CAN Do in the city of the future

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CAW’s James Burgess shares the lessons of Island Bay at CAN Do 2016

The national cycling meeting CAN Do was held the weekend before Easter in Hamiltron,  city of the future, “An hour to the south of Auckland, and ten minutes into the future”. So what did this meeting of about 40 cycling advocates mean for the future of people riding bikes?

A good number of us came by bike, which meant that the bike festooned railings at the venue briefly attracted the attention of a gentleman with boltcutters, before being seen off by one of the eagle eyed organising team. Who said Hamiltonians weren’t enterprising?

Historians tell us that you can’t plan for the future without looking at the past. This CAN Do marked 20 years since CAN started, and Robert Ibell, the founding secretary and long time chair of CAN, took us through a history of cycle advocacy in NZ. Although progress seems frustratingly slow, a lot has changed since 1996: more funding, road rules that recognise cycling, and a growing level of infrastructure, both in amount and quality. Through its history, CAN has worked through volunteers and consensus: CAN is us, not them.

One newer organisation that has been effective in highlighting issues such as climate change and transport is Generation Zero, and we heard from Arryn and Rowena about some Hamilton and Auckland initiatives. Generation Zero pioneered the online easy submission process, that has been particularly effective in getting approval for Sky Path, and boosting funding for cycling in Hamilton, for example.

Paula Southgate of Waikato Regional Council itemised the cycling projects going on in the Waikato: the Western Rail trail using spare rail corridor to connect the western suburbs of Hamilton to the CBD, speed management, etc, all of which has led to a peak in cycle commuting in 2013. A particular challenge is the popularity of sports cycling on rural roads – similar to the issues we have in Wellington with places like Whitemans valley. The big achievement for Waikato cycling has been Te Awa, the river trails, described for us by the ebullient Sarah Ulmer, who has made the transition from elite athlete to cycling mum, and is pushing the vision of a 3m wide concrete path from Ngarawhahia to Lake Taupo, opening access to the river for cyclists, runners and walkers of all capabilities. Currently Te Awa connects Hamilton to the cycling centre of Cambridge on off road paths and quiet streets. While many people are involved in the Te Awa project, I suspect a reason for its success is that Sarah is simply a very hard person to say “no” to.

Megan Smith discussed her university research into how cycling appears in policy documents. Despite one-off initiatives such as the Urban Cycleways Programme, most mentions of cycling are peripheral, seeing cycling as a recreational activity rather than as a key component of the transport network, and ignoring the potential role of cycling in mitigating climate change. Clearly we still have work to do lobbying for more appropriate recognition of cycling in government policy.

Chris Foggin of Cycling NZ talked about the range of people cycling recreationally, including Reg, the 93 year old veteran who is still winning races, partly because he’s the only competitor in his age class. Chris talked about the Ride Leader programme, introducing beginners to cycling skills. Although aimed at recreational cyclists, it’s an idea that could easily be adopted for commuting.

CAN Do attracted the politicians as well. Local MP Sue Maroney congratulated CAN on being one of the first lobby groups to contact her when she became Opposition Transport Spokesperson, and asked that we wave to her when we encountered her on a bike – she rediscovered cycling 3 years ago. Our own Wellington councillor Sarah Free also attended, contributing a local government perspective to our discussions.

Elizabeth Claridge and Claire Pascoe updated us on NZTA’s cycling team – something that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago when CAN was formed. 8 of the 24 UCP projects are complete, and the team is undertaking initiatives to bring cycling into the mainstream such as hiring a social media specialist, and has published a Benefits Tool, a resource of information about the benefits of cycling.

Until Vision Zero is achieved, we have to face the reality of traffic fatalities and injuries. Caroline Perry of Brake talked about their work addressing the global road toll, both at a macro level pushing for lower speed limits, and helping individuals work though the grief of losing a loved one to a traffic crash, through their book, Someone has died in a road crash.

Richard Barter got us out of the meeting room to a nearby carpark where a Fonterra truck and trailer unit was waiting for us to see how invisible cyclists can be from the cab of a truck. This is sobering (but not surprising – in a previous life as a truckie, I once backed over a mini that was in my blind spot), although I think we need to also question why vehicles with limited visibility are allowed on our roads, particularly in urban areas.

We also heard from local groups. CAW’s own James Burgess gave some background to the Island Bay saga, and how lessons for future projects are being applied in developing the UCP projects such as the Hutt Road path. Will Andrews reported on how projects such as the Railway Reserve and the Rocks have lead to a 9% cycling mode share in Nelson. Tom Halliburton told us how skilled political maneuvering succeeded in adding good quality bike infrastructure to plans for the Haywards intersection in Upper Hutt. David Crowley talked about some of Rotoruas battles and initiatives, including a bike festival where people get to ride the airport runway. They’ve also tried this in Hawkes Bay – a new Ciclovia vision, perhaps? Perhaps not an option for Wellington’s busier airport! Bevan Woodward and Paul Shortland discussed the burgeoning Auckland cycling scene, where the newly rebranded Bike Auckland works alongside other groups such as Auckland Bike Style to bring cycling into the mainstream of a traditionally car oriented city. (I was interested to see that Janette Sadik-Khan’s Street Fight features Auckland in her survey of global initiatives to make cities more liveable). Even better, Skypath seems on track to at last connect the north shore to the CBD for cyclists and walkers, which could transform how people view active transport. I suggested that a way to fund Skypath is simply to buy up properties in Northcote, waiting for the inevitable rise in value when people realise that like Herne Bay, the suburb will be in walking and cycling distance of the CBD. Lyn Sleath of Kapiti talked about work to make north south cycling through Kapiti more accessible, Otaki bridge being the latest battleground. In Hawkes Bay shared paths are an issue, leading to a “stop the startle” campaign to use bells and voice to warn other users. Lynneke Oderwater of Whanganui told us about how the Mountains to the Sea route is providing an urban cycleway parallel to the river, complemented by  the Te Tuaiwi spine. The local group has been successful in getting a regular cycling stories in the local paper, about for example an opera singing cyclist, and a person losing 100kg through biking.

What’s the future for CAN as an advocacy organisation? At the AGM we discussed proposals for a more professional, mass membership basis for CAN. But we also heard from Jo Mackay and Patrick Morgan presenting the proposal for a 3 year “Love Cycling” campaign to build supportive communities for cycling, and ensure that UCP money is spent effectively. This raises questions, such as how we persuade people who see cars as “normal” transport to love cycling, but it’s a bold initiative that’s worth following up. Bevan Woodward facilitated a session where we tried to identify what CAN’s role was: lobbying and media of course, but also speaking to the “interested but concerned” to reassure them that cycling is a good transport option. Above all, we need to sign up for BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

CAN Do 2016 showed that the future of cycling is bright – but people on bikes need to be involved. If you’re not already a member (if you’re a member of CAW, you’re automatically a member of CAN) please join, and get involved to get more people on bikes, more often.

Thanks to Claire and the CAN Do 2016 organising team for an inspiring weekend. The presentations from the meeting are available.

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