Finally, on a warm, still morning in January, it happened: I loaded my old dunger of a bike onto the back of the car, parked up in Massey in Auckland’s northwest, and pedalled the 19km into the AA Head Office in town.
The idea was to ride to work and back a couple of days a week – on the days I don’t have to collect the kids from daycare – to get some exercise and to have a break from the misery of rush-hour traffic.
Earlier in my career – in Auckland, Wellington and overseas – I’d cycled to work rain or shine. I loved the flexibility, affordability and the fitness. And even though it hasn’t really been an option for the last decade or so, I always knew I’d come back to it.
The cycling world has changed in the time I’ve been away.
Back then, cycle lanes were few and far between. Mostly, you either took your chances and mixed with general traffic or rode on the footpath with the kids. Now, I’m able to ride nearly the whole way to work on a safe, separated cycleway. On the parts of the route where we have to mix with traffic, we have our own traffic lights and well-marked crossings. It’s brilliant.
With the new infrastructure comes new codes of behaviour. Cycle lane users queue patiently at intersections in order of arrival. Faster riders overtake carefully and considerately (many sounding their bell before passing). Friendly nods and greetings are common.
It changes from intersection to intersection, but most cyclists seem to resist the urge to jump red lights, even when no cars are around.
Those that do sometimes even get a ticking off from the other riders. It’s like they recognise that now they’ve been given their own infrastructure, they have a responsibility to stick to the rules.
Technology has also come a long way; the cycle lane is full not just of e-bikes, but of all sorts of e-scooters and e-skateboards, too. This is great because it opens up active travel to all ages, levels of fitness and ability but, on the other hand, it’s hard not to worry about safety.
E-bikes especially can get up to speeds of over 40km/h; a collision with another cycle lane user – cyclist or pedestrian – would be disastrous.
Cycling isn’t going to work for everyone, but with improvements in technology and infrastructure, and with more workplaces set up to accommodate it, the barriers are coming down.
And another thing to note: it doesn’t have to be a wholesale lifestyle change. Getting on your bike for just a day or two a week is good for your physical and mental health, good for your wallet, and good for the transport system.
In the pipeline
Cycleways between Auckland's Herne Bay and Westhaven, over
the Northern Motorway at Northcote Road and along Victoria Street in the CBD are due for completion this year. Others along the central city’s Karangahape Road, between New Lynn and Avondale and along Tāmaki Drive will open in 2021.
Reported by Barney Irvine for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue