Hello from Bike Auckland’s new kid!

Sep 07, 2020
Hello from Bike Auckland’s new kid!

Mary-Margaret Slack

I didn’t anticipate having an exciting answer for the question: “How was your Level 3 this time round?”

In the midst of one of the weirdest years ever, I have the pleasure of being welcomed as Communications Coordinator for Bike Auckland.

For a long time, I’ve seen advocacy for sustainable transport in Tāmaki Makaurau as essential. In fact, my first ever protest was in aid of exactly that.

I was ten at the time. It was 2009, Russel Norman was co-leader of the Greens at the time, and Bevan Woodward’s Getacross campaign was in full swing. A friend from school mentioned she was going to a gathering on the weekend: “We’ve got to show how many of us want to be able to bike over the Harbour Bridge!”

Taija was already confident riding her bike around the city at this point in our young lives, and I wanted to be as quick and confident as she was, so I tagged along… completely unaware I was joining a crowd who would make history that day.

We joined the crowd, and the energy oozed over me. These were go-getters, seizing the change they wanted in our city.

Thousands of Aucklanders gathered in 2009 to demand a cycleway over the Harbour Bridge.

I remember someone pointing – and then suddenly we poured onto the Harbour Bridge on our wheels. We got from one shore to the next in no time at all, without any fumes.

Why haven’t we been doing this all along? I wondered.

My 21st birthday present to myself: an 80s Healing Skylark ten-speed I’d spotted on TradeMe.

Most importantly, it’s bright pink.

Mary-Margaret with her secondhand Healing Skylark ten-speed.

Every day I ride my bike along Mount Eden Road, Upper Symonds Street and Karangahape Road, to work on Ponsonby Road. I love that route. I get to roll past all my favourite spots, my regulars. But I certainly don’t feel very safe doing it.

Mount Eden Road is devoid of any painted bike lanes, which means choosing between the footpath crowded by commuters, or persevering on the road until one driver gets aggravated enough that they frighten you.

There’s work happening by the closed train station now, which has only exacerbated the sense of danger, as there’s been no effort to set up the construction barrier in a way that has room for cyclists.

Even with lighter traffic at Level 3, a couple of times I resorted to dismounting and walking my bike until Symonds St. And apart from the one tiny bonus southbound bit outside the French Cafe, Symonds St isn’t much better.

Thankfully, Karangahape Road is now an exciting work in progress. But, come Ponsonby Road, I’m back on a footpath filled with commuters on foot, because I don’t think it’s safe to even attempt the four-laned gridlock, riding right in the door zone.

I’d love to say I’m more confident riding around town now than I was back in 2009, given there’s been over a decade of development… but the truth is, decent cycleways are still sparse across the city. And even though I’m bright pink now, which makes me more visible, I’m still hesitant. 

But I know this can change.

A special memory of mine is riding the Otago Rail Trail. Pedalling for miles in glorious sun, hearing the crunch of gravel underneath my wheels, stopping along the way at nooks and crannies that were perfect for picnicking… all without worrying about cars.

It strikes me that we really shouldn’t have to get on a plane and fly somewhere else to enjoy riding our bikes without fear, socialising as we roll along, dropping into local places along the way. All of these things should be possible in our city, in our neighbourhoods, where we live.

In recent years, I’ve regularly hosted the current affairs show The Wire on 95bFM, reporting on a broad range of Auckland issues. This has always included news for people who ride bikes, and developments in decarbonising Auckland’s transport.

I’m glad for this experience. It’s taught me how to ask questions in order to get to the answers; which will help me to bring a dedicated pair of ears to this role.

It’s also given me a sense of how Auckland is growing – but unevenly. Transport poverty is a huge problem, and not everyone has access to bikes in the first place. A network of safe cycleways is taking shape, but its dispersal is geographically unequal. 

As Communications Coordinator, I’m eager to hear stories from all quarters that help us get where we’re going. Our voices are so much stronger together. I’m all ears – so if you have a bike story to tell, a question on your mind, an experience to share, a favourite ride, or even just photos that should reach a wider audience, do get in touch!

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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 region. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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