Duncan Laidlaw takes stock of some small but sweet changes at his local shops:
One recent Saturday, I found myself at a loose end wandering Birkenhead Village – okay, I found myself in the village waiting for Bloom Cupcakes to open – and what I discovered was exciting, even if to the average passerby it was almost invisible.
We have bike racks!
They might seem like such a small part of the picture that you’d say “so what?” And indeed, I was left wondering why I got so excited that I started wandering around taking photos – and so captivated I apparently missed someone trying to catch my attention.
Thinking it over since then, I have come to realise that what excited me most was what the racks symbolised – a small amount of acceptance (Hello, bikes!) and normalisation (Welcome, more bikes!).
In the past, I had grumbled to a few sources that Birkenhead Village did not have adequate bike parking. The only racks I had found were outside the Iibrary on the corner of Rawene Rd and Hinemoa St. While great for users of what is an excellent library, this does not serve a lot of the town centre. The library is not an unsurmountable distance from the shops, but it’s located on a wide open corner and, from experience, it is not pleasant getting from there to the shopping district in inclement weather.
Compare that with 900 free parking spots for cars spread around the village. With abundant car parking provided at no cost to users, but very little bike parking (and poor access by bike to the village), it is not surprising that a vibrant village that really works hard – and succeeds! – at providing a culinary and cultural feast for visitors remains dominated by cars.
We have a long way to go in Auckland, and sure, there are some big cycleway projects happening. But as some insist on pointing out, these big projects don’t occur in every neighbourhood (even if they are critical to connecting people from those neighbourhoods to other destinations).
Which is why the small things, like bike racks scattered around a shopping centre, really matter.
Human nature being what it is, we sometimes take subtle suggestions on board better than overt advertising. The Friding campaign, for example, hits this spot by simply saying it’s possible to ride a bike on a Friday and you can if you feel like it. Likewise, simple bike racks that are visible as people shop around the village – and the occasional bike secured to one – subconsciously remind passers-by that you can, indeed, cycle to the village. Which in turn, might encourage them to expect and advocate better, safer streets, and perhaps even try their hand at designing a solution.
On a personal level, before having these new bike racks around the village, if I wanted to stop and shop by bike I was tying my bike up to lamp posts and random street furniture. Not only was this sometimes unwieldy, but it always felt like I was having to make do, and perhaps even getting in the way, rather than feeling welcomed – even though the reason I was stopping was to spend money.
Whereas the bike rack, no matter how humble, says things like “Yes, you are welcome here!” and “How about some quaxing?” and “Indeed, you can cycle to the café!” and perhaps most importantly, “Why not stop for a cupcake?”
It’s a small nudge, but the potential benefits are vast. As you can tell, I am stoked to see these racks appear around my local village. I look forward to the day when I can’t find one free.