I left beautiful Karitane this morning, after an incredible breakfast that included gluten free pancakes made by my exceedingly generous hosts. The morning was cool and overcast, perfect conditions for cycling, and still very beautiful. The ocean was a still blue grey mirror reflecting the sky, with hints of light coming in through on the horizon under the layer of cloud.
The Coast Road had a lot more ups and downs than I expected. It was perfect for interesting cycling, but I was running late to meet fellow cyclists at the top of Mt Cargill. I note that when you’re not pressed for time, cycling is nearly always enjoyable as long as you travel at a good sustainable pace. Many people find it difficult because they try to travel faster than is comfortable for them. I did that for a while and then resigned myself to being a bit late, and started enjoying the ride.
The journey up Mt Cargill took me just under 90 minutes, during which I saw about three cars and one heavily-laden German cycle tourist who was pushing his bike. More stunning nature, lots of endorphins, how could I not feel fantastic when I reached the top? A cyclist and Green Party member had come up (and part way down) the hill to meet me, which made the last few climbs even easier.
In less than 20 minutes we were down the other side in Dunedin, checking out the bike lanes on North Road with fellow cycle advocate, Dr Hank Weiss, who researches injury prevention and rides a well kitted-out electric bike, with room for a passenger or cargo on the back.
We went through town and met up briefly with Metiria, and then spontaneously joined Hank for an afternoon presentation/workshop on an innovative road safety curriculum being developed for school kids by teachers and the NZTA. It was heartening to meet the committed and talented people working in these areas, in all different roles. I’ve no doubt that this work is a small but important step in changing the transport culture we have in NZ.
Unfortunately, I do believe that culture follows infrastructure to a great degree, and that as long as we continue developing infrastructure that is designed to increase the speed and flow of vehicles, innovative educational intervention will be unlikely to have a huge impact.
We see examples of the misguided and unintended consequences of traffic engineering principles all around us. Ever find it hard to keep to the speed limit on the motorway or a wide empty arterial? Roads are deliberately designed to have sight lines and take high speeds to be ‘safer’. But because they make you feel comfortable travelling at a higher speed, subconsciously you will tend to speed up.
Increasing the speed and flow of vehicles is also the quickest way to discourage people from walking or cycling. It feels unsafe, it can be very unpleasant, and it usually creates environments that are long and boring. Have you noticed that you can walk 20 minutes down a street full of people and shops, like Lambton Quay, and not even notice? Whereas walking along a suburban arterial, bordered by car parks, strip malls, surrounded by noisy cars and trucks, where you’re the only person walking feels like you’ve been crossing a desert for hours after about 10 minutes?
The psychological reaction to different urban environments is very real. Jan Gehl reports on some of the research in this area in books like Life Between the Buildings. This impact of urban form influences our choices about how we travel, and where we want to be. Dunedin could do a lot better by prioritising people in the town centre and environs. There would be economic benefits for the city and for shop keepers, as well as a reduced road toll.
I stayed too long at the workshop, and the weather turned for a while. A strong westerly wind was blowing and it was starting to rain, and it was after 4pm. Looking at my options for getting out of town, I succumbed to safety and time concerns and got a ride to the end of the motorway.
Good thing I did, it was nearly 2 hours straight into the westerly wind, along the beautiful, empty side roads like Henley Rd, to Waihola. Slow going, but the sun came back and I was happy to be away from the big trucks on the highway, and just paced myself.
Tomorrow (Friday) is my biggest challenge day. Well over 100km to Gore, and strong headwinds are forecast. If the winds are too strong, the distance may be too ambitious for one day. I’ll do my best, though!