Essential Workers on Wheels 1: The Health Professionals

Essential Workers on Wheels 1: The Health Professionals

Bike Auckland

Every day, all over Auckland, essential workers set off to their workplaces by bike. With New Zealand now operating at Level 4 lockdown, we’re keen to shine a light on their experiences, and their thoughts on the way ahead. Today, we focus on five people whose job it is to keep us healthy. (Plus: here’s a bonus feature on a doctor who rides Tamaki Drive every day).

Because here’s the thing. Amid talk of emergency bike lanes to cope with these extraordinary conditions, all kinds of people bike to jobs we can’t manage without. They deserve a safe journey every day, no matter what else is going on. In a way, until our streets are safe for all kinds of people to regularly ride without fear, aren’t all bike lanes emergency bike lanes? And shouldn’t there be more of them?

Do you have an essential journey by bike you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line.

Rob Burrell, anaesthetic doctor at Middlemore Hospital and Manukau Surgery Centre

Rob Burrell, doctor on a bike.

My usual commute is about 15km from home to work, and as I’ve written here before, I go by bike as often as I can – including every work day since the start of the lock down. I’ve ridden to work for 20 years, and it’s a great way to try to keep fit, and clear my head.

I have more bikes than I really need (you can only ride one at a time, can’t you?) but my usual ride to work is on a chrome moly three-speed commuter bike. The last few days, for fun, I’ve been on my Surly off-road touring bike.

Why do I go by bike? Because why would you not???

How my work has changed with Level 4: We have almost stopped doing planned surgery, and have spent our time making plans for dealing with the pandemic. We’ve gathered equipment, we’ve done loads of education and training, and everyone has pulled together to deal with something we really hope won’t become a public health disaster. So we have learned lots, rehearsed lots, established new teams, and got ourselves ready for this.

Normally, the most challenging part of my bike-to-work is the short bridge stretch on Massey Road, between Savill Drive and Hospital Road. It’s insane, steep, super bike-hostile, and absolutely needs to be fixed.

And now? Honestly, that bit hasn’t changed. It’s so awful that it has no redeeming features, even with hardly any traffic.

The best thing about going by bike is you arrive at work feeling energised, and you arrive at home with a head full of fresh air, not the problems of the working day. In fact, riding my bike helps me sort out my shit, without me even thinking about it. And things just got better. I have a new part of my route: the Norana Reserve Walkway. It’s awesome, especially in the dark!

A message I’d love people to hear right now is the “crisis” won’t last forever, but it could go on much longer than we wish. Meantime, we need to find as many silver linings as we can in the pandemic cloud. That includes getting fitter, feeling safer on the roads, and developing good habits. It also means telling our community what we need to be doing: safely biking on a regular basis.

Craig Birch, Anaesthetist at Middlemore Hospital

Craig Birch, doctor on a bike.

My usual commute is from St Heliers to Middlemore Hospital, about 20km each way, and I’ve cycled it every day since the lockdown.

For the past 19 years, I commuted on a regular basis by bike – but I stopped 2 years ago after being hit twice by cars on my way to work.

So, the one silver lining with the current crisis is that getting to work by bike is an absolute pleasure again. I’m planning on not using a car while conditions are like this.

I ride a Lynskey cyclocross bike, which is very comfortable for commuting. My route has improved, with a new shared greenway path along the Tamaki Estuary. But the roads around Middlemore Hospital are still not very cycle-friendly, with no shoulder, and they’re still moderately busy – although nowhere near as busy as they were before the lockdown.

Why do I go by bike? I love it. I feel refreshed, it gives me a clear head and the endorphin post-exercise, plus it’s healthy, and good for the climate.

How my work has changed with Level 4: All non-urgent surgery has stopped, so I spend less time putting people to sleep. I’ve been involved with setting up Intensive Care space for sick patients anticipated with the pandemic. I’ve also been heavily involved with increasing the staffing for Intensive Care, as if this follows projected patterns we will be getting busy in ICU, which will potentially overwhelm the current staff. So it’s a lot of meetings, plans, writing rosters, protocols, rather than my usual clinical work.

Normally, the most challenging part of my commute is the roads close to Middlemore through Otahuhu are busy, with very narrow shoulders, and there are no cycle paths.

Whereas now:actually, that part hasn’t changed and is still the major danger.

The best thing about going by bike, whether under normal conditions or now, is freedom, health, I feel good when I get to work, and even better when I get home.

A thing I’d love people to hear right now is if we could have fewer people in cars, the city would be transformed into a cycle-friendly city, which has so many positive spinoffs.


Renate Koops, General medical consultant, Middlemore Hospital

Renate Koops, doctor on a bike.

My usual bike commute
is on a commuter bike, from Ellerslie to Middlemore about 3 times a week, (I work part-time and one day a week in Botany, when I drive as it’s too scary to ride on Ti Rakau Drive). I’ve done this since I moved to New Zealand 11 years ago.

Why do I go by bike? It’s something I’ve done all my life (I’m Dutch!) and I did not want to give it up, despite the dangers I encounter in Auckland. Besides, it’s a huge stress release and builds in exercise into my day.

How my work has changed under Level 4: I’m a general medicine consultant, rounding with a team on the wards. Also involved in research, a new infusion centre and I do a weekly diabetes clinic. So far, my work hasn’t changed much, as everything continues as before, just with less face-to-face contact, and a lot more emails and meetings about reorganisation and updates around COVID-19.

Normally, the most challenging part of my commute is Great South Road (speedy/ impatient drivers, and big trucks passing too close), so I try to bypass it as much as I can.

Whereas now, Great South Road is just wonderful at the moment – like a Sunday morning! I would even dare to take my 7 and 8 year old sons on it! I also dared to bike to Botany, which was great, taking the Rotary Path as part of it. Great sunrise over the sea!

The best thing about going by bike, whether under normal conditions or now, is the sense of freedom. It should be the norm for people to bike, as it makes me a better person.

A thing I’d love people to hear right now is I’m really hoping that Auckland starts loving to bike, starts loving the cyclists and feels safe enough to take their children out on their bikes.

It’s been such an amazing experience to take my boys on the normal roads, setting off on bikes from our home, instead of needing to take the car to a safe place to bike with them. A whole new world is opening up to them, they just love it. We saw nine people on bikes on Ladies Mile yesterday and only two cars.

This is what it would be like if we lived in Holland, as biking is the main mode of transport: going to a park, work, school, doing grocery shopping, having a playdate at your friend’s house, etc. Biking is a huge part of me, and I’m very keen to make it an important part of their lives too. To enjoy the speed, the exercise, the joy, the being out in fresh air and feeling so much better for it. I hope Auckland will be taken over by people on bikes and become NZ’s biggest cycle city!!

Ali Goldkorn, GP in practice in Central Auckland

Alexandra Goldkorn, doctor on a bike.

My usual commute starts by going downhill from Glendowie to the end of Tamaki Drive, then I ride all the way along Tamaki Drive to town. I go on the left hand side of the road until somewhere close to Okahu Bay, and then cross to the shared path beside the sea, on the northern side of the road.

I work in town three days a week, so I ride on those three days. I’ve been doing it for most of the past 12 years. I used to take the car if it was raining, but since car traffic has been so slow (over the past two or three years), I go by bicycle come rain, wind or shine. I ride a commuter/ hybrid road bike: sleek and black, but with panniers in a bright Dutch orange.

Why do I go by bike?

  • It’s often faster than driving in the morning rush hour
  • I get incidental exercise on my way to work
  • My office doesn’t have a window, and I I’d hardly see the outdoors on a working day if I didn’t ride
  • It is a time to wind down or ‘de-stress’ on the way home after work
  • I ride right next to the Pacific Ocean; I can sniff the clean sea air,  and observe birds, fish, boats, canoes, swimmers, mist rolling in or out, cruise ships (in past times anyway), cargo ships, and ever-watchful Rangitoto.

How my job has changed under Level 4: After the Prime Minister’s announcements about the alert levels, we were crazily busy for two weeks, but in the past four days our clinic has become really quiet. We are still seeing people for flu vaccines, childhood immunisations and the occasional problem that really needs to be clinically examined, but we are mostly doing telephone and video consultations. This week, our clinic is operating a testing station for COVID19, and things will change again.

Normally, the most challenging part of my commute is the fact that Tamaki Drive isn’t well suited to cycling when it’s busy with car traffic. There are cars parked on both sides of the road, and drivers are often getting in and out because the road is lined with shops, restaurants and beaches, so opening car doors are a frequent hazard.

If you’re cycling on the road on Tamaki Drive, you have to share the space with buses which are often going along at a similar pace, which means you have to slow down and speed up with the buses, or risk overtaking them.

If you’re riding along the shared pedestrian/ bike path, there are even more hazards: runners, walkers, toddlers, dogs, e-scooter riders, oblivious headphone-wearers.

The Quay Street roadworks have meant that the separated cycle path closer to town is a bit of a shemozzle, but I don’t mind it, because there’s always some sort of lane dedicated to cycling, and the end result should be great for cyclists and Auckland.

And now? It’s pretty wonderful being a cycle commuter now. Maybe the only issue is that all of us cyclists are spreading out towards the centre of the road, because it feels as if there are no cars at all, but it’s easy to forget there still is motorised traffic to look out for. The best thing right now is riding along a smooth and quiet road, and feeling unafraid of being knocked off my bike.

A message I’d love people to hear right now is: Like Renate said, if only it could be more like this when the lockdown period is over – the roads are so great for bikes right now!

Shona Williams, Community midwife

Shona Williams, midwife on a bike.

My usual commute is 7km each way, straight along Balmoral road to the Greenlane Clinical Centre. I ride my SmartMotion electric bike “Chummy” on my three days to work each week. I’ve been doing this rain or shine for three years now, and I love it.

Why I go by bike:It’s so much easier than the car, and I can take my bike door to door in less time than driving. I love that I’m not using the car and all the costs, pollution, and sitting in queues that involves. And it’s so good to clear my thoughts before and after work.

How my job has changed with Level 4: I provide antenatal and postnatal care for a caseload of women. We’re having to limit our face-to-face time and physical contact with clients, so we’re spending more time on the phone, and limiting the physical assessment.

The home visits are more tricky, as we can’t go from house to house. So again, it’s assessment by phone, then a limited time in-home doing essential assessments only, and then they meet us at the community clinic where we meet them in the car park for assessment.

Normally, the most challenging part of my commute is the inconsiderate drivers who give cyclists on the road no room.

Whereas now, there’s a lot less traffic, and I find drivers are giving me more space, plus the traffic lights change faster. My main challenge now is manouevring my e-bike through multiple swipe-locked doors at the hospital, with so many colleagues working from home and fewer people to help hold a door open.

The best thing about commuting by bike, whether under normal conditions or now is the freedom and happiness it brings.

A message I’d love people to hear right now: Stay home and stay calm.


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