Hard News by Russell Brown


Change for the Better

I came in to Karangahape Road on Thursday evening via the northwestern cycleway so I could coast down the new Canada Street shared path and ride straight onto the LightPath Te Ara I Whiti cycleway as its designers intended. I was so excited I had to remind myself to slow down when I crossed onto the bridge.

But when I got back up to K Road to meet my darling, I discovered I'd forgotten my bike lock. K Road hasn't gentrified so much that you can leave your bike unlocked while you go exploring, so there was nothing for it it but to nip down to the Torpedo 7 sports store and shell out for another one. I bought the lock, set the combination number and went to head back along the strip.

It was busy and I could have ridden along the footpath, but, perhaps emboldened by the number of cyclists around the place, I figured I'd just turn right out of Gundry Street like any other vehicle. I could see a car approach at the far side of the bend in K Road, but it was far enough away. What I hadn't clocked was how fast the car was going – probably about 65km/h.

Reader, I bailed. Instead of completing the turn, I headed straight ahead for the safety of the median strip. This immediately got awkward, because I found myself facing a car that had entered the median strip into order to turn right into Gundry. I looked apologetically at the woman driving.

And then the speeding car passed me. I was unsighted, but I'm pretty sure that the driver not only accelerated but swerved towards me in my refuge on the median strip, because I heard the engine revving and actually felt the car go past. It was bloody scary, which I presume was the driver's intention. It felt like a deliberate and very dangerous attempt to intimidate.

Who does that?

Dudes, basically. I regard myself as a confident cyclist in traffic, but when when I returned to the LightPath for Bike Auckland's big ride at 8pm, having a safe cycle space felt especially sweet.

There were nearly 1000 of us lined up to ride the path by the time we set off – the queue filled the path right up to the top of Canada Street and around onto the Upper Queen Street overbridge.

 Kids, oldies, all sorts – all of us grinning happily.

The ride was a lovely complement to the cultural buzz around the First Thursdays event back up on K Road, with its hidden films, second-line brass band and wandering crowds. It was a vision for Auckland made real and I liked it. A lot.

Before I headed home later in the evening, I took one more spin on the new cycleway. It's beautiful at night when the lights start up, and cyclists, pedestrians and skateboarders seemed to have quickly worked out this was the way to go.

Didn't I complain mightily about the design of this path a few months ago? Yes, I did. And I still have somewhat mixed feelings about the high perspex walls. On one hand, they helpfully block both wind and noise, but on the other they're essentially opaque at any kind of oblique angle, so your field of view is constricted from about 15 metres ahead. It's perhaps because I'm so used to having a wide view of what's ahead as a matter of personal safety that it feels a tiny bit uncomfortable.

But the walls are an NZTA safety edict and the the agency and the council have conjured something great from them. So I'm not really complaining. I do wonder if there's a plan to deal with the tyre marks that are already all over the bright magenta surface.

On Friday, I had some more business on K Road and after that popped on to the LightPath and rode down the new Nelson Street cycleway to the old City Works Depot, where I convinced Brothers Beer that their cyclist discount could be extended to the day after and enjoyed a glass of beer before heading back.

I can report that, in contrast to Mike Hosking's fatuous early morning picture of himself on Nelson Street, I had company all the way. In a couple of cases, the company wasn't entirely welcome – folks, this isn't a shared path and the lanes are only 1.5m wide. Please use the footpath. Ta.

But on Saturday, something very unwelcome happened. By all accounts, the driver of this car deliberately entered the cycleway and drove towards a family heading up on their bikes. The driver laughed before reversing out and exiting via Cook Street, presumably breaching the no-right-turn sign there.

It appears that this was, like my experience on Thursday night, a deliberate attempt to intimidate cyclists. It has to stop. And you know what? This kind of behaviour is enabled and encouraged by the  fact-challenged blather of people like Hosking. When he bloviates about people on the new path being unemployed layabouts, he diminishes their humanity in a way that encourages that behaviour.

The fact is, this whole thing cost $18 million to build. Which might sound a lot, until you place it in the context of $4.2 billion of NZTA spending in Auckland in the next three years alone.

But the whining is symptomatic of a lack of imagination too. Before too long, the Nelson Street path will run down to the waterfront, where it will connect with the Quay Street cycleway and the SkyPath over the harbour bridge. A further trail, SeaPath, will open up Takapuna and Devonport for cycle commuting. There will be a network connecting Takapuna, Onehunga and Waitakere, at a fraction of the cost of providing for vehicle traffic. Isn't that an asset? Isn't  it a point of difference to tell visitors to the city about? Can't new tourism business be built around this?

Five years ago, Hosking wrote an incoherent newspaper column in which he declared:

... there were barriers between bikes and cars, if we had cycleways the length of the country, if the cycleways we did have didn't double as carparks and bus lanes.

But we don't, and we're not going to. Therefore the debate is pointless.

Actually, we are and we have and none of this is pointless. It's not just the CBD either – the newly remediated stretch of the northwestern cycleway, to Rosebank Road, is smooth and glorious. Things can change, do change and are changing. People who haven't ridden a bike in years are talking about giving it go. And the more of them who do, the safer cycling becomes. Eventually, even the whiners will come aboard. They always do in the end.

Aerial photo taken on Saturday, December 5 by David Kraitzick, via Facebook.

NOTE: Feel free to share your own pics in the comments here. Just write your comment and then use the “Choose File” button to select an image. You can add as many as three pics per comment by saving, then going back in via the edit function (just mouse over the bottom of your comment) and selecting another one.

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