This is a guest blog, written by Juan P. He’s based in Manukau with his partner and child, and they all get around by bike! Huge thanks to Juan for sharing their story.
Juan has also established a new Bike Burb. Follow Bike Manukau on Twitter.
In the last couple of years, cycling has grown exponentially in Auckland. At last there is momentum, and we can see communities pushing for easier and safer access on bicycles all over the city. It is an encouraging development and points to a wider interest in sustainability, climate action, and better urban design.
There is this reactionary idea that cycling is for the elites. Talkback radio shows often assume that you need to be privileged and wealthy to be able to use a bicycle as your main mode of transportation. But this is not true. Bicycles are notably quite a lot cheaper to run than cars, and a whole lot better for you.
The trope of “cycling is not feasible for a working-class family from South Auckland” has become some sort of misguided, bad faith cliché, used whenever someone argues that we need better and safer infrastructure for cycling in the city.
And while it is true that South Auckland does not yet have the most welcoming of environments for cycling, with its wide roads, huge industrial areas, and big trucks everywhere; there are already a few families getting by without a car, proving that not only is it feasible, but also enjoyable.
We are one of these families.
In our little family, we have decided not to buy a car at all. We cycle everywhere (or take public transport when we don’t). We do get wet in the rain, but we wear raincoats and keep spare dry clothes in our locker at work. We go shopping in the same supermarkets as everyone else, and then we bring our groceries back on our cargo bikes and backpacks. We never stress out about finding parking and we do not suffer the infamous Auckland traffic jams. Seems to be a good tradeoff for getting wet once in a while.
If we are feeling lazy or cold, we combine the train with the bikes. And on the rare occasion that we definitely and inevitably need a car, we hire one. We book one out for a few hours if we need it within the city, or for a few days if we are out for holidays. The choice of using bicycles as our main method of transport has kept us exercising, saved us money, made our trips more enjoyable, and helped create connections with our neighbours and communities. It is quite remarkable what you notice and start to engage with once you are free from the isolating, dehumanising, and rage-inducing metal boxes for which we have designed our cities.
Granted, we are a small, young-ish family. Which makes it easier to solve our transport needs with a couple of bikes and baby seats. And our son is not yet attending school. But we do hope that in the future he and his friends will be able to go to school and come back home on their bikes. We dream that they will have the opportunity to safely experience the freedom, fun, and camaraderie of travelling with friends, stopping at the dairy to grab a snack, and visiting each other’s houses after school.
For a city (and a country) that has declared a Climate Emergency, we are not doing much to follow up on those words with actions. It has been shown that bicycles are an effective form of climate action. Making our cities safer and more welcoming for bike users will go a long way in reducing our emissions, not to mention relieving the pressure on our health systems.
So the next time that the strawman argument of “working-class families in South Auckland cannot use bicycles” is used: stop and remember that we do exist. The number of families that cycle in the city is increasing, and that there certainly would be a lot more people willing to at least reduce their use of their car, if there was a safe and easy way to do so. From our own experience, building a proper cycleway along Great South Road would be an absolute game-changer.
Those cities overseas that everyone loves for their cycling culture were once where we are now. They chose to welcome cyclists in their streets. Auckland can, and should, do it too.
Follow Bike Manukau on Twitter today, and support the push for better biking in South Auckland.