Julie Anne Genter

Day 3 — The straight and narrow path (to Timaru)

by Julie Anne Genter

When I arrived in Ashburton completely shattered last night, I informed Kaye at the reception desk that I would be leaving early. “Perhaps seven,” I said, thinking the earlier I left, the less wind I would encounter.

“Oh, but you may just want to have a lie in after all that,” she smiled.

“I’ve got 5 more days of cycling ahead of me,” I insisted, full of good intentions to hit the road early.

In fact, I slept in until about 830 and then made breakfast and packed. I didn’t leave until closer to 930, and then I only cycled about 1km to the cycling gear store, where I proceeded to go on a shopping spree.

Cycling gloves? Check. Merino top? Check. Padded bicycle shorts? Oh yes. As much as I adore my Brooks leather saddle, to make it then next 460km I will need shorts that feel like they have a built-in adult diaper. (Never fear, normal-looking shorts cover up the padded Lycra portion).

So I embarked on the day’s 80km journey slightly after 11am, but very happy with my purchases, which should suffice as my long-cycle-trip uniform for years to come.

Yesterday I mentioned that I had a big choice to make today: would I cycle a longer and much slower route to avoid potential loss of life and limb, or go straight to Timaru on SH1?

I chose the latter. When cycling for transport, you want to get where you’re going, just like anyone traveling by any other mode. Yes the journey can be enjoyable, but I’ve got a deadline of Mataura by Saturday midday, and adding additional kilometers seems impossible at this point.

The trade-off of safety and comfort for directness happens in the city too.  People traveling by bike and on foot are often instructed by council transport planners to take more circuitous routes to avoid traffic. It’s ironic because when you’re traveling under your own steam, a few extra kilometers is a lot more of an ask than when you’re in a car. Yet it is usually those on foot or bicycles that are asked to mount the over-bridge, cross three times, or go downhill to the off-road path, only to climb uphill at the end of it.

Commuting to the city centre from St Luke’s in Auckland, I found the fastest way to cycle was New North Road to Ian McKinnon Dr, a weird semi-motorway route frequented by vehicles travelling well over 100km an hour (and usually even unwilling to change lanes to overtake a bicycle, though the middle lane was inevitably empty.)

Perhaps the years of being overtaken at half a metre by speeding buses and trucks in Auckland have desensitised me. I found today’s ride quite enjoyable, despite the noise and immanent threat of the passing trucks. (Sorry the mysterious iPad is not allowing me to upload pictures to the blog, but you can see some if you follow me on Facebook.) I arrived in sunny Timaru around 530pm, surprised to encounter some small hills, and had plenty of time to walk to the supermarket and make a healthy dinner.

We shouldn’t have to choose between directness and safety. It is entirely possible to build infrastructure that welcomes people on bicycles and on foot, and doesn’t make them travel twice as far. In fact, building our towns and cities so they are welcoming to people (as opposed to funneling vehicles through as quickly as possible) will cost us less in many ways. It’s a perfectly understandable mistake of traffic engineering that so many of our towns and cities are impossible or terrifying to navigate without a car.  It’s a mistake we can undo relatively easily by adopting different traffic engineering standards, changing some of our planning rules, and redirecting money towards walking and cycling infrastructure, which is much more cost effective than infrastructure for motor vehicles. However, our political and business leaders haven’t quite grasped this opportunity yet. I’m hoping I can use the next few years to get that message out.

But for now, I’ve got to focus on the remaining 345km (not all of it flat!) to Mataura. Tomorrow I’m definitely going to be up and on the road by 7am…

Next Post: Day 4 — The strawberry trail into Otago (after a slightly emo pep talk)

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Julie Anne Genter on Mon, January 16th, 2012   

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