On Saturday, over 250 people joined the Bike to the Future ride through Grey Lynn to support the neighbourhood routes under way. Our mates at Generation Zero dreamed up the event, which we were delighted to help organise and marshal. These routes will pave the way for the expanding network through Auckland’s burbs over coming years, so they’re really important. You’ll be glad to hear that a community liaison group process – with representation from Bike Auckland – is already under way. The design will be refined over coming months, so that the construction can continue.

It was delightful to watch people gathering for the ride – a varied and colourful parade of people of all ages, including babies in bikes seats and trailers, cargo bikes, basket bikes; all the kinds of riders we know safe cycleways will bring.

Gathering on Oban Rd in Westmere for the start of the ride.

A gentle 2km ramble took us from one set of local shops to another, past the school and kindy and dairies and cafes, and then to a park, where the official business took place. Check out the vibe in the video below, and more gorgeous photos of the event here.

At the end of the ride, AT’s new CEO Shane Ellison was on hand to receive the petition signed by 1600 people, encouraging AT to crack on with designing and building the local bikeways.

As Generation Zero’s Auckland director Leroy Beckett said, in the end, it’s not really about the numbers – it’s about doing the right thing, for the climate, for local kids, for people just trying to get to work safely, for the city as a whole. “The main thing is to pay attention, to keep talking to businesses and your friends and make sure the community is on side.”

Eden Williams of Generation Zero (with Leroy Beckett, L)  hands over the petition to Shane Ellison, CEO of AT.

Shane Ellison noted how historic it was for AT to receive a petition in support of something it was doing: “Believe me, at AT we don’t often hear the vocal support of – well, I had in my notes ‘the silent majority’ but I’m not sure you are so silent,” he joked to an appreciative crowd, before assuring everyone of AT’s unwavering commitment to making Auckland a better place to bike:

“The fact is that AT, and the board of AT, are aligned with the expectations of the mayor, and the new government’s priorities, which include the cycling programme. But your support goes a long way to ensure budgets, that we can prioritise the budgets, and that we can deliver a safe and connected cycleway programme.”

The event also got comprehensive coverage in the NZ Herald, including an excellent video clip. Note: If you’re wondering why Local Board chair Pippa Coom is talking about ‘poo going into the harbour’ in the video, it’s because there was a protest sign in the park saying Auckland should spend money to fix the water issues, not cycleways.

That’s a silly and false opposition: both the water system and our streets are showing the strain of decades of deferred investment, so there’s a 10-year plan in place to fix them both (up to an estimated $7bn on water issues; less than 10% of that on cycleways – with the money coming from different pots).

Obviously our city deserves – and must prioritise – BOTH clean water and swimmable beaches, AND safe streets for people of all ages, on all kinds of transport. Indeed, encouraging people to walk and bike for local trips – starting in childhood – is as critical a part of the long term public health picture as clean water and separated sewerage. And, as a writer in the NY Daily News put it last year:

Back to business: one of the nicest things about the ride was the unexpected traffic-calming effect. It would have been a bit of a surprise for motorists to encounter a couple of hundred bikes, but everyone behaved in a friendly fashion, slowed down, waved and smiled. Passersby were moved to take photos of the happy crowd on wheels.

It was also a really useful test of how the streets, in their current shape, will need reshaping to accommodate a bike boom. For now, there’s safety in numbers (and highly visible pink vests and helium balloons!), so on Garnet Rd and Old Mill Rd, riders had to occupy the full traffic lane for safety’s sake.

No bike lanes, nor protected cycleways (for now) – but safety in numbers made this route accessible for families and kids and new riders. With at least two schools and a kindy along the planned path, the appeal is obvious.

As we approached the shops on Richmond Rd, people on bikes gravitated towards the existing painted lane (not world-class infrastructure, but a place-holder for it) and funneled efficiently through the shops, showing how little space you need to move a whole lot of people. Big thanks to AT’s 020 bus driver, who politely hung back for a moment so the group could stick together.

A couple of hundred people on bikes enter West Lynn (greeted by a couple of protestors)

One of the most tangible outcomes of the ride was seeing how many people would feel confident to ride through this neighbourhood more often, if it felt safer to do so. The bike-to-school run, which New Zealand somehow managed to unintentionally crush inside of a generation, could be back on our streets in an even shorter timeframe, if we prioritise it.

Also, you really couldn’t have asked for a better demonstration of how small residential shops can cope with finite space for parking… by attracting customers who choose more space-efficient modes. As people and their bikes filtered back out of the rally and into the local shops and cafes, it was an eye-catching reminder that Auckland is, in the end, a city of villages – and that our city’s future looks a lot like a vibrant, diverse, sustainable update of its charming historic past.

West Lynn village after the event: plenty of parking for plenty of shoppers!
Hanging out in Francis Reserve after the ride and the rally.
Flying a flag for the future!
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