I went on a train ride to the CAN Do and 2WALKandCYCLE conference and it was awesome

Apr 10, 2024
I went on a train ride to the CAN Do and 2WALKandCYCLE conference and it was awesome

Fiáin d'Leafy

Chief Biking Officer Fiain d’Leafy tells us about their adventure with Chair Karen Hormann to Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington! They took their bikes on the train, connected with other awesome advocates from across Aotearoa at Cycling Action Network’s CAN Do, with industry professionals (including Janette Sadik-Khan and Salvador Rueda!) at the 2WALKandCYCLE conference, presented on Bikes for Mobility and Liberate the Lane, and joined a ‘Transport for All’ rally outside the Beehive. The journey altogether inspired a feeling that this movement cannot be stopped – the momentum is too infectious!

Thursday 14 March, 2024 – The Northern Explorer

I awoke with tingling excitement! A keen sense that today would be a unique joy. I’ve always wanted to experience one of the Great Train Journeys. It’s ludicrous to me that we don’t have a proper transport train across the North Island to Pōneke Wellington. At around $220 per person (one way!), this Great Train Journey is more expensive than other options, and it’s always booked out far in advance. Luckily for me, other awesome advocates had convinced Karen that the train was the better option – not only because its in line with our kaupapa of reducing emissions, but also because the cost of hiring bikes in Pōneke would add costs if we didn’t bring our own. The train would be the more affordable option overall.

In case you’re also interested in a train ride across the North Island with your bike, you may want to know the rules

  • They have spaces available for 4 E-bikes at a time
  • Tandem bikes aren’t allowed (why???)
  • Spaces must be booked in advance.
  • It costs $20 extra per bike – or $50 for a bike with trailer (whyyyy????)
  • The bike must be clean
  • They ask you to remove pannier bags
  • Pushbikes can be put in the ‘check in’ baggage area if handlebars are removed or turned sideways
  • Unrelated, but worth noting: there’s no Wi-Fi, and very little mobile reception

Of course, our luggage had to come by bike too! I had a backpack and my pannier bags (one side filled with snacks!). I tied a sleeping bag to the top of the pannier rack and set off on the short distance to meet with Karen. Her house is not far from my house, and roughly on the way to the Northwestern, so I’m in the habit of stopping by to “pick her up” when we are both headed somewhere. It’s nice to ride and chat along the way.

Karen strapped a large bag to the back of her long-tail E-cargo bike. We bubbled with excitement and I committed to myself that I’d take a photo of our bikes and gear in front of the train. We had a lovely, largely uneventful ride to the Strand train station – where I promptly forgot to take any pictures.

We had the absolute joy of being joined on the train by Pippa and Christopher, who were also both headed to CAN Do and 2WALKandCYCLE! With their bikes on board too of course! Pippa is much better than I am at remembering to take photos!

After a small bit of confusion, we jumped on the train and claimed 4 seats together. We later found out that’s not how it works and we would have to move to our allotted seats. But we were allowed to stay sitting together until the correct passengers were set to board the train – and that was a significant amount of the trip!

Our little group were all heartily amused by how excited I was to be on a train. So I must confess…

When I was in primary school I was obsessed with Steam Trains. I was so obsessed that I learnt everything about how they worked and drew diagrams of all their parts. I’ve forgotten how all of it works now, but I have retained my love for trains in general. A big part of the reason I love living in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland is because of our train network. Even though I mostly get around by bike!

So I couldn’t help but get myself one of the “Great Trains” train whistles (which I found for sale at the onboard cafe) as a souvenir . And you can imagine everyone’s glee when I got a text, and everyone discovered that my phone’s text noise is also the whistle of a steam train. One of my greatest moments, truly – my phone made a train noise, on a train travelling across the North Island, right after I had been playing with this train whistle. The joy of it!

After a spot of tea, coffee, and cookies (complete with fancy tablecloth, courtesy of Christopher) we went to explore the open air carriage, which, as the name suggests, is open to the air.

It was a thrilling experience with the wind rushing by, and the views across the land. I glanced across at Karen when we suddenly entered a tunnel – which is incredibly loud – and we both froze and stared at each other in shock! Our faces must have looked hilarious.

Unfortunately we aren’t allowed to sit in that carriage, so I had to go back inside to rest my knees. It was at this point, maybe 6 hours in to our 10.5 hour journey, that the novelty began to wear off and I started to wish we would be arriving soon. The views were still stunning though.

When we finally arrived I remembered to take some photos!

We were all staying in different places so we waved and peeled off on our separate ways. I got lost several times before finally finding the home of Alex Dyer, Chair of Cycling Action Network, who I would be staying with for two nights. I had the absolute joy of meeting his wonderful whānau and doing a small bit of sign-painting for the Transport for All rally, which was scheduled for the following week. Thanks Alex and whānau!

Friday 15 March, 2024 – Picnics in (car) Parks

I awoke in Alex’s incredibly artistic house. There is a giant shark hanging from the ceiling in the hallway – it was a Halloween costume for one of Alex’s kids, but its specifically designed to go on their cargo bike. Overall the effect is to make it look like the child is Tin Tin riding in the Shark-proof submarine, with Alex as Captain Haddock.

Alex was about to do the school drop off and I hurried to join because – of course – it was a cargo bike drop off! His kid, amused at how excited I was, jumped into the front of the pedal-powered cargo bike, Alex switched on some fun music, and off we went! We arrived at the school, claiming one of the parking spaces, and nobody batted an eye. They had seen this school drop off a hundred times. Another parent even rode past with their kids on board too.

Alex gave me a small tour showcasing the Island Bay cycleway and a community-driven planter box project, and then it was time for Picnics in Parks!

Every Friday Picnics in Parks claims a carpark somewhere in the city, pays the meter, and pops up some chairs and tables for a picnic. They order food or drinks from a nearby cafe or eatery, play some music, and have themselves a jolly time! For this picnic we claimed a parking space on upper Cuba street, in front of a surface level Wilson’s parking lot. There was a mobile record shop parked in the parking lot with music playing through some speakers – the perfect ambiance for our picnic!

Darcy showed up with a dog on the front of his bike – I’ll be honest, most of my time at this picnic was devoted to this dog.

Saturday 16 March, 2024 – CAN Do Day 1

CAN Do is Cycling Action Network’s advocacy hui, with advocates from across the country coming along to share stories, insights, and inspire one another. It’s usually the weekend before or after the 2WALKand CYCLE conference (and in the same city) so that people can attend both.

We assembled at the Sustainability Trust for coffee and snacks – and then headed out on a guided tour of Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington.

As we rode we heard stories about various parts of the cycleway network, including the transitional programme, the challenges, the initiatives that have helped, and how cycling numbers have soared as more safe places to ride are connected to the network! We also visited the wonderful EkeRua ReBicycle (a wonderful bike hub) and heard about their awesome mahi.

After our massive journey, and a bit of a rest, I went to check out one of Pōneke’s famous attractions; the Cable Car. It did not disappoint!

That evening I moved my gear to Linda’s house, my next host, whose house had these stunning views.

Linda, it turns out, is descended from other great activists. Her grandma was arrested in 1955 for occupying the Nelson railway lines in an attempt to stop them from being destroyed. My absolute hero.

Sunday 17 March 2024 – CAN Do Day 2

After some mingling over coffee, we all settled down to learn! There were fantastic presentations including more about Wellington’s transitional cycleway programme; Miriam Moore, touching on this awesome zine, and David Tripp from Hutt Cycling Network on their adventure taking RiverLink to court, and Frederick from Beam who showed us their new, lightweight bike design. Beam found that the weight of the old shared bikes was a barrier to some people using them, so they’ve created this new design to improve access to a wider range of people. They’ve been rolled out across Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, but are yet to reach Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

I also presented! About Bikes for Mobility; touching on key learnings we have had from our Inclusive Cycling programme over the past couple of years, and ideas for how other advocates could also help to reduce barriers to cycling for disabled and mobility impaired people, especially for those who need ‘non-standard’ bikes.

I received a large amount of appreciation for presenting about our mahi and how other advocacy groups could be part of the solution. One person told me “you called us out! But you did it in a gentle way which made me happy to be called out.” They were excited to have a new perspective, and a new motivation to be more inclusive with their advocacy.

In the evening a bunch of us headed over to the nearby convention centre to sign in for the 2WALKandCYCLE conference. And got our bike lights stolen while we were inside! This swift thief took all the bike lights from the bikes that were locked in that one particular spot – imagine our surprise when we realised.

Monday 18 March 2024 – 2WALKandCYCLE Conference Day 1

The 2WALKandCYCLE conference kicked off with a beautiful mihi whakatau, a welcome from Mayor Tory Whanau, and then a fantastic opening presentation by Janette Sadik-Khan, who played a big role in making New York more people-friendly – and bike friendly. Her presentation is worth a watch – you can find a recording from the one she did for Auckland Conversations here.

The conference had an overall vibe of dedicated perseverance. There was such a range of people there – industry professionals, transport agency employees, and advocates. But we held this common goal, this passion and this inner knowing that what we are pushing for will make better societies, more loveable, equitable cities. A few presenters mentioned our Central Government’s disdain for walking and cycling, with a kind of resigned determination – the topic wasn’t avoided. But there was still a feeling of so much success and momentum, that with this collective effort from all of us working in our different spaces and different angles, that we would find a way.

There were so many fantastic presentations, it would be too much to summarise them all here! Many of them touched on rapid, transitional infrastructure and how housing density intersects with transport. You can see the slides from their presentations on the conference website linked here.

One of these awesome presentations was “Trevor Rides Again” which was Richard Young and myself telling the story of the Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Harbour Bridge. We did a very similar presentation for Trafinz last year which you can see here.

Tuesday 19 March, 2024 – 2WALKandCYCLE Conference Day 2

Day 2 opened with a superb presentation by Salvador Rueda about the Barcelona Superblocks! It’s such a wonderful concept – and one which I am excited to trial in my Cities: Skylines game (any other urban nerds live their dreams through city-building video games like I do?). You can see his presentation from Auckland Conversations here.

Claire Pascoe, manager of the Transitional Programme at Wellington City Council, presented about their experience of rapid roll-out of cycleways – and highlighted ‘the emotional journey of creating anything great’ from Janette Sadik-Khan’s book Street Fight. They showcased the ups and downs of their own journey with rapid roll out across Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington.

Pascoe said they fore-warned their Council that it would be a journey of ups and downs like this, and that the ‘down’ moments were opportunities for building more trust with the community by responding to their concerns and being transparent about the challenges. This helped the Councilors to have more fortitude when the cycleway programme gained negative media attention – keeping their support for the roll out through the challenges!

Sokko Seeto from Triple Teez (one of the original Bike Burbs!) was also at the conference! She did a wonderful presentation with Dr Hamish Mackie about ‘Designing a ‘pathway to permanence’ for Māngere e-bike users’, the E-bike the research project Triple Teez have been deeply involved with.

Their findings align with what we know to be true – an E-bike helps people to replace their car trips.
You can see the slides here.

It was so fun running into people I know from Tāmaki Makaurau – but in Te Whanganui-a-Tara! Matt Fordham from Crank did an amazing presentation about how kids want to travel and why their vision for transport matters. The presentation included some amazing findings from Crank’s mahi with schools: 85% of the kids said walking, cycling and wheeling were their favourite ways of getting around – and almost 60% expect to be able to get to work without a car. Check out their slides here.

Another favourite presentation of mine was, of course, Patricia Vasconcelos and Simon Kennett from Waka Kotahi presenting about Accessible Cycling Infrastructure and their draft Accessible Cycling Infrastructure Design Guidance Note, which had just been made public the Friday beforehand. Although their slides aren’t online you can see the design guidance note here.

Once the conference had formally closed, a bunch of us cycled over to the Beehive for the ‘Transport for Life’ rally! It felt rejuvenating to be in amongst so many others who were horrified by the direction of the draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.

I even met the person from Cycle Wellington’s ‘You are helping by cycling when you can’ Lockydock poster.

A bunch of us from the rally then rode together as a fun gaggle to the Pōneke Urban Nerds meetup. This one was a special edition featuring a fun panel discussion from some of the stars of the conference.

Although exhausted, I couldn’t help but feel wildly optimistic. The journey altogether inspired a feeling that this movement cannot be stopped – the momentum is too infectious!

Wednesday 20 March 2024 – The Northern Explorer

For the train journey home the wonderful Richard Barter joined us. Richard Barter works with Cycling Action Network on the truck blindzone workshop programme, played a big part in the creation of the Roskill Bike Kitchen and the Puketāpapa Active Transport Haven projects (including the bike train) and was a key part of making the Southwestern cycleway and Te Auaunga Creek shared paths happen in Puketāpapa (Mt Roskill)! He had taken the plane to Te Whanganui-a-Tara with his fold up push-bike, which, I am told, has “been around the world” and then caught the train back with us!

I wish I could say I was just as enthused for the train ride back as I had been for the trip over, but it was home time and I was exhausted! I tried to sleep for most of the whole journey back. My face resting on the table in front of me, I dozed grumpily.

Finally we were back in Tāmaki Makaurau. We trundled off slowly back to our homes and slept for a solid 10 years!

The end!

Join us

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!

Suggest a new ride