Essential Workers on Wheels 2: A GP in the City

Apr 08, 2020
Essential Workers on Wheels 2: A GP in the City

Bike Auckland

We’re shining a light on essential workers who get there by bike – with New Zealand now operating at Level 4 lockdown, we’re keen to hear how they’re doing, and their thoughts on the way ahead.

A lot of health professionals bike to work (meet some of them here). Often it’s because, like GP Peter Morton, they know how good it is for physical and mental health to fold some exercise into their working day. Peter has been biking to work along Tamaki Drive for the last 15 years, which has given him a particularly keen insight into the potential just waiting to be unlocked on the city’s premiere waterfront boulevard. He shares his thoughts below.

Why are we covering these stories right now? Because all kinds of people bike to jobs we can’t manage without, all over the city. They deserve a safe journey every day, no matter what else is going on. There’s talk around the world right now of emergency bike lanes – but truly, until our streets are safe for all kinds of people to regularly ride without fear, aren’t all bike lanes emergency bike lanes?

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

Peter Morton, GP in the Central City

Peter Morton: doctor on a bike.

My usual bike commute:
I work as a GP in Central Auckland and I live in St Heliers, and I’ve been commuting along Tamaki Drive by bike for the past 15 years. I’m fortunate to have Tamaki Drive as my commute, as I love the unobstructed views across the Hauraki Gulf. The smell of pohutukawa in early summer, stopping off for a swim at Kohi beach on the ride home in summer, the regular walkers I see most days, many of whom I share a nod and a smile with.

I live in St Heliers, about a kilometre from the waterfront. My morning ride is downhill by road until I get to the waterfront, but the downside – or should that be upside –  is a steep uphill on my ride home in the evening.

On getting to the waterfront, I get straight onto Tamaki Drive’s shared path on the sea side, which I take right through to the Ferry Building in downtown Auckland. Then it’s a jagged negotiation of road works and orange cones to get to my workplace in Albert St.

The ride is pretty flat, with very few intersections to negotiate. I believe I have one of the most beautiful commutes on the planet. I ride a hardtail mountain bike with slick tyres. The path is a bit rugged in parts, due to pohutukawa roots pressing from beneath the asphalt.

On weekday mornings I have a pretty clear run with a few pedestrians walking in the opposite direction. On fine evenings and at the weekends, the narrow width of the combined cycle and walkway makes for a slower and more congested ride.

I have really enjoyed the upgrade of the cycleway on Quay Street adjacent to the red Ports of Auckland fence, and am looking forward to the completion of the next phase of cycleways through to the Ngapipi Road bridge.

What is obviously apparent, is that the project should be continued the entire length of Tamaki Drive. When there is a clear division of cyclists and pedestrians, the experience and safety is improved for both parties. Tamaki Drive was reclaimed and constructed in the 1930’s when the population of the bays was less than 10% of current levels. There has since been a boom in Tamaki Drive as a place of recreation and so it needs to cope with the growing numbers who use it, but currently we’re crammed onto a narrow roadway foundation, barely altered from the 1930’s.

Why I go by bike:Prior to lockdown, there were lots of reasons I chose to commute by bike. It is much quicker than driving or using public transport. Not to mention the cost saving of bus fares, or parking fees, which would be about $40 per day.

From a health point of view, I really enjoy cycling and it does my physical and psychological health no end of good. It also makes me feel like I’m leading by example during medical consultations, discussing healthy lifestyle options with patients. When busy inner-city executive-type people tell me they don’t have time for exercise, I’m quick to offer advice on an exercise that may well save them precious time and money.

How my work has changed under Level 4. As a medical centre we have quickly had to develop new procedures and engage previously under-utilised technologies, such as video consultations and e-prescribing. The tension amongst patients and colleagues has increased. I have found that shedding my work clothes and donning my cycle gear for the ride home, gives me a sense of cleansing.

Since the shutdown, it might have been easier and quicker to drive, and the council kindly offered free parking in its parking buildings for essential workers. However, I have continued to cycle to and from work, for the reasons I’ve outlined above. It gives me a great deal of physical and psychological satisfaction and my workload has dramatically changed.

Normally, I try to use cycleways as much as possible, both for my safety and enjoyment. Parts of the Tamaki Drive bike path (really a shared path, and in sections just a glorified footpath with a painted line) can be a bit rough for those on road bikes due to the uneven state of the path, especially around the glorious Pohutukawa trees. So I understand why a lot of people on road bikes still choose the roadway. However, during the rush hour I still see people negotiating the two-lane congested roadway on their mountain bikes. I just don’t understand their decision-making.

Whereas now, in the days prior to the shutdown it became obvious that people were taking to cycling and walking, for recreation. It started to get more difficult to ride the cycleway because of the increased foot traffic.

Although I always keep a safe distance from pedestrians and ring my bell when I’m approaching from behind, I’ve found that some people occasionally shout at me. They are obviously bearing the stress of the evolving outbreak, but on several occasions after receiving gestures and swear words, I have felt compelled to stop and let them know that I’m just a GP trying to get to work and all is quickly forgiven.

On lockdown, the virtual absence of cars using Tamaki Drive has seen an exponential increase in pedestrians. So I now use the road, and the sweeping broad surface is very smooth and pleasant to ride on. I ride well out in the lane, so as to achieve more than a 2m gap  from other cyclists and pedestrians.

The best thing about commuting by bike, whether under normal conditions or now, is the way it folds exercise into my day. I would find the discipline of going to a gym unmaintainable, but incorporating the exercise of cycling as the way I travel to work makes it an easy, healthy choice.

A message I’d love people to hear right now:A couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have imagined the enjoyment of riding down the middle of the road. It’s so pleasant to be able to hear the sound of the sea and nature, rather than the sound of traffic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if cycleways were treated to the same smooth surfacing that our roadways enjoy?

We have now been locked down for over a week and I continue to enjoy the tranquil ride to work and sharing Tamaki Drive with a growing number of cyclists and walkers. Tamaki Drive is so much more beautiful without cars. I have not driven my own car in over a week.

On days off, I have time to cycle to the supermarket and pack my cycle bag with provisions, and each day I’m not at work I still cycle along Tamaki Drive because it’s so beautiful. I will never get tired of it, and I only wish motorised traffic could be reduced like this at all times.

Dr Peter Morton on his ride to work, on a stretch of path largely unchanged since it was first painted into existence in 1976. Time for an upgrade, surely? Even emergency bike lanes would do the trick!

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