We are a nation of car lovers. I grew up to the sound of a V8 engine and the smell of petrol. My dad was a mechanic, there was always one family car in the driveway, and another in the garage being ‘fixed’. It’s part of who we are. Car ownership as a young adult is a rite of passage, it signifies our independence and then as our income and age increases, it becomes a symbol of our wealth and status.
It’s no surprise then New Zealand’s car ownership rate is the highest in the OECD. However, there’s a direct correlation between this and the per capita CO² emissions in most of our major cities, the growing issue of congestion and urban space, and the worrying obesity statistics. More than thirty percent of kiwis are obese, we're third on the OECD scale behind America and Mexico. This is nothing to be proud of.
There are of course other modes of transport equally important to help combat these issues; public transport, car share schemes and walking all have a place. However none seem to provoke the same bone of contention as cycling.
Let’s just get this out of the way. You can be a dickhead if you’re a driver or a cyclist. The mode of transport doesn’t determine your behavior on the road, behavior is a choice regardless.
So let’s break down the ways more people cycling will help everyone, including those who don’t cycle.
1. Cars take up a lot of space
Cars dominate our space whether they are mobile or stationary. Cycles take up much less space comparatively. Take a look here for clever ways of illustrating this. We think cars bring people into a city, but the reality is when cars dominate, there is little room and even less motivation for people to also be in that space. More cycles and less cars equals more space for people (and cafes, shops, museums, theaters etc.).
2. Ease congestion
Poorly planned infrastructure can contribute to congestion, however even the best planned roads will fail if the number of vehicles using them continue to increase exponentially. Let’s imagine what would happen to our roads if even fifty percent of everyone who could cycle did, on the same day, at rush hour into work. (The NZ Transport Agency reports ‘seventy five percent of kiwis say they would cycle if the network better met their needs’.) Congestion would ease. Those who it doesn’t suit to cycle will have a quicker drive into work.
3. Finding a park
Finding a park right outside of the shop you want to go to is a right, right? Imagine if there are less people driving into the city and more people cycling. Cycles have a wonderful way of fitting into small spaces and can even be stacked on a wall, they don’t compete with space for car parks. Car parks would be easier to find, because there would be less demand.
4. Our health
Cycling is a low impact activity that many people can do regardless of experience, age or ability. It’s a great form of aerobic exercise meaning the heart and lungs get a workout, and is fantastic for weight loss. The health system we're so fortunate to have in New Zealand is bulging at the seams from demand while being under funded and under resourced. Remember the high obesity statistic, (we're ranked third in the world), a contributing factor to this is our sedentary lifestyles. A twenty minute cycle each way to work would do wonders for the cyclist and for our health system. Who doesn’t want to be healthy?
5. Reducing our emissions
New Zealand’s road transport related emissions are again some of the highest in the OECD. The 2014 figures state seventeen percent, and before you cry freight, its largely private vehicles (remember our high car ownership?). Another problem with New Zealand’s fleet is its largely old and inefficient. The beauty about a bike is age is no problem. I have a restored 1980’s Malvern Star and she runs as clean today as she did thirty years ago. Reducing our emissions through more people cycling would take a gigantic effort, but it’s possible.
My 'thirty something 'emission free Malvern Star
What’s needed is a shift in both perception and understanding of why cycling should be encouraged, supported and invested in as a form of transport. Our transport system needs to change to reflect a more balanced approach to different modes. Our children need to be safe riding their first bike to school, drivers need to have confidence when passing cyclists, and cyclists need to know they have a place on our roads. This will take time, money, patience and consideration for each other.
If we can do this, we will all be better off.