Bring back the school bike run!

Aug 17, 2017
Bring back the school bike run!

Bike Auckland

Jonny Webster from Bike Te Atatu writes with news of some smart kids exercising their right to ride…

A cancelled bus route has inadvertently helped a group of West Auckland students discover the advantages of a commute by bike.

The scheduled bus from Te Atatu Peninsula to the Rathgar Road schools in Henderson was plagued by stuck rush hour traffic and slow journey times (in the morning, it took about 45 mins but was almost always held up in traffic, especially with works on Te Atatu Rd, and the evening bus left 30 mins after school finished, and took 40 mins unless the traffic was bad). Then the bus got cancelled completely.

Looking for alternatives to multiple buses and an even longer journey, one group of Liston and St. Dominic’s students decided to try pedal power.

Suddenly, they have cut their commute to less than half an hour each way, and are getting hours of extra exercise each week. There are added benefits too. The extra fitness is helping improve their performance in the sports they play. They are saving money on bus fares. They have cut down on their ‘device-time’ (as bus journeys were usually whiled away on their phones/tablets). And they even get an extra half an hour in bed each morning – which, for teenagers, is the icing on the cake!

Route-wise, using the new Northwestern Cycleway and then the Henderson Creek Shared Path means that the majority of the journey is safely away from traffic. From the creek path to the schools, they use the western side of Central Park Drive on a nice wide path, then it’s left on to Te Pai, and left again on to Waipareira. (There’s a back entrance to ACG Sunderland School on Central Park Drive that would shave off that entire block, but it’s not public access, so they go around.)

Waipareira Rd is the worst road for cycling, with no easy choices. Parking on both sides of the road makes street cycling dodgy; and the frequency of driveway entrances to the light industry units makes the footpath dodgy, but preferable. Considering Waipareira is home to both ACG Sunderland and Middle School West Auckland, with Liston, St. Dom’s and Waitakere College close by, this street would be a smart target for bike-friendly improvements.

Waipareira Rd: just another innocuous West Auckland street to drivers, but a major perceptual barrier to kids on bikes.

There’s a pedestrian refuge near Moselle Ave, after which cutting through the Lincoln Centre car park is safer than biking Moselle and then Lincoln Road. Crossing Lincoln is actually pretty good – and then it’s a couple of back streets and you’re there.

That feeling when the giant carpark (centre) feels safer to kids than the street at the top.

Cycling is a popular solution for Liston boys from other areas around West Auckland, although St. Dom’s student Phoebe is the very first girl at the college to cycle in to school. She says the College have been very supportive, and many of the students have expressed an interest in riding too.

The bike gang kids are looking to recruit others, especially as the weather improves. They also mention how nice all the other riders are that they meet on their travels – so thank you, if you are one of those people who say hello or give ’em a friendly wave!

–Jonny Webster

We applaud this savvy bike gang for their initiative, which they’re clearly enjoying! Imagine how many more kids, even little ones, could be biking and walking to school if our streets were more welcoming.

The AA is currently running a School Safety Initiative survey focused on central Auckland, surveying ‘all the issues you’re facing when getting the kids to school on Auckland roads – however they’re getting there.’ It features a clever drag-and-drop map so you can pinpoint exactly what’s getting in the way of your school run, including on bikes and on foot. Head on over and add your thoughts! 

Meanwhile: how long will it be before kids in any part of Auckland can freely bike to school without thinking twice?

This is the big question about the current planning for Auckland’s bike network. There’s a strong case to be made for a coordinated roll-out of a cycle network for getting around town, and those are the trips that are being counted and measured. And the planned next stage will bring protected bike lanes to main streets and greenways to residential areas.

Transport choice is the catch-cry – but kids are given the least choice of all about how they’d prefer to travel, and they spend the greatest proportion of travel time as passengers in cars, literally sitting in traffic. They also have to Iive longer with the health costs of foregone activity and the consequences of a world planned around unsustainable transport.

Figures from Comparing Travel Modes: The New Zealand Household Travel Survey 2011-2014.

Ironically, it’s now commonplace to talk about the ‘school holiday effect’ on Auckland’s streets… which is not more kids out playing, but fewer cars out driving.

A graphic from AT’s 2016 Auckland Cycling Account

And here’s how that looks from the kids’ perspective: call this graphic ‘That School Day Feeling’:

From Comparing Travel Modes: the Household Transport Survey 2011-2014.

This is a kids’ rights issue. In 2013, in a guest blog post for us, Bryce Pearce described how the kids at Te Atatu Peninsula’s Matipo Primary School got to school vs. how they wanted to get to school. According to the school’s own Travelwise survey. a significant number really, really wanted to bike – but were being driven to school instead.

Matipo School Travelwise Survey 2012
Matipo Primary School Travelwise Survey 2012

For the Matipo parents, safety was a big part of the picture, as was distance (even though this is a local school with a small zone). But it’s worth noting how heavily parental time and convenience weighed:

Matipo Primary School Travelwise Survey 2012

Any parent will instantly understand this trade-off – it’s our daily reality – but the question has to be asked: whose time are we ‘saving’, and at what cost? And who gets to spend all that saved time?

Here’s the thing. The Matipo survey was done in 2012…  which means most of the children who wants to bike to primary school are no longer at primary school; some are already halfway through high school.

The good news is, two of those kids who wanted to bike to Matipo Primary School are now members of the bike bunch Jonny writes about above. They haven’t sat around waiting for us to get around to slower speed zones, safer streets; they’re choosing to make their own way through the city. And they’ve worked out there’s safety in numbers and in clever use of existing infrastructure.

They’re total legends – but they shouldn’t have to be.

As any parent knows, life comes at you fast. Blink, and you miss it. Isn’t it time we moved a bit faster, to meet our children where they want to be?

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