level of leg-shaving enthusiasm I don’t share.
I’m talking commuter cycling. Pedalling for convenience, fitness and fresh air.
Cycling is my primary form of transport during the week. If I’m not on my bike I’ll run to work or I’ll catch the bus.
Call it my contribution to sustainability. It’s cheaper and it’s better for the planet. And don’t knock the bus. It’s not a perfect system but a growing city has to start somewhere with its public transport. Increasingly, I find myself sharing seats on the morning route, so someone must be doing something right.
Tauranga has a great climate for cycling. I can say that with confidence after having lived at various times in Auckland, Christchurch and Invercargill. Auckland will rain on you for no particular reason. Invercargill will blow you sideways if it gets the chance. Cycling through a Christchurch winter is like doing the ice bucket challenge face first.
I have a fantasy that Tauranga could one day be the cycling capital of New Zealand. It’s a sunny, whimsical fantasy in which everyone pedals around on those big old-school cruiser bikes that are coming into fashion. Do you know the ones? They’re often painted in pastels and their seats are as wide as lounge suites.
We’d have a great attitude coasting to our appointments on those. Ordinary people out and about on funky, laid-back machines. The sounds of the city would be dominated by the whirr of bike wheels and the ping of bells. Our biggest problem would be the lack of bike stands in town.
I weep inside when motorists and pedestrians get into silly public disputes with cyclists. The motorist wails, “Cyclists cause accidents!” and the cyclist retorts, “Drivers don’t pay enough attention!”
I do know that a small number of cyclists can spoil things for the rest of us. There goes one of them now, crashing through the red light at a major intersection.
If you ride a bicycle, have a think about the damage you do when you jump that light. You’ve just enjoyed the use of a cycle lane that has been set apart for your personal use. It probably wasn’t there 5 or 10 years ago, so it represents a seismic shift in transport planning. That’s a shift in your favour.
That new cycle lane has snatched precious real-estate from the majority of road users. Many of those drivers are still learning to acknowledge the rights of cyclists.
Remember that TV ad where the guy shifts back and forth between wearing togs and undies depending on how near to the beach he is standing?
Cyclists have a similar dilemma. One minute we’re pedestrians, the next minute we’re vehicles. We share roads with cars and we share estuary tracks with walkers.
We change status at our convenience, sometimes prefering to bunny-hop off the road to avoid an intersection of busy traffic. This freedom is a privilege that we shouldn’t take for granted.
In a car-centric world, a lot of traffic situations are annoying from a cyclist’s point of view. When you’ve got your momentum it feels like a crime against gravity to brake out of hyperspace for a redundant red light.
But if we want more people to support a cycle-friendly city then we need to show that we’re part of the community, not unruly outsiders.
Let’s not forget that everyone who rides also drives and walks. Cyclists, motorists, pedestrians: at the end of the day we’re all in the same boat.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 5 September 2014. Reproduced with permission.