Meet the Councillor: he’s no bike bogan.

Is everyone enjoying their holidaze?  Sheesh, in just a few days, we’ll settle up on the year and offer a toast to 2012.  To you, I raise my glass: may you find abundant peace and joy among folks you love and folks you’ll come to love and may every ride leave you safe and sound and happy.

As we launch into another year, there’s no better time to make some new acquaintances.  Next year at this time, we can sing (or ring) the old song about them.  And so, today, we continue with the Cycle Aware Wellington meet-and-greet.  Say hello to your people, people.  These are your homies.  Once a week, we introduce you to a Wellington rider.  We let you do the rest.  Say hello in comments, if you like, or say hello on the road.  Here we go…

Cool Bike Person #2: Councillor Justin Lester from the Northern Ward

First-term Wellington City Councillor, Justin Lester, rides his bike from point A to point B.  Everyday.  Unless there’s something wrong with his bike, which, these days, has been a problem due to a couple rough spots on his way to work.

Councillor Lester's morning commute. Just another good reason to ride.

For Councillor Lester, point A is his home in Johnsonville and point B is work—a 20-minute commute going downhill and 30 minutes on the return.  It’s a habit he picked up as a kid in Invercargill because “it was the best option.”  His mom didn’t have a car; to get to school, he could ride, walk, or take the bus.  The busses didn’t come very often and walking was never as much fun as BMX’ing on his brother’s bike.  As he got older, he turned the bike into a profit-maker; he got a paper route and a taste of freedom.  Bike paths and cycle lanes didn’t matter.  He rode without a helmet.  He wore whatever he was wearing.  He gave it all very little thought; it was just the way things were.  He was coming and going and the bike made it all possible.

He feels the same now, about his options and his bike ride:  “Why would I wait to get public transport, and pay $9 a day when it’s faster for me to ride and I get exercise and feel so much better just in the act of getting to and from work?”

His first bike was a gift from his mom: an Avanti Town & Country.  When he upgraded to an Avanti Montari—a big purchase on credit—he learned lessons in usury and the value of second-hand bikes.  The lesson stuck.  Contemplating a new bike for his growing family, he’s shopping used.

On his path to represent the Northern Ward, the Councillor worked and studied in Germany and Japan.  His riding experience in other bike cultures made clear New Zealand’s deficient cycling infrastructure.  “It’s not just the paths available, but the community attitude toward cycling as well.”  He learned early the convenience of a bike; for others yet to make a habit of riding, he speculates, convenience may not trump comfort.   He gets it that his affinity for the bike—even his choice to ride—is due to his ease on it, and, possibly, his lack of choice, as a kid.  Some people, based on their own pasts, “are just more comfortable in cars.”  But he reckons laziness is also a factor.  (He adds, “I’ll probably get some grief for that one.”)

It’s not an intractable problem, though. People can overcome laziness.  And people can learn how to relax on a bike if they take the time to learn.  Between the two major impediments to riding he identifies—weather and the quality of cycle routes—efforts can only be made to correct one and from his position as a councillor and rider, he thinks he’s in a good position to advocate for improvements.  He’d like to see a greater percentage of the roading budget guaranteed for cycling infrastructure.  “Double it and then some,” he says.  His dream routes would be paths for commuters in and around the CBD—Adelaide Road is the most obvious, but improvements to the Northern suburbs are wanting.  He’d also like to see more kids encouraged to ride to school but understands that parents will have to be made to feel secure about their kids’ adventures on the road.  As the very least, he thinks, parents should appreciate the traffic easing that would result.

As for his bike style?  He’s a “normal bike kind of guy,” not a “bike bogan.”  He got his own bike a few years back off of Trademe and it suits “just fine.”  He likes to ride through the neighborhood with his daughter in a pack—she’s still small enough—and he’s envisioned a bike seat in the near future.  After that, he sees his little girl riding to school—he just has to convince his wife that it’ll be safe.  He likes “bikes with bells and baskets, functional not fast, that get you from A to B.”  It’s what he rode in Japan and Germany; they served him well and kept him safe.  He likes riding in normal clothes– “wear whatever you want,” he says.  He thinks helmets are a “pain in the ass” and believes that they should be left to the choice of riders.  “I’ve appreciated my helmet personally on a couple spills I’ve taken, but I don’t think they should be made compulsory.  I see them as one of the biggest put-offs to riding.”  That doesn’t mean he envisions a world without helmets.  “I think a majority of riders would still wear them, just maybe not all the time.”  And for kids, he thinks, “it makes sense to keep them protected.”

When asked if he’s had to yell at drivers, he said, “Heaps.  And they’ve yelled back at me.”  Only a week or so before we talked, a driver admonished the Councillor to get off the road.  He understands the driver’s frustration because he knows it’s part of the process of change.  He holds his place on the road even when a driver yells at him because he knows he can and knows the message will eventually sink in.  In the meantime, Councillor Lester won’t hold his tongue when a little education is required.

Okay everyone, say hello to Councillor Justin Lester.  And when you see him on the road, know that he’s not above a shout and some bell-ringing.



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