Common cause – we’re all in it together

With increasing improvements for people on bikes, we sometimes hear concerns pedestrians might be getting a raw deal. These often fall into the category of “Cyclists are getting better treatment than pedestrians” or even “These new cycleways are dangerous to pedestrians!

This is a particularly ironic kind of “bikelash” – setting foot traffic and bike traffic at odds with each other in a world that’s built around cars.

How to respond? Well, we could talk about how untrue those statements are, given that investment in footpath construction and maintenance have massively exceeded cycleway funding for all of Auckland’s history. We could remind people that serious pedestrian-cyclist crashes are incredibly rare (we have heard of a *single* case of a cyclist-pedestrian fatality in NZ – in Hamilton, over 10 years ago – whereas car driver crashes kill hundreds of people in NZ every year).

We could, but enough of that for today.

Amiable Amsterdam. Pic via Flickr
Amiable Amsterdam. Pic via Flickr

What we need to discuss now is how to avoid being driven into a marginalised corner together. And on how to join forces for a better city. Because pedestrians and cyclists, while not always suited to sharing perfectly in urban situations, really want the same thing: a better, safer, more urban city.

A city where cycling and walking both work well. A city in which we switch between walking and riding a bike effortlessly, with the joy that comes from a city that frees us, that loves us, and that we can love back. A better Auckland.

And if we buy into the idea of a zero-sum fight between a better pedestrian environment and a better cycling environment, we risk losing both.

By way of example, at the moment, AT is proposing a “sort of shared path” (actually, a cycleway alongside a footpath) on Franklin Road. Some residents are concerned that this design endangers pedestrians. And yet, the paradox is that this particular design was a response to the desire of residents to keep a lot of roadside car parking and a wide flush median in the middle of the road.

The implicit message of the trade-off we’re all currently being offered: car drivers are king; we’ll design around the car – everyone else, here’s your sweepings, squabble amongst yourselves.

We are better than that.

Cyclists and pedestrians are natural allies in pursuit of a liveable city. As Gil Penalosa points out, every journey begins and ends with walking. We walk to our bikes or buses or trains; we walk from our bikes, buses and trains to our destinations. Even drivers walk to and from their cars.

Making a city walkable renders it more bike-friendly; and a bikeable city reinforces a pleasant space for pedestrians. A recent article from The Atlantic’s CityLab sums it up: “It’s safer to walk and bike where more people walk and bike.”

If we have to share travel space occasionally, we should do so with grace. We should also be attentive to the ways our journeys overlap and intersect, and we should use that shared experience of the city to demand more and better for all of us.

Here are some semi-random examples, from my own experience:

  • As a CAA committee member, two years ago I turned up at an AMETI stakeholder meeting via walking and PT – to meet the Walk Auckland committee member who had cycled there!
  • Before I moved out of the City Centre into the ‘burbs two years ago, I regularly joked that I was the CAA committee member who cycled least – because most of my trips were usually so short, I walked everywhere instead.
  • Now I cycle daily along the Northwestern Cycleway – a project created out of whole-cloth by advocates including from CAA, and pushed forward ever since. These days, that cycleway is full of pedestrians the closer I get to the city. They, too, find it great to have a car-free route. But it’s getting more and more difficult to share, because parts of the path are bloody narrow, having been built with no concept of future demand – or indeed with the idea that pedestrians would walk several kilometres into the city. We’ve been asking NZTA and AT to start dropping shared paths from the menu, and build more separated paths and protected cycle lanes instead. Until then, I try to always overtake with space left over, and give a friendly “Thank you” to people stepping aside when I ring my bell.
  • A few years ago, Cycle Action started a project with Auckland Transport to review existing cycleways across Auckland for deficiencies. The project very quickly morphed into a walking AND cycling project instead – because when you see how shoddy some of our streets and intersections are for pedestrians, why would we begrudge adding those fixes to the list? I’d be ashamed, as a pedestrian and traffic engineer, if I ignored those issues. And AT’s new walking and cycling boss may have cycling as her public flagship – but she’s not ignoring pedestrians either. She’s a bright light for both of our groups.
  • For SkyPath, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists joined forces to support a project that the naysayers pilloried for being unsafe because it is a shared path [Full disclosure: I am the traffic engineer who led the traffic design of the project, and while I would have loved separate paths, we made the call that it just wasn’t doable yet at this stage of Auckland’s transport funding and climate – but maybe one day in the future we’ll get two paths. Here’s to dreaming big!]

It’s worth watching again the Skypath Trust’s video clip of travellers on Vancouver’s Sea Wall. What we see is pedestrians and people on bikes, coming and going; talking, breathing, getting somewhere. A community in motion. Our future lies in both pedestrians and cyclists coming together – ideally, separated by a kerb; but where needs be, connected by a smile and a friendly wave.

 

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Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better city. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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