Carol Green is a member of Bike Te Atatu and came up with the “Bike Burbs” concept for Open Streets 2015. She grew up in Cambridge in the UK, and now bikes around Auckland as if it were just as bike-friendly as that famous cycling city. We like her style!
What’s your earliest bike memory?
Riding on the front of my dad’s bike as an enormous seven year old – I’m inherently risk averse, so I didn’t ride my own bike for a very long time. I remember us going down a tiny little footpath along the side of the river Cam, and falling off into the nettles (probably because the bike was top-heavy).
My dad’s my bicycling hero. He doesn’t drive, never learned to drive (neither did his father). When Dad was working, he would toddle off on his bike every day to work. Then when he retired, he spent a lot of time horizontal, until my mum gave him the hard word. So, he decided to cancel the newspaper delivery so that he had a reason to go out every day, in all weathers. Now he bikes a couple of miles to the shops every day to buy a paper. He bikes really slowly, just fast enough to stay upright.
So you eventually got your own bike?
Yes. At primary school we all did a cycling proficiency course, and the bike became my independence. We lived on the edge of the village, too far to walk to friends’ houses, so I used to go on my bike.
I went to college (high school) on a bike. And when I went off to university, I took my bike. That was Nottingham – it was more hilly, a bit more difficult to bike, so I got a mountain bike. Then my bike got stolen (twice, actually) and I felt like I’d been kneecapped; walking home at night just didn’t feel as safe to me as biking.
You say you’re risk averse, but you prefer to ride without a helmet?
That’s because I don’t feel at risk without a helmet. When I was growing up, nobody had a helmet. It wasn’t a thing. When I moved to New Zealand, I started looking up the research on mandatory helmet laws. I think it’s a distraction from the real issues. I have lots of people saying, “you should wear a helmet, a helmet saved my life”, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
I like to show people that riding a bike is not as dangerous as helmet-wearing makes it look. And I feel like I see more people without helmets these days. But I am still risk averse – I wouldn’t cycle along Great North Road, for example, mostly because of the parked cars.
What do you like about biking?
I’m really terrible at doing exercise. I have a standing desk now, but my day often involves sitting down a lot – I work as a designer – and I don’t enjoy exercise for the sake of it. So I’d much rather do it as a byproduct of something else. I’ve done the gym thing, but it gets boring, and the idea of driving to the gym…! To get to work, I bike 10km door to door – that’s 20km most days, so I don’t have to do anything else. That’s a big motivation for me.
What brought you to New Zealand, and how do you find the bike culture here?
I followed my Kiwi bloke to New Zealand and I’ve been here for 15 years (I only meant to come for a year – oops!). After I moved here, there was a long period where I didn’t ride a bike. My partner’s really into mountain biking, so after a while, I got a mountain bike. I tried it, but I couldn’t see the point. I want to go from A to B, not round a wood!
I’d use the bike every so often to go to nearby places, but mostly I’d walk down to the shops. Then I started working on Rosebank Rd. That’s a doable distance every day, from Te Atatu, so I got what I think of as a “normal bike” and rode to work. And now for about a year I’ve had an office in Pt Chev, which is the ideal commute from Te Atatu.
Since I’ve been riding to work, it’s my default mode to get to the shops. Pretty much everything we do on the peninsula, we do by bike. Now the only time we use the car locally is to go to the supermarket for a really big shop – but that’s only because we’re looking for the perfect cargo bike, so we can go quaxing!
Would you call yourself a bike activist?
I’d say I’m an active transport advocate. I identified quite quickly when I arrived here that New Zealanders in general use their car as the first port of call, and that’s not what I’m used to. And because I use public transport, walking, and cycling more than I use my car, I notice what it’s like for users of those things. That’s probably related to what I do for a living – design in general is about how people interact with things. So I tend to notice how things are presented; the design of any kind of transport medium.
How does Auckland compare to a bike mecca like Cambridge?
Auckland’s the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, and the city centre is definitely a city centre. But I feel about Te Atatu like I do about the village where I come from. Te Atatu’s my village and Auckland’s my city.
It was interesting going back to Cambridge last year, looking at what’s going on there in the light of what’s happening here. They’re putting in bike lanes on the main arterial routes, for example.
My parents live on a narrow road, with pavement on one side and fields on the other. It’s a 40mph road – and my dad rides on the road. They’re going to decrease the speed limit, which is good.
But the infrastructure isn’t as good as you’d expect it to be. I think bicycling in Cambridge works because of safety in numbers (if you learn to drive in Cambridge, for example, the instructor tells you lots of bike-related stuff because there are just so may bikes on the road) – and because everyone starts biking as a child and keeps doing it.
How did you come to join Bike Te Atatu?
I found it via Facebook, and when Jemma was making her ‘futurementary’ I volunteered to be in the film. The ‘futurementary’ was a little documentary showing what Te Atatu would look like with lower speed limits and bike lanes. It was set slightly in the future – in 2015.
And now it is 2015! We’re really excited about the recent budget announcements, because if there’s that much money, surely we can get some of our proposals done. We’re planning to meet with Kathryn King from Auckland Transport; we’ll cycle her round some of the bits and pieces, and show her where we think there should be cycle lanes, and slow streets. We’ve also got lots of local business support (friendly businesses offering discounts to our members and so on) so we’ll visit some of them too.
And we’re trying to get a bike corral for the main street. There are small bits of bike parking all over, but replacing a car parking space with a corral is a great visual way to show people how using bikes takes cars off the road.
And you want to spread the Bike Burb love further.
That was the idea behind the Bike Burbs tent at Open Streets. We had a map so people could put pins in to show where they lived and they could sign up if they were interested in creating a bike group. I bunched together about four or five different groups from loose geographical areas (plus one group of leftovers) and basically said, “Here’s what we did in Te Atatu, here’s some ideas, go forth and be a bike burb!” I’ve already had people cc-ing me into emails for meet-ups that came out of that.
I think there’s quite a lot of people who bike and don’t know anyone else who bikes where they are. There’s a lot of advocacy that can go on at the level of suburbs, or even streets. Also, sometimes it feels like a lot of the attention is going to the central city – but there’s lots of local improvements we can do, and bits where there are little joining-up-things that are missing.
So Bike Burbs could be the missing link between the village and the city?
Exactly. Between us, if we can get things all joined up, it’s going to make cycling everywhere much easier and safer and more pleasant.
Lots of people in Bike Te Atatu, for example, are commuters who go to Pt Chev or into town every day. But it’s also about the people who would never leave the peninsula on a bike because that’s too big or daunting. We want to make it good for them to cycle round locally to do the stuff they need to do. We want all the children of the peninsula to be able to get to school in some way other than a car. It’s about getting people out of that car habit. And in general, if we design bike infrastructure for children, we get it right for everybody.